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  • Laurie Bergman

Take the Leap to Try Something New


Silhoutte of woman leaping over a cliff with the sun shining.

Remember the exhilaration you felt as a child learning something new? Whether it was a subject in school or an introduction to a new skill passed on from a beloved relative, those early learning experiences forged pathways in your brain. The good news: learning is a lifelong pursuit! Our brains are capable of learning and growing even as we age, but just as we do to keep our bodies healthy, we have to train our brains on a regular basis. Making a habit of trying new things gives our brains the training they need to help us keep engaged with life and to stay sharp. 

 

"Eventually, your cognitive skills will wane, and thinking and memory will be more challenging, so you need to build up your reserve," said Dr. John N. Morris, director of social and health policy research at the Harvard University-affiliated Institute for Aging Research in Train Your Brain. "Embracing a new activity that also forces you to think and learn and requires ongoing practice can be one of the best ways to keep the brain healthy." 

 

Overcoming psychological hurdles – how do I get started? 

Sometimes it might feel easier to tell yourself, “I’m too old to do that.” Instead, put your mind to thinking about what you would want to do if you had no limitations of any kind. Giving yourself the time to figure out what you really want to accomplish will help you think about ways to overcome any hesitation you have about completing that accomplishment. Here are a few anecdotes drawn from my own experience. 

 

A hobby you’ve always been interested in but never had time to pursue 

I have always been fascinated by ikebana, the Japanese art of flower arranging. Ikebana arrangements are typified by their very formal structure and are composed according to strict rules. I grew up in a house of flower mavens in which garden blooms were cut and arranged with happy abandon. Even today, I love to arrange flowers in just that fashion. But ikebana fascinated me because I saw it as the opposite of what I’d always seen in flowers, and I wanted to see if I could do it. I thought it might bring me a little mental discipline with the additional benefit of a beautiful result. 


women holding ikebana flower art

I learned from some quick research that the local chapter of the Ikebana Society met at a church in my neighborhood, with sessions taught by a native of Japan considered to be an expert in the art! “Wow! How cool is that?” I thought to myself. I attended my first meeting, bringing what I thought were just the right materials and supplies. But I quickly learned that my materials were not quite suitable for ikebana. I felt a bit self-conscious, but the instructor kindly reassured me that I would still be welcome to observe other members as they created their arrangements. That was such a kind gesture, and I loved seeing the principles of ikebana come to life through the hands of an elderly gentleman seated next to me who smiled as he concentrated on structuring a lovely arrangement. That experience prompted me to do more reading on ikebana and to be adequately supplied for the next meeting. (It also served as a good reminder to understand everything you need to know before embarking on your next adventure.) 

 

A family dish or family ritual or item that might be complicated but is special enough to ensure its endurance

A handwritten family recipe card.
My grandmother’s handwritten recipe for Barbecued Kraut.

The women on both sides of my family were wonderful cooks who loved preparing and sharing a wide variety of foods. One unusual dish in particular stands out: the delicious sweet-sour casserole called Barbecue Sauerkraut. Despite the name, this tasty concoction does not require the cook to toss a soggy tangle of sauerkraut onto a hot grill. Rather, it’s an intriguing baked mixture of sauerkraut, tomato, bacon, brown sugar, and just a touch of a favorite barbecue sauce. Our family loved this passed-down recipe, but it seemed like no one else had even heard of it. When we would describe the casserole to friends, well, let’s just say they made some pretty creative faces. But when people tried it, most would say, “Hey, that’s pretty good.” (The recipe is at the end of this post if you’d like to try it for yourself.) 

 

When I turned 16, I was tasked with making sure dinner was prepared and on the table each night. I spent that summer with my maternal grandmother (Meemo) learning how to make the hearty dishes she was known for, including not only barbecued kraut, but the bread recipe she’d been making for decades. The first time I tried baking bread, I was very intimidated. So many steps! But she coached me through each bit of the process, and the two loaves we made together turned out beautifully. 


Man and woman baking together

The first time I tried her bread recipe by myself a few years later, however, was a different story. After half a day spent measuring, mixing, kneading, and waiting for each rise, then finally baking, out of the metal loaf pans plopped two doughy bricks! I muttered a few choice words to myself but wasn’t going to let one misstep stop me from making bread on my own. I re-read the recipe and deduced that I hadn’t let the yeast fully proof. The following week, I gathered my ingredients and tried again … with successful results! 

 

Friendsville Square’s Heather enjoyed a similar experience recently. “My friend Kathy and I decided to try to bake croissants for one reason: she is a great cook and enjoys trying new recipes. We’re both retired and often looking for challenging projects. I love croissants and have always been curious about making them, so I posed this challenge to Kathy, and she said yes right away. Making croissants is a tedious process: rolling out the dough, chilling the dough, going through the butter lamination process. It requires a lot of patience and waiting in between heavy-handed dough-rolling. We were not sure they were going to turn out as we hoped, but when they came out of the oven, Kathy and I agreed our croissants were spectacular. As a result, we decided to find and make recipes that are challenging an ongoing activity and are currently on the hunt for recipe #2.” 


