November 3, 2013
You can understand why Lu Ann Cahn was exhausted.
It was 2009. She had already stared down breast cancer at age 35 and kidney cancer at age 45. The economy was in the tank and her profession — broadcast journalism — was transforming in disquieting ways.
"For the first time in my life, I felt old and out of touch," she told me. "I was really angry."
You can also understand why she wanted a change.
"It wasn't acceptable to waste my time being that unhappy," she says. "I understand that every day you wake up and feel OK is a precious gift, and you better spend it doing something you feel passionate about. I wasn't doing that, and it was time to do something about it."
She did 365 things about it.
At the urging of her 23-year-old daughter, Cahn, now 56, embarked on a year of firsts.
"My firsts ranged from riding a mechanical bull to rappelling into an underground cave," she writes in "I Dare Me: How I Rebooted and Recharged My Life by Doing Something New Every Day" (Perigree), out on Tuesday. "I spoke to a complete stranger on the street. I smoked my first cigar. I shoveled horse manure."
She made gnocchi, for Pete's sake.
Prior to her experiment, Cahn felt aced out by her colleagues and overwhelmed by the culture.
"I don't text!" she would snap at co-workers. "Facebook is for morons."
"I was resisting change all around me," she says. "And I needed change.
"The brain loves new things. It could be reciting the alphabet backward. It could be a new dance move. By learning to take small risks, you teach yourself to do the big things you didn't think you could do."
By chronicling her firsts in a book, Cahn hopes to inspire others. "I want you to look at your world with new eyes," she writes, "to make your own list of firsts, to stop waiting for someone to rescue you from whatever you can't control and to rescue yourself with something new every day."
I thought of Cahn when I waded into the ongoing online muck surrounding Maria Kang, the fitness model who posted a Facebook photo of herself with very little clothing, her three young sons and one line: "What's your excuse?" (For not looking like her, that is.)
Some 16 million people viewed and commented on the picture. Most were, understandably, uninspired.
"It's (wrong) to keep telling women that if they only tried harder they could look like this," wrote one of my blogging colleagues at ChicagoNow. "I could work out 24 hours a day and I will never look like this."
Kang stoked the flames with a non-apology.
"What you interpret is not my fault," she wrote. "It's yours. The first step in owning your life, your body and your destiny is to own the thoughts that come out of your own head. … So if you want to continue hating this image, get used to hating many other things for the rest of your life."
This woman is the anti-Cahn, I thought.
Shame isn't inspirational, and smug self-regard doesn't make you a role model. Some of us don't look at the countless factors standing between us and those abs as excuses. (Some of us just really like coffee ice cream — more of a fact than an excuse, really.)
Still, if her intent is to light a fire under us, she would be better served by Cahn's don't-beat-up-on-'em-join-'em approach.
"What's your excuse?" How about: "What are you capable of?"
"I know what it's like to be stuck," Cahn writes. "I know what it's like to feel sad and think you have lost the ability to change whatever situation you are in. But I promise you, change starts with doing something new, something different from what you did yesterday."
Here's an idea for something new: What if, from here on out, we think of all the times we've felt scared and stuck and aced out, and decide, once and for all, to keep shame out of our bag of tricks — with our kids, with our partners, with our friends, with ourselves?
That could usher in a whole lot of firsts.
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