The author on the top of Heart Mountain Wyoming

Hello and welcome to Try Thirty New Things This Year.

The Cody High School class of 2017 invited me to be their graduation speaker. During my speech, I challenged the seniors to move out of their comfort zones and take some risks—try thirty new things a year.

What’s the story with trying thirty new things a year? Most people want to be lucky. Some people seem to be “born lucky” while others seem to have no luck at all. A couple of years ago, I read an article about what it takes to be lucky, and after reading that article, I have some thoughts about luck. 

People who are lucky are people who are willing to take risks. I know that sounds oxymoronic—take a risk to have some luck—but it’s true. Taking risks means occasionally incurring a certain amount of failure. However, sometimes one has to “fail forward” in order to prepare for an opportunity. A wise person once defined luck as the place where preparation meets opportunity, which means a person is going to need to take some risks in order to be ready when a good opportunity presents itself.  

Why is thirty the magic number of new things to try? The article I read said the average person only tries three to four new things each year, things that are almost guaranteed to succeed. Trying thirty new things a year means trying three to four new things each month. Trying that many new things is going to involve taking some risks and even weathering some occasional failures, but you’re learning something new and you’re growing regardless of failure or success.

When I’m talking about taking risks, I don’t mean the kind preceded by, “Hold my beer!” A little common sense is helpful. A calculated risk would be taking a course and jumping out of that airplane with a trained instructor. Parachuting from a plane is taking a big risk, but with some preparation, it’s a calculated one. Jumping off a cliff with some parachute material tied around your neck, wrists, and ankles as a homemade squirrel suit is not taking a calculated risk. Trying something that has a high potential of landing you in the hospital—or in jail—is just being stupid. Weigh out the pros and cons of the risk before you attempt it.

Since reading the article, I’ve challenged myself to try thirty new things a year. I read the article in May of 2015, so my year starts in May. This is NOT a New Years resolution. This is a commitment to yourself that you really mean to keep, so it doesn’t matter when you start. Start today. Try something new today.

This blog is an example of me practicing what I preach. Writing a blog is a completely new experience for me, something that scares me because I know the possibility exists of the occasional troll who’s going to call me out because I didn’t take a big enough risk or try something truly new—in that person’s opinion. But I’m also opening myself up to like-minded people who are going to challenge me in new and wonderful ways, introduce me to new experiences I’ve never thought of trying before, and that’s worth the risk of dealing with the occasional troll.

Some examples of new things I tried in the year ending in April 2017: Free-handed zip-lining. I dropped about twelve feet onto a sloping hill instead of into the middle of the pond where I intended to land. Twisted my ankle and gave my brother a good laugh. Remember that old Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer animation on TV? The one where the abominable snowman falls off the cliff—and survives because, as Yukon Cornelius explains, “Bumbles bounce?” Yeah, my brother described my fall from the zip-line as “Bumbles bounce!” Ha. Ha. Sounds like an unlucky way to start my thirty new things year, doesn’t it, but I don’t think it was. What I learned was that I needed to improve the grip strength in my hands before I try free-handing a zip-line again.

The next month, I stepped off a platform forty-five feet in the air. I’d never tried rappelling before, and I had the chance after I completed a zip-line course (zip-lines that require harnesses—lucky me). Being better prepared, I stepped off that platform with much more confidence and earned a thrill.

I also tried paddle boarding for the first time. It looked so easy when everyone else glided across the lake. Turns out, the sport takes core strength and balance, which after spending quite a bit of time in the water, I learned I needed to acquire. Paddle boarding is a blast though, so this year I’m planning to take some lessons and pursue it.

During the fall, I had the chance to hold a live American alligator. The reptile was about two feet long, and he had his mouth duct-taped shut, but he still jumped at me when I opened his container, which made my heart race, and I might have screamed. Once we both calmed down, he rested docilely in my hands, and I could feel his heart beating through the surprisingly thin skin of his belly. His knobby looking hide was actually smooth, not something I expected just from looking at him. Handling him turned out to be really fun.

One of the first new things I tried in May of this year was eating crawdads. For years, my husband has tried to convince me those giant bug-looking “fish” are delicious, but I wanted no part of them. When the entrée special I ordered at a local restaurant came with crawdads, and I tried to give them away, my husband reminded me about thirty new things, so I had no choice but to say yes. Turns out, sucking their little brains out is pretty entertaining—and tasty. They’re a lot of work for one succulent bite, but I’ll definitely eat ‘em again. I just have to ignore the antennae and all the legs…

Another new thing I’ve tried this year was to hike the four miles to the top of Heart Mountain in northwest Wyoming. For about twenty years, hiking Heart Mountain has been on my bucket list, so this year in the spirit of having thirty new experiences, I trudged to the top of it. There are maybe three relatively flat sections on the entire climb, and those sections aren’t very long. Definitely not long enough to clear out the lactic acid build-up in your legs. For the four days following the hike, I felt like I’d revisited two-a-day basketball practices. The fear of actually having to use my bear spray since grizzlies love to roam Heart Mountain jacked up my adrenaline every time I rounded a hairpin corner on the trail. But the views and the camaraderie with fellow hikers were worth it. (There were no grizzly sitings that day–whew!)

Back to front: Carter, Cedar, and Rattlesnake Mountains in the Absoraka Range

The wild flowers—buttercups, wild irises, Indian paintbrush, and mountain bluebells—bloomed outrageously from the base of the trail to the tree line. The views from the top made all the push and the pain more than worth the climb. It’s possible to see six mountain ranges in two states from the top of Heart Mountain. Incredible.

Balsamroot and wild irises

I realize some people might not find the new things I try—and blog about here—all that risky or exciting. However, trying anything new that causes you to step even a little bit out of your comfort zone is opening you up to new possibilities, preparing you for new opportunities. Whether you’re trying a new recipe or climbing El Capitan without ropes (Alex Honnold did that earlier this spring), if you’re trying something new, you’re opening yourself up to becoming luckier. That’s the point of this blog.

One last thing for now: it’s important to keep a list of the things you try. If you try something new this year, forget you tried it, and try it again in two years—it doesn’t count the second time. So write down all the new things you try and pay attention to how they open you up to creating your own luck.

Yours in taking a risk (or thirty),

Tam DeRudder Jackson

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