During a Yom Kippur Service this past year, I heard a young rabbi explain that atoning for our sins isn’t about asking God to help us reinvent ourselves as better people. She offered the idea that it’s really about revealing our better selves, the essence and soul of who we really are; the part of us that gets buried under layers of life experiences, good and bad, until we don’t even recognize who we’ve become.
In 2009, I did not recognize who I was. I was stuck.
When I talk about this experience, some people ask: “How could you be stuck? You are a successful TV news reporter. You survived cancer twice. You have a good marriage and a great daughter. What was so wrong that you were stuck?”
Not only was I stuck, I felt guilty about it. (Chalk it up to Jewish guilt). I knew I should have been jumping up and down, grateful to be alive after having my colon removed for ulcerative colitis, surviving breast cancer, kidney cancer and numerous other medical issues.
Instead, I was angry. I shut down. I turned inward. Every day felt the same.
My friends and coworkers were losing their jobs as the economy tanked. I got to keep my job but it was dramatically changing. Resources were being taken away and I was being asked to adopt a sea of social media and new technology. I wanted nothing to do with any of it. I resisted all the change around me. At home, I couldn’t even figure out how to turn on the tv. Where did the on/off button go?
For the first time, at age 53, I felt old and out of step. I knew I had to find a way out of this funk. It wasn’t good for my physical or mental health. I had no idea where to start.
It was my daughter, Alexa, who suggested I needed a creative outlet: a blog.
“What’s a blog ?” I asked, clueless.
“A place on the Web you can write about whatever you want.”
“Sounds like more work to me.”
But Alexa wouldn’t leave me alone about it. She kept bugging me. Leave it to our kids. Sometimes they really are smarter than us. I finally agreed to try a blog about doing something new once a week. Alexa said, “No. Do something new every day. Now, that’s a good idea.”
And that’s how my “One Year of Firsts” was born. I started with the Polar Bear Plunge on New Year’s Day 2010 in Atlantic City. Yep, I was way out of my comfort zone. I don’t even like to go in the ocean past my knees in the summer.
Strangers in Speedos held my hands and helped drag my reluctant body into the icy ocean. I came out screaming like a lunatic and felt completely exhilarated and happy, happy in a way I had not felt in a long time.
And I only had 364 first-time experiences to go.
Was it easy? No. But it was one of the most incredible, eye-opening, rejuvenating years of my life.
Some firsts I did were huge. I went back to school. I started teaching school. Some firsts were small and silly. I learned to say the alphabet backward. I ate a scorpion. I took a hula hoop lesson.
What I learned was that every time I did one new thing, it was like throwing a pebble in a universal karmic pond. I created new possibilities and new energy.
What happened? My life opened up. I learned to play again. I said “Yes” instead of “No.” I challenged my brain. I volunteered. I gave back. I wrote a book so that I could share this experience with others.
I revealed my better self. I remembered and rediscovered the person I wanted to be. I’m still on that journey, still evolving.
And so now I challenge you. Another year is beginning. What new things will you do? I dare you to get yourself out of the box you’ve put yourself in. I dare you to adopt just one new resolution: Do more things for the first time and see what you reveal in the new year.
Lu Ann Cahn is the author of the new book I Dare Me and is an Emmy Award-winning reporter for NBC10 News. Follow her blog at: luanncahn. com.