Two trays of cooked croissants that a person is brushing a croissant with butter.

A professional goal you want to accomplish

Think of a goal you have (or had) for your professional life. How specific is your goal? If it’s not focused sharply enough, you may have too much leeway to let yourself think it’s a goal too large or complicated to pursue. 

 

As I progressed through my public relations career, one goal that had taken shape when I was a teenager refused to go away: that of being published in a magazine. For years, I read articles on “how to get published in magazines” and even bought a book about magazine writing. Even after reading as much as I could get my hands on, I still “down talked” myself by thinking, “I could do all these tasks, but I won’t get published. There’s no way I can make my writing stand out.” 


Cover of Allure magazine.

Then in the early 1990s, I learned about an opportunity I knew I had to seize. Linda Wells, then the editor of Allure magazine, was returning to her hometown of St. Louis to present a talk to The Fashion Group’s local chapter. As a longtime reader of Allure and a fan of its monthly “Directory” of city-specific beauty pros, I knew I could write about the places to go in St. Louis for hair and makeup services. I bought a guest ticket to the meeting and caught up with Linda afterwards as she mingled with attendees. Before I could let fear overtake me, I just straight-up asked her, “How can I write for the Directory?” She replied, “We actually have someone from St. Louis who is writing for the next issue, but you can get on the list for the next time we have an assignment.” She gave me a name to contact, which I did the next day, and by the end of the year, I had my assignment. Allure paid for me to get my hair cut and makeup applied at three different salons over a two-month period, plus a freelancer fee. I submitted most willingly to the pampering and wrote short, punchy entries about each experience. For a time, I’m sure my coworkers wondered why I kept getting my hair cut so often, but it was worth it when the piece came out with my name in the “Reported by” credits. (I hit the jackpot with one of the stylists I selected for this assignment: Rommie Martinez still cuts my hair today!) 


A snapshot of a magazine article about beauty.
The Allure magazine issue containing my name as “Directory” reporter.

The takeaway? Sometimes one just has to plow through the fear and latch onto something specific, even if that something seems small, in order to take the first steps toward accomplishing a goal or trying something new. I had to let my fear of approaching a stranger/important person take a backseat to my desire to write for Allure and my confidence that I could fulfill the assignment. Overcoming my tendency towards introversion in large crowds and around “important” people was a new skill I acquired thanks to my desire to achieve something I’d always wanted to do.  

 

What else do Friendsville Square writers have to say about trying something new?

Here at Friendsville Square, the community offers space and motivation to live your life as fully as possible, a natural nod to trying new things. Heather and Jodi have taken similar topics and run with them. Jodi writes about bucket lists, which are all about trying something new writ large, in Dream Big: Building Your Bucket List. And Heather looks at the idea of taking on specific, targeted challenges to spur personal growth in Say No to Resolutions – Consider Targeted Challenges Instead.

 

Jodi explores tackling a new language (Italian, in her case) in her informative post 7 Strategies for Learning a New Language. Heather describes her experiences (and those of others) traveling solo with gusto in Vacation for One, Please! Karen Gordy-Panhorst digs into the pursuit of her family history in her genealogy-focused post: Genealogy: Digging Into Family History. And Mia Jazo-Harris discusses the importance art plays in developing personal creativity in The Best Rx in 2024: Your Brain on Art.  


Person sitting at desk with a sign that says "Try Something New." On the desk is a succulent, camera, and photo prints.

Remember that the pursuit of new experiences is an exciting benefit of traveling through life, not a final destination. “Being a committed lifelong learner will likely yield the benefit of learners living longer,” said Pamela Warren, MA, PLPC, licensed professional counselor and Friendsville Square contributor. “A curiosity about life – about who we are and what we can learn next – gets us up each morning. Learning new information, mastering new skills keeps us vital, keeps us contributing to the world and connecting with others. We are made to create, to contribute.” 


 

 

Recipe: Barbecue Sauerkraut 

 

Preheat oven: 350 degrees 

 

4 slices bacon diced and browned; drain most of the grease. 

½ onion, diced; brown until clear in a bit of remaining bacon fat. 

Add one 2 ½ cup can of tomatoes (Meemo says “cut up some;” I cut them pretty finely) and ½ cup brown sugar. 

 

Cook slowly for 15 minutes. Drain 1 package kraut (she usually used one 15 oz. can or slightly larger can) and put in a 2-quart casserole dish. To tomato-bacon mix, add 1 tsp. Worcestershire sauce and ½ tsp. A-1 Sauce. Pour entire mixture over the kraut in the casserole and sprinkle with your barbecue sauce of choice. Bake for 1 hour. 



Laurie Bergman, guest blogger

Laurie White Bergman is a recently retired public relations professional taking the first exhilarating steps into her “next act” armed with an extensive list of places to visit, activities to explore, and skills to learn or rediscover. She lives with her family in St. Louis County, Missouri. You can connect with her on X (Twitter): @LaurieBergman





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