DONE: 1 Year, 160 New Experiences

DONE: 1 Year, 160 New Experiences
New experience #8. I played with Beluga whales at the Shedd Aquarium and this one kissed me. May 19, 2013.

One year ago today I set out on what I believed to be an incredibly ambitious journey and one that I wasn't sure I could complete. Today I celebrate the successful completion of that journey and reflect on the lessons I've learned and the new person I've become.

My life was in a rut, both personally and professionally; I had become a shadow of my former strong, independent, happy, spontaneous, adventurous, take-no-prisoners self and I had lost confidence in myself and my abilities. I didn't even recognize the woman I saw in the mirror each day.

So what happened? I began searching for ideas on how to make changes in my life. The search included reading books and articles on the internet, talking to friends and people I admired who were happy and secure in their lives seeking their advice, and digging deep within myself and asking the tough questions. What had made me happy in the past? What needed to happen for me to recognize myself again? What would I even look like? Who did I want to be?

Ultimately, the answer came to me through Twitter and a woman I didn't know. I began seeing tweets from a woman named Amy about a project she'd embarked upon making 1,000 cranes and then more tweets announcing her ambitious plan to have 1,000 new experiences over the course of the next year. She'd written a blog post about it and I was struck by the fact that although she already had hundreds of items on her list, most of her list was empty and unplanned.

I distinctly remember thinking how cool her adventures sounded, but how I could never have 1,000 new experiences in a year. There was simply no way. The excuses for why I couldn't achieve something so ambitious flooded my brain, but a little voice kept popping up and saying, "What if you tried? What do you have to lose?" Like Henry Fonda in 12 Angry Men, that little voice examined all the "evidence" for why I couldn't and methodically made all that "evidence" disappear.

Ultimately, I decided that I thought maybe I could have 100 new experiences in one year. I didn't know what those experiences would be, although I had a few in mind to start. The more I thought about the possibilities, the more ideas inundated my head and my heart and I got really excited about the journey.

I finished my initial list of 100 new experiences on New Year's Eve 2013 and, never one to rest on my laurels, I challenged myself to have another 50 new experiences by the one year anniversary. Today is the one year anniversary and, as you already know, I blew that goal out of the water too. I had 160 new experiences in one year.

Yay me!

So what did I learn?

  1. New doesn't have to mean new.  There were a number of experiences I had earlier in adulthood or as a kid that I loved, traditions I stopped honoring, and parts of me that I'd let go of in order to be someone I thought I should be to make others happy. What I realized was that it was most important to honor myself. I allowed myself to go back and re-experience things I'd done earlier in life (at least 10 years ago) because I decided that if I hadn't done it in 10 years, the experience was new again. Those experiences were some of my favorite experiences.
  2. Ask for what I want. The world has no idea what I want and neither do the people who love me. They might have some idea, but they're not mind readers. I have to speak up. My voice has power and is mine. My wants and needs are important and I'm worthy of having them met.
  3. Just do it. Yes, this has been the Nike slogan since 1988, but there's a reason it's stuck around for almost 30 years. It resonates with people for its simplicity. Just do it shouts down all excuses. Just like the runner who falls short of completing her first marathon, even if I didn't achieve my goal of 100 new experiences, but had only had 50 or 75 or 90, I'd still be further along than if I hadn't started at all.
  4. Growth happens in fits and spurts and it's okay. It's never a straight trajectory upward. Some days I took two steps forward and three steps back, while other days, I surged ahead fearlessly. In the end, I grew more than I imagined I could.
  5. Be open and listen to the Universe. In November, I was in Chicago for a one-day conference and dinner with Amy that night (oh, we ultimately became real life friends). When the conference was over, I had a couple of hours to kill, it was one of the clearest, most beautiful days I'd seen in ages, and realized the Universe was telling me to run over to the Sears Tower and conquer my fear of heights by standing on the Sky Deck Ledge. Coincidently, that same day, some committee somewhere had decided that the new Freedom Tower in New York had out climbed the Sears Tower to be the tallest building in the country, a major story in Chicago. My super secret crush Ben Bradley from ABC7 was reporting the story from the Sky Deck at the Sears Tower. One new experience quickly turned into a second new experience when I met him and he graciously took a picture with me and then the next day, he retweeted me and the pic. I could have done some window shopping on Michigan Avenue or sat on a bench and read a book for those two hours, but the Universe pushed me out of my comfort zone that clear, beautiful evening as the sun set over the western suburbs and I had two great new experiences, one of which wasn't even on my list of possible experiences. Ben, if you're reading this, I'd still LOVE it if you'd do a story about my journey. That would be the coolest new experience yet (see lesson #2 above).
  6. It's not about what happens to us, but how we handle what happens to us. In the past year, I've had pneumonia and totaled my car. I've also had some lousy new experiences that I haven't shared publicly and aren't on the list. They were pretty crappy experiences. Some people have questioned why I listed having pneumonia and totaling my car on the list of new experiences when they were so awful. The reason is simple: It wasn't about the experience as much as it was about how I handled it. Shitty things happen in all of our lives. The measure of each of us is how we handle those experiences in both the short and long term. With my car accident, I've focussed only on how much gratitude I have. Yes, I cried in the moment. It was terrifying and I felt defeated, but within a couple of hours, I was able to see how much there was to be grateful for. That's the important part.

This past year has been one of the best years of my life and I'm elated to have gone on this journey. My life is richer for having pushed myself physically, professionally, emotionally.

As President Bartlet asks in each episode of The West Wing, "What's next?" (I really should have a t-shirt that says this. It's become my mantra.)

Starting today, I am embarking on another year of new experiences. 250 to be exact. Yes, I've upped the ante. I can do it. I'm certain of it. Most of the list is done and I'm giddy about it. I'll be sharing it publicly tomorrow.

In the meantime, you can see the full list of my 160 completed new experiences, along with pictures and links to blog posts, here. I'm also going to be posting a gallery of my favorite pictures from the past year in the next few days.

You might also want to take a peek at Amy's original list, her newest list, and my friend Kristin's list. Kristin began her journey in the last couple of months and I'm incredibly proud of her. They are pretty impressive and have given me lots of inspiration for my new list.

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    Jessica Gardner

    A native of Chicago's Northwest Suburbs and resident of the North Shore, Little Merry Sunshine comes by her name honestly. The story goes that as a child, she was always so happy that she even slept with a smile on her face. Her mom nicknamed her Little Merry Sunshine. It stuck, along with her insatiable desire to focus on the good in the world and to leave it a little better than she found it. She does this by sharing her passions and dreams, what inspires her, and maybe you too, and furthering the discussion about how we can listen to our better angels. You can reach her at LittleMerrySunshineCN[at]WowWay[dot]com.

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