You always remember the First Time: And… it blocks progress!

“Don’t frighten the horses”

I’ve recently been thinking about the topic of firsts. My son Cillian was recently 18 and decided to buy his first suit. River Island (he wanted an Armani, but that turned into quite a short conversation ending in the word ‘off’). He looked great, all grown up. He also decided (another first) not to drink with his friends on Paddy’s Day. The 17th March has turned into a weekend of drinking and he decided not to participate. Now, the more conservative readers will be wondering why a pre-18 year old had not already taken the pledge? Shouldn’t he be locked in his bedroom, studying full-time for the Leaving Certificate? The answers to those questions would take a longer explanation than a blog allows- along with an in-depth understanding of family therapy!

First Time: I haven‘t a great memory, but I can remember some of the standout moments in my own life – first day at school, first driving lesson and so on (this is a family blog!). And, while I can’t remember exactly how I felt about those events at the time, I have a general sense that each ‘first’ was preceded by trepidation – a real fear about screwing up, making a mess of things or just looking dumb. I suspect, if you think through some of your own firsts, the feelings evoked will be very similar.

Playing SAFE: This inner fear of ‘looking stupid’ steers us towards conservative patterns of behaviour. Most business writing is bland, presentations are often boring and most conversations within organizations are ‘safe’. We stick to a known pattern, avoiding first’s because we are unclear of the outcome and cannot know, for sure, that we can control this. We engage in ‘catastrophe thinking’ (“If I tried that I might get fired”) to justify the safe cross code, saving us from venturing into the risky (high performance) zone. We settle for the lower plateau, avoiding the cliff edge. And underperform.

Dangerous Play: What would happen if you decided not to play safe? What if your next presentation contained a piece of Rap music or you brought in a bunch of Lego blocks to make a specific point? What if your next memo opened with the lines from a song by The Script or you used a racist PJ Gallagher quip to underpin an argument? What if during your next conversation you said: “I know that we are always polite to each other on the surface, which is grand, but underneath this our relationship has never really taken off. I’d really like to explore why that’s the case”.

Now, you couldn’t live in this ‘authentic’ mode all the time; all human life, as we know it would grind to a halt. But you could experiment, lifting a ’20 Kilo’ weight on you way towards benchpressing 100 Kg. Risk is an inherent part of making progress. Yes, it’s uncomfortable. Yes, it can be somewhat unpredictable. Yes, it occasionally backfires and you end up looking stupid. But more often than not, it creates a path forward. A Tibetan proverb suggests: ‘It is better to have lived one day as a tiger than a thousand years as a sheep’. When was the last time you took the tiger route?

Paul Mooney

PS: Lighter Note: Building work was completely disrupted on the Olympic stadium in London when workmen found a human skeleton in the newly dug foundations. Around the neck of the skeleton, Police found a Gold Medal with the inscription: ‘Hide and Seek Champion’, 1926!

Know someone who’d benefit from reading this blog? Forward it on or ask them to contact me paul@tandemconsulting.ie and we’ll add them to the mailing list.

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About Tandem Consulting

Paul Mooney holds a Ph.D. and a Post-Graduate Diploma in Industrial Sociology from Trinity College, along with a National Diploma in Industrial Relations (NCI). He has a post-Graduate Diploma and a Masters in Coaching from UCD. Paul, a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, is widely recognised as an expert on organisation and individual change. He began his working life as a butcher in Dublin before moving into production management. He subsequently held a number of human resource positions in Ireland and Asia - with General Electric and Sterling Drug. Between 2007 and 2010, Paul held the position of President, National College of Ireland. Paul is currently Managing Partner of Tandem Consulting, a team of senior OD and change specialists. He has run consulting assignments in 20+ countries and is the author of 12 books. Areas of expertise include: • Organisational Development/Change & conflict resolution • Leadership Development/Executive Coaching • Human Resource Management/employee engagement
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2 Responses to You always remember the First Time: And… it blocks progress!

  1. Michael Doolin says:

    Keep seeking Paul!

    Excellent blog, Michael

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