2016: My (Leap) Year of Firsts

There is no doubt the first month of 2016 both started and ended with a splash for me.  Literally.  After reading I Dare Me, Lu Ann Cahn’s witty and wonderful book of candor and inspiration, I informed her how moved I was by her story and she invited me to join her exactly where her book began – at the Polar Bear Plunge in Atlantic City, NJ.

First, let me explain the premise of her book. Though a survivor and highly successful and well-known investigative reporter with a loving family and fruitful life, Lu Ann was feeling stuck and her daughter Alexa convinced her to do a daily first – something new every day – for an entire year.  These “firsts” turned into a blog and then a book, which is continuing to impact lives one page at a time.

Back to the plunge. As a native of the Jersey Shore, I treasured the ocean year-round.  However, the thought of dipping so much as a toe in the water during the winter months seemed treacherous, let alone the thought of completely submerging my entire body.  Though for the first time in my life, this plunge somehow seemed like something I just needed to do…and I did…we did. This started my “year of firsts.”


Throughout January I engaged family, friends and co-workers to help me come up with new ideas to add to my list of “firsts.”  The ideas were only accepted and added to the list if they were beneficial to my mind, body, soul and/or career and did not conflict with my core values (ie: faith, morals, beliefs, etc.). Therefore, I had to reject the dare to only drink Mountain Dew for a day and the dare to kick my feet up on my boss’ desk.  Some firsts can lead to lasts.

Here are some of the highlights from my first month of “firsts”:

  • Day 11 – Pay for the person behind me in line.
  • Day 12 – Substantively compliment three strangers.
  • Day 14 – Blow bubbles to greet speakers.
  • Day 17 – Give relationship advice to a stranger.
  • Day 21 – Attend a judicial swearing-in ceremony.
  • Day 24 – Swing at the playground in the snow.
  • Day 25 – Meet three moms and give them flowers.
  • Day 27 – Attend a Turning Points for Children meeting.

On January 31, I ended my first month of “firsts” back where I started – in the water. I worked through fear of claustrophobia to successfully complete a 90-minute sensory deprivation float.  (If you have no idea what I am talking about, Google it.)  It was as reinvigorating as the plunge was, though thankfully it was much, much warmer.

This whole experience of doing something new every day has given me a fresh appreciation for life.  It has allowed me to communicate and bond with strangers in meaningful ways, remember the fun and importance of playtime and step out of my comfort zone on a frequent basis.

In PR, we need the skills of having the courage to go up to strangers and the compassion to connect with people from all different backgrounds.  Our toolbox of skill sets can be as vast as the diversity of clients and industries that we represent.

In sharing all of this with you, I encourage you to challenge and dare yourself to complete significant “firsts” that will stretch you and allow you to grow both personally and professionally.

Lastly, I kindly ask that you share suggestions and/or opportunities for “firsts” with me. Tickets to a new show or exhibit? Client opening a new restaurant? Access to a behind-the-scenes tour? Looking forward to sharing many more “firsts” with PPRA.

Meredith Z. Avakian-Hardaway is president of the Philadelphia Public Relations Association and director of communications and marketing at the Philadelphia Bar Association.  Connect with her on LinkedIn or follow her on Twitter at @MZApoetry.

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