Forget your broken New Year’s resolutions. With spring finally here, it feels like the real new year is just now beginning. If you’re ready to switch things up, Lu Ann Cahn — whose memoir “I Dare Me” recounts her year spent trying something new every day — shares how stepping into the unknown led her to happiness.
Failure is not the end
The hardest part of trying something new is the first step. But Cahn found that even when she didn’t succeed, the experience of stepping outside her comfort zone built courage, anticipation and readiness for more. “In the beginning, I had no idea what I was doing or what would happen,” she says. “But almost immediately, I started feeling better. And the more I took risks, large and small, everything got better — life opened up.”
One thing leads to another...
As she gained confidence in herself, the scope of Cahn’s goals grew beyond what she’d anticipated, like going back to school after age 40. Barriers like time commitment and initial difficulty no longer deterred her. “Before I started this journey, I don’t know that I would’ve been able to tackle [returning to college] because I was so stuck,” she says.
Don't assume you know what's going to happen
“There’s a whole buffet of life out there, and we keep picking at the same part every day without realizing we’re missing great experiences,” Cahn says. She thought she’d hate golf, but what she really never wants to do again is go to the opera. “We make judgments about things every day — someone asks you to do something, and you think, ‘I don’t feel like it, it’s not my thing’ — and that’s where we kind of miss out.”
Don’t be afraid to fly solo
Though her friends were supportive of her project, staying committed sometimes meant going it alone for Cahn. (There were no takers for a 10K mud run.) But that’s when things got interesting. “It’s good to venture off on your own because things happen differently when you’re by yourself,” she says. Like approaching people she wouldn’t have reached out to with a friend in tow: “My world expanded because of it.”
When Cahn first started out, she had nothing to lose after her job of 20 years drastically changed in 2009. There was no room for doubt; moving forward was the only option. But even six years later, her old, cautious way of thinking hasn’t gone away. So, she came up with a counter-argument: “I have to remind myself, like anybody else, to say, ‘What’s the worst thing that can happen?’”
Cahn had a speaking engagement in Palo Alto recently and decided to bring a frequent prop, a hula hoop, onto the plane with her. She wasn't sure she’d be allowed to take it past the ticketing desk but they waved her through, saying TSA would probably be a problem. But the security staff just scanned the hoop as any other piece of luggage.
In the terminal, Cahn began to attract attention: “I’m walking around with this hula hoop and doors open - people are smiling at me. ‘Where are you going? What are you doing?’” She figured the gate would be where it all ended; instead, a man with purple hair took up her cause, saying, “Make way for the power of the hoop.”
They chatted, and when he realizes Cahn was traveling to speak at a Bay Area Cancer Connections meeting, he shared his own story about cancer in his family - then stuffed a $100 bill in Cahn’s purse. She protested; he told her, “Just give that $100 to that organization.” And then he left. (The hoop was checked on the jetway and made it just fine to her destination.)
“I walk into this airport with a hula-hoop, something I never ever would’ve done in my past life,” she says. “But now, I spend a lot of time urging other people to do things like that because you relate to the world differently. You can change your day, and you can change the day of others around you, and that is the power of it.”