One month from today I will turn 40. This seems almost impossible to me, because I don't feel that I should have that many decades behind me. When I absorbed this fact earlier in the year, I honestly became quite depressed. I won't go into details, but it was an ugly time that seemed like it would consume me. Realizing that I was spiraling downward quickly and desperate to dig my heels in and fight it if I could, I started casting about for something--anything--that could act as an anchor and keep me from being sucked into the strong undercurrent of my emotional instability.
That's when I came across a book called I Dare Me by Lu Ann Cahn. The subtitle drew me in: "How I rebooted and recharged my life by doing something new every day." Rebooting and recharging definitely seemed like a move in the right direction for me. And since I had been struggling with the mundanity of everyday suburban life after our trip around the world, "something new everyday" was irresistibly intriguing. It was a quick read, in which Ms. Cahn chronicled her "year of firsts," which included some things as simple as trying new-to-her foods, to activities as daring as rappelling into a cenote. Most of the things on her list were things she worked into her everyday life. Some were real stretches for her, and others were things she'd always wanted to try. Her main objective was simply to say "yes" when opportunities presented themselves and to give herself permission to step outside her comfort zone. She didn't love every first, but she learned a lot about herself, and she found herself in the new habit of saying "yes." For her, it was a method of combatting her own depression and a feeling of being stuck.
I'm certainly no improv actress, but I have taken a couple of classes and read a couple of books, trying to understand the techniques improv actors employee. There are many principles in the study of improv that are applicable to success in everyday life. Chief among them is the "Yes, and" concept. It basically means you take what is given to you and make it your own. This is what makes improv funny. You have no control over what is given to you by another player or audience member, but you can gratefully accept it and make into something you can work with. For many people, myself included, it is more natural to want to say "No." That's not the scene I want to play; that's not the character I want to portray. Lots of people want to be in control and therefore flat out refuse those situations that aren't entirely of their own making. But even when we can get ourselves to say "yes," we often follow it with "but" rather than "and." This kills the scene and all forward progress. You have to take what your improv partner (or life) gives you, and then you have to make something of it. You can't put the brakes on every idea, and you can't fill the scene (days) with excuses or conditions. Sometimes, you just have to jump in and go with it.
So, this is what I thought of when I read Ms. Cahn's book, and I knew immediately that a year of firsts, a "yes, and" year, was exactly how I wanted to celebrate the first year of a new decade of my life. The prospect makes me excited and nervous, and that's how I know it's the right thing to do. As I contemplated the idea, my depression was eventually lifted, and I made a plan to start my year of firsts on my birthday.
But, I seriously need some help. 365 days is a lot of days, and, while I want to be spontaneous and look at my world with new eyes for inspiration, I also want to have an arsenal of firsts from which to draw if I get stumped. I have started making a list, but it's a little skimpy. That's where you come in, if you're willing. I would love to have your suggestions of big and small things I can add to my list. I would also appreciate your words of encouragement and support, along with your own stories of saying, "Yes, and."
I will be starting a new blog, devoted only to my year of firsts, and will keep this one for the goings-on of our family. I will share the URL soon and would love it if you'd follow along on my personal journey for self-improvement. Feel free to leave your suggestions for firsts in the comments section of this blog or on Facebook.