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Do The New
When you think change is awful, invite it into your everyday life
By Marianne Aleardi

Lu Ann Cahn had every reason to be happy. She was in the middle of a successful broadcast career, having worked for 27 years at NBC News in Philadelphia. She had won 8 Emmys, including one for a personal story of her battle with breast cancer, and she had also survived kidney cancer. She had every reason to appreciate her success and feel grateful to be alive. At least, that’s what you would think.

But as her industry changed, and Cahn was asked to tweet and shoot video and pay attention to Likes and Comments, the veteran reporter retreated. She despised the new way of doing things and became depressed, dreading each new day. As she calls it, she was “stuck.”

On the advice of her adult daughter, Cahn started a year-long project where she did something new  every day. She wanted to challenge herself, sometimes a little, sometimes a lot. And she would record each activity on a blog – another “something new.”

The experiment, Cahn says, was life changing, and she detailed the exceptional year in her book, “I Dare Me.” She now speaks to corporations, clubs and other groups about how being open to change can transform your life. And that’s a good thing, she says, you should try it.

Q: You did 365 new things. What was your favorite?

Lu Ann: My friend dared me to have a life conversation with a stranger who looked as different from me as possible. I went to Rittenhouse Square and saw this older, African American gentleman sitting on a bench. He looked lonely. I walked by him several times trying to get up the nerve. I sat next to him, and I said, “Nice day we’re having.” He turned to me and he smiled. His face lit up, and he looked so different from how he had looked just a minute earlier. We talked, and he told me about his wife who had died recently. He said he loved her so much and he missed her so much. I asked what happened to her, and he told me she died of breast cancer. I just froze and looked at him. Then I told him I was a breast cancer survivor. He asked why I had chosen to talk with him, and I told him about my year. Then he read a poem to me his wife had left him.

We were so in the moment with each other. I took a picture of him and some video, but I don’t know who he is. When I am in Rittenhouse Square, I look for him. I always thought I would see him again. But I haven’t. He reminded me we don’t have forever, we have today. I just wish I could tell him the impact he had on me.

Q:  Why was it important to try new things? And why every day?

Lu Ann: Studies show that our brain becomes more engaged and creates new neuropathways when we are doing new things. When we’re not, the days go by and you can’t even remember what you did, because the brain doesn’t have to think about your daily activities. When I was stuck, I wasn’t doing new things, I wasn’t experiencing, I wasn’t learning, I wasn’t growing. I had become very comfortable. I think that’s common – we love doing the same thing over and over again. Doing the new requires us to be ok with being a little out of control and taking risks. You have to learn that’s where the rewards are, and you only learn that by experiencing it over and over again. Then you realize it’s a great thing. I think it’s part of the secret of life. We all should be living this way: do the new. When we don’t, we get stuck.

Q: What was the first new thing you did?

Lu Ann: To get started, I made a list of things I’d never done before. I wanted something to do on day one that would set me on the right path, and I thought of the Polar Bear Plunge, where people run into the ocean in the freezing cold. I used to think people who did that were crazy. I hate the cold. I don’t go into the ocean in the summer. So I thought, “Perfect. We’re going to the Jersey Shore.”

Q: Did you take the plunge?

Lu Ann: I was standing there, my knees were shaking, my heart was racing, and I was thinking, “I do not want to do this.” The bullhorn goes off and this guy in a speedo – who I did not know – grabs my hand and we start running into the freezing surf. I fall and get completely wet, even my hair got wet, and before I know it, Speedo guy comes back, grabs me by the hand again, and pulls me out of the water. We run back to shore, and he’s screaming, “We did it!”

There I was standing in my bathing suit, freezing, and I thought, “I’m so happy.” It didn’t make sense, but I felt courageous. I felt exhilarated and that I had accomplished something. I realized my daughter’s crazy idea was probably a good one, and I should keep going.

Q: Was it difficult to find new things to do?

Lu Ann: Sometimes friends would give me ideas. Sometimes people would just send me ideas after reading my blog. One of my friends suggested we do this crazy dancing in the dark with strangers thing – I hated it. One woman wrote me that she made hula hoops, and she wanted to teach me how to hula hoop. I loved that. I did the Color Run and a Mud Run. My friends know I’m always up for something new.

Q: Do you have advice if someone wants to start this?

Lu Ann: Make your list. List everything you’ve never done, never tried. And start telling people what you’re doing. Then start documenting: journaling, blogging, taking pictures. Write down what you’re feeling; it will help to see your progress. It also helps to find a friend who will go on this journey with you, and it may not be the person you think is your best friend right now. You don’t have to do it every day, but be open to it every day.

Q: When you speak to groups, what’s your message?

Lu Ann: If you feel like you’re slugging through to-do lists every day and you have no joy, this is a way to remember who you are when you are your best. This is a way to tap into that playful, daring, adventurous person who has done amazing things. And we all have done amazing things. We just sometimes forget.

February 2019
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