Go First

I share a life lesson I have learned each day. Maybe you can learn from it, too.


In a small fork of the Chassahowitzka river is a series of springs and underwater finger caves through the limestone. The largest requires you to hold your breath for about 30 feet of pulling yourself through the cave (you can’t use arm strokes because the caves are tight).

We stood at the mouth of the first cave–a group of 6–and we were the first visitors for the day (a rare occurrence–the springs are a popular party depot for boaters). The water was crystal clear. The sun was just peeking through the trees. The caves were all ours.

Except… nobody wanted to go first. Caves are scary. Underwater caves are scarier. A couple of us swam down to the entrance. The visibility was spectacular. You could clearly see the cave exit point, but… even 10 feet can be an intimidating and claustrophobic journey through an underwater cave.

It was clear to me no one was going to work up the courage to make the first dive but this was the reason we came–to explore. So I took a deep breath, and plunged in. On the way to the surface, I bumped a rock and scratched my head–it’s a pretty good scratch and it stung all day. (Unfortunately, when you are paddle-boarding, there is no easy way to handle even minor injuries. Saltwater is not gentle on wounds.)

Anyway, after I went, other people followed immediately and suddenly cave diving was no big thing.

Somebody has to be the leader when others, who are otherwise brave, need someone else to show them the way. They want to see someone go first not because they do not think it can be done, but rather so they can imagine how it can be doneI do not think most people are afraid to go first (though they might say they are). I think it is because they are simply not in a creative mindset at the moment.

I left something out of the story which might be important. I was also the person with the least chance of success in the group. I was the oldest, tallest, and biggest one there, so if I could do it, then anyone younger and more limber should have been able to swim those tiny caves as well. By going first, I became an unspoken challenge, and of course, when there is a challenge, people will rise to it.

It cost me an ugly scrape on the head, but by going first, I set the tone of adventure and embracing new experiences for the day. Sometimes you have to go first because if you don’t… no one (has the) will.