How to Succeed at Everything the First Time


Think of something you have been doing since you were a kid. Maybe that’s performing, writing, telling stories. Maybe it’s a sport. 

Do you remember the very first time you did it?

Me neither. I played and performed on stage as a cellist so many times in my life that any memories of my First Time got washed away years ago. Knowing myself, I’m sure I was both excited and terrified. Even as a 5-year-old, I was concerned with “getting it wrong.”

Later, when I started touring and concertizing more, I made tons of rookie mistakes: Leaving things like water, rosin, and other things with my cello case downstairs in the green room. Have rosin caked on your strings between pieces? Too bad. Not enough time to head down then and grab that rag to wipe it off. So I learned to have a small bag that I could hold those essentials in and keep just off stage with me.  

I learned how much sleep I needed, what kind of day I should have, how much I should (or shouldn’t!) practice, and how much food to eat to not feel full and tired, but not be hungry and lightheaded either. 

My most recent cello performance day felt completely in my wheelhouse. I knew where to go, and where to park.  I knew my level of preparation and that my pianist and I had rehearsed thoroughly over the week. There weren’t a lot of unknowns, and there weren’t many moving parts. Show up, play, bow, go home. 


The Large-scale Summer Pops concert I helped to create with the Bermuda Philharmonic wasn’t like that. Not at all. 



No, this one was a big First Time and involved a giant tent and a crew of people to put it up and take it down. There’s the stage build with risers and platforms that we *hoped* we’d measured correctly but wouldn’t find out until the morning of the show. The food trucks, the ferries, THE WEATHER! 

If your name is Cindy, you were not my friend that week. Just saying. Cindy (as in, the tropical storm that was threatening to pay a visit) needed to stay far, far away. 


Apparently, I was told, you can’t control the weather. 


I wasn’t nervous about the performance part. I was conducting rather than playing the cello, and I was confident that I’d either do a competent enough job or that the players would know to ignore me and just do their thing. I was nervous about the other moving parts. The tent, the vendors, the will-call tables, the sound and lights, the after party.  I was worried about T.S. Cindy making an unwelcome appearance.  

But I thought back to the first time I planned a recital tour or the first time I took an orchestra on tour, and I remember planning my wedding (which, I had never done before.) I remember the first day of the 1st year of my Virtual Summer Cello Festival, and just thinking about those other “firsts” kept me calm and reminded me of the most important thing. 


Things Will Go Wrong. 


  • Like when I forgot to hit “publish” on a concert invitation and no one knew about it.
  • Like when the ferry that my tour group HAD to take in order to get from one end of the island to the other for our evening engagement broke down and wasn’t running.
  • Like when our wedding venue had been double booked with a fishing tournament and I only found out about it 3 days before.
  • Like when my assistant was so proud of the we were sending my VSCF faculty that she put a very.generous.amount on the customs forms and all the Europeans got pissed off at having to pay a ton of money in customs duty just to collect a gift they hadn’t asked for.

Things Will Go Wrong. Big things, little things. One thing, or many things. Nothing ever goes EXACTLY to plan. 



What matters more than keeping things from going wrong, is knowing that you have the ability to adapt, fix, adjust, and otherwise make it work regardless. 


  • Like finding a Kinko’s and making some quick posters and flyers to post around town, and getting on the local radio to announce the concert. 
  • Like getting the ferry guys to let all 50 of us onto the empty work ferry that was heading back to fix the broken one. 
  • Like switching over to a new (quite honestly nicer) wedding venue that the city then didn’t charge you for because they had made the scheduling error. 
  • Like apologizing and sending over the customs duty amount and getting them to laugh about the whole thing. Luckily, they did really like the gift, and they all eagerly came back the following year. 


I’m not sure there is a way to avoid that First Time feeling of ”OMG, I’ve never done this before. NO ONE has done this before! What if it all goes to shit?” But it helps to remember that it always works out. Somehow. And even when it doesn’t, there is always a way to make it work. To turn any First Time into a Success. 


In preparing for this Pops Concert (which, to most of you will sound like no big deal, but they don’t do those here–not in anyone’s recent memory anyway. So this was not only a first for me, but it was a first for everyone involved.) I needed to remember that this might be my first time doing a concert in a tent, but that tent company sets up tents every day. For them, it’s a simple solo recital. Show up, play, done. The vendors? This is what they do. 

The trick, you see, is to not allow the nerves of doing something for the first time to stop you from doing it at all. The “but I’ve never done anything like this before” mentality is about 2 thoughts away from “Who am I to try something like this.” which is the stop right before “I’m going to look like an idiot and people will laugh at me.” 


These are mental storms though–not actual storms and mental storms are NOT a valid reason to not do something. 


If you listen to and act upon those types of thoughts, elegantly called “Imposter Syndrome”, you will continue to live your life in safe, familiar, and predictable territory. But they will also keep you from trying new things, having adventures, making a difference, or having an impact on the world around you. You run the risk of regret, lost dreams, and a whole lot of “If I had only just…” 

And, as I constantly remind my clients as they push past their own imposter syndrome and do big amazing things, operating outside of our comfort zone is a muscle, and that muscle gets stronger the more you flex it. 

You can practice flexing that muscle in small ways. Order something new-to-you at a restaurant. Invite that new mom at the park who seems like she’d be a cool friend over for a coffee. Do something you’ve done before on a bigger scale. 



As for the Pops Concert? Well, the tropical storm dissipated and it was a glorious, picture-perfect day. Did things go wrong? Oh yes. The tent we had lined up fell through, and we had to scramble to get a new one (from a great company that we’re excited to work with again), the overseas musicians got caught in the United Airlines/Newark Airport Hell Week (but they eventually made it–with various amounts of their luggage) And a bunch of little things here and there went awry. The things you can’t plan for, but you figure them out in real-time. 


There’s even a bit of a thrill to that. 


But the event was an enormous success. We had about 100 more people than we expected, and the atmosphere was ebullient. The orchestra sounded great, and everyone is asking when the next one will be. 

I’m looking forward to the next one as well. All of those big unknowns are now known. The stage dimensions (they were correct!) the tent company, the transportation. All of those First Time things are proven concepts, and we just repeat what worked, and tweak what could have worked better. 

And most importantly, I have flexed both the muscle of Doing the Big.Scary.Thing, and the muscle of fixing what goes wrong. I have even more proof that we have the power and the strength to figure things out as they unfold. I do, and you do. 

So get out there and use those muscles, my friend!




P.S. If this post struck a chord, and you’ve been trying to figure out how to step things up in your life or career (or both!), I’ve created a short but super helpful worksheet that has helped dozens of my clients find that much-needed clarity so that they can move forward toward their goals.  You can grab it here for free today.


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