The power of firsts, physics, and future perfect

This is the first edition of my newsletter on leadership, psychology, and all things wonderful. Subscribe to it here.


I’ve been thinking about the power of firsts a lot.

I’ve had so many first times in my life in the last months: first day at uni, first scientific presentation, first exam, first meetings with lovely new coaching clients, and, well, a first newsletter. In addition, I’ve been working on presentations on DevOps culture (making change easy!), leadership development (supporting change makers), and discussed team delivery (change, every day). And eventually, all those topics converged:

There’s so much beauty in beginnings, newness, and excitement.

Oftentimes, this very recognisable first time is only the materialisation of a much longer process: of an impulse, contemplation, weighing pros and cons and alternative options. A first time is already a result, and at the same time just another beginning.

A white horse's head looking out over a pond with cloud reflections on it, blue sky in the back and reed in the foreground
Photo from my first visit to Camargue in Provence, enjoying the views and getting eaten alive by gangs of mosquitoes

Getting to a first time is also a dare: it always requires a portion of courage. We decide to do something new, or do something old again, but do it differently. We muster our mental flexibility, we shift perspective, and then we get moving, we walk, jump, leap, reach. And while it may not always yield the results we want, at least we got moving. Because going from stillness into motion is often the hardest part.—Remember Newton?”An object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force” (Isaac Newton: Law of Motion)Inertia: Objects keep doing what they’re already doing. Newton also tells us that it’s not a force that puts things into motion, but a force that stops them from moving: Friction. The more friction, the faster any movement comes to a halt, or is prevented entirely. Removing friction takes work.

As leaders, a big chunk of our work is to resolve friction in order to drive change, make change easy, get things moving again, and to keep momentum against the odds: the odds of processes, politics, pandemics, you name it. Creating and maintaining an environment where change and motion are easy is often anything but, and I’m invoking Newton and physics today because sometimes, it feels like a monumental physical task.

Take a moment this week to acknowledge your firsts

Sometimes, we put so much work into making a change, a first, happen, but then get so caught up in keeping on moving that we forget to notice it. Or we spent weeks resolving points of friction or untangling difficult situations that we’re just glad once things get moving that we, too, move on. In her book “Keep moving”, the poet Maggie Smith writes:“Revise the story you tell yourself about failure. Consider yourself an apprentice in thew world. Learn all you can. Gain experience. Keep moving.”Take a moment to acknowledge the experience you gained:

What first did you do recently, what change did you make happen for yourself, or someone else? And: How are you going to celebrate it?

By the time you read this, I will have sent a newsletter for the first time (future perfect, one of my favourite tenses). It won’t be perfect, but the first will be done. I’ll have a celebratory coffee with homemade pumpkin spice syrup (recipe) with that.


The wonders of the human mind

I’m in week nine of studying psychology and already starting to prepare for exam season (whoa!). Last week, I shared all the many different things I learned in one week, and previously wrote about the “Little Albert” experiment, one of the many infamous unethical experiments in psychology’s history. Oh, and might I recommend this study on altruistic behaviours in toddlers and chimpanzees? Wonderful video footage.


Wonderful finds

  • Coping with grief during the holidays (podcast, 23 minutes). On NPR life kit, Poet Tracy K. Smith shares practical tips and deep insight into how she processes grief, especially during the holidays. She says: “Self care is about ministry to our pain and exhaustion.” I need to get that framed.
  • How wonder works (Article, 12 minute read). In a time of so much uncertainty, it’s a great reminder that this emotion exists that is “the accidental impetus behind our greatest achievements.”
  • A mathematical model for cutting an onion (Instagram post). Chef and food writer J. Kenji López-Alt worked with a mathematician friend to develop an ideal model for cutting onions.

Wishing you a moment of wonder this week.

By Lena

Engineering executive turned leadership coach & consultant, public speaker, and psychology student. Fast walker, avid reader, poetry fan, violinist, pianist in the making, and intersectional feminist. Writes about all the above (and, occasionally, trees).

2 comments

  1. As someone who also wound up in tech and never managed to see my way clear to finishing the psychology degree I always wanted, I’m curious about where you’re studying. I’m thinking of finally trying to
    go back, but as a native English speaker in Austria, my options seem limited.

  2. Hi Stef! I’m afraid I don’t know about the situation in Austria, I’m only familiar with some options in Germany. Would it be okay if I emailed you to the email address you shared in the comment? I’m happy to share details in private.

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