Your new book chronicles how you did something new every single day for a year. Midlife crisis?
I was just in a bad place, and I really didn’t know what to do about it. There was so much change around me at work that was really overwhelming. And life changes—my daughter had gone off to college. And all this technology was coming along that I hated.
It’s not like your life had lacked for challenges. You lost your large intestine at 33, had breast cancer at 35 and kidney cancer at 45. … You weren’t content to just put your feet up?
I want to live passionately. And I think I just hit a wall. It went on for about a year where I was really upset and angry. I was waiting for something to change around me, and nothing did. And I realized: I’m going to have to make the change.
The first “first” you did was the Polar Bear Plunge.
I needed a slap to the face. And what’s better than jumping into a freezing ocean? As soon as we got there, I was like, this is the stupidest thing I’ve ever done. There’s this wild group of people standing out there in their Speedos and all sorts of outfits. They literally pulled me in, and it was over in seconds. The next thing I knew, we’re running like maniacs back onto the shore, and I was really proud of myself. I felt exhilarated.
The range of stuff you did was pretty fun: doing a cartwheel, sledding down the Art Museum steps, a day without cursing. How did you think of the firsts?
Friends and family and even viewers—because I started sharing what I was doing with viewers and on my blog—gave me great ideas. My former co-worker who moved to Phoenix sent me a sucker with a scorpion in it. He said, “Here’s one for you—eat this.” It was disgusting. And some days, I was really at a loss. One day I walked around the block backwards with my dog, because I needed something really quick.
There’s some interesting science about doing something for the first time.
We’re all creatures of habit. And that’s fine if it works for you. If you are stuck, though, you have to do something different. And the brain will just lap it up. It loves different. Doing something new—and science backs this up—is the antidote, is the prescription, for stuck.
Do we fear change as we get older?
I wouldn’t have said I feared change, but looking back on it, yeah, I did. I really dismissed a lot of things that were coming my way. I dismissed social media as just a fad. I think I was fearful of it because I didn’t understand it. I had depended on my interns: Okay, I need to find out about so-and-so, go find me stuff online. I wasn’t doing it myself, and I think I didn’t do it because I was afraid I couldn’t do it. Now I’m swimming with them, and I love it. I’ve been trying to go from a BlackBerry to an iPhone. Very challenging.
The firsts just keep on coming.
My fingers are really fat, and I’m sending really horrible text messages to people that don’t make any sense.
You were determined to do one new first every day for a year, and you swear you didn’t cheat. Really?
There were some days that were lamer. One day I was really sick, and I could not figure out what I was going to do. I think I called that “Be Sick and Grade Papers,” because I had started teaching school—that was one of my firsts. You know, some were just better than others. Like, eating dessert all day turned out to be a really stupid, horrible thing to do. I couldn’t wait to have the all-dessert day, and it was just disgusting by about three in the afternoon.
One day you taught yourself to say the alphabet backwards. Can you still do it?
Oh my God, no. I’m horrible at it! [laughs] Z …
Lu Ann Cahn's I Dare Me is available Nov. 5.