Erik Orton and his wife Emily are co-authors of “Seven at Sea: Why a New York City Family Cast Off Convention for a Life-Changing Year on a Sailboat.”
Does the idea of setting New Year’s resolutions make you want to take a second nap or have another swig of eggnog? Do you hate the pressure of picking something and sticking with it for the next 365 days? Do you want to improve your life, but know deep down your apathy is rolling its eyes at your conviction? Don’t worry, I may have something for you.
My wedding anniversary is Jan. 2. My wife, Emily, and I used to struggle to celebrate it because it falls in that hangover part of the holidays where it’s time to get back to work, get the kids back to school and, in general, return to the grind. (Serves us right for getting married between college semesters.) But we came up with something that works: We call it a New Year’s First.
We combine the celebrations of our anniversary and New Year’s not by resolving to do anything, but by doing something neither of us has ever done before. Just one thing, one time. Once we’ve done it, we’ve met our goal. It’s a win.
Anyone could do this. You could say, “Hey, we’ve never ordered that kind of pizza before. Let’s try it.” Call in the order. Boom. You’re done. Success. You could say, “I’ve never done a triple feature at the movies before.” Get down to the multiplex, buy tickets for three back-to-back movies and settle in. Success. Or, if you’re a little more ambitious, you could say, “I’ve always wanted to watch the sunrise.” Check online to see what time the sun comes up, get out of bed 10 minutes before that, walk outside, and face east. Stand there for 10 minutes. Success.
One year, Emily and I, who live in New York, decided we wanted to watch the sunrise in South Carolina. We stood on the beach there, and the wind blew cold — and I still remember it. One year we went to our first yoga class. I had no clue what a downward-facing dog was, let alone a savasana . Now I hold a crow pose for 30 seconds every morning — well, most mornings. Another year we went to the Piper’s Kilt, a hamburger joint in our Manhattan neighborhood that we’d been meaning to try for years. Nothing long-lasting came of that, but it was a really great burger.
Further on in years, we tackled some bigger “firsts.” One recent Jan. 2 we decided to go sailboat shopping. Neither of us had ever shopped for a boat, and we had no idea how we could afford one, but we went anyway.
I pestered two brokers between Christmas and New Year’s and made appointments to visit boats in Connecticut and Rhode Island. It was a fiercely cold, windy day and, unlike most of our anniversary “firsts,” we brought our kids along. We’d been working our way toward a dream of learning to sail and living on a sailboat with our kids before they graduated from high school. They were in on this trip too because we were, in essence, house hunting.
We ended up not making an offer on either boat, but it broke the ice; we decided we could figure out the money part eventually. The following year, we bought a 38-foot catamaran. We’d never bought a sailboat before, so we picked Jan. 2 to close the sale. One month later, I quit my job, and we spent that year sailing with our five kids from St. Martin back to Manhattan on a shoestring budget.
I’m not a big fan of New Year’s resolutions. Too much pressure. But I do like to do one new thing: a First. I’ve started my year off successfully and set the stage for good things to come.
So as Jan. 1 approaches, consider picking one new thing and giving it a go. Who knows where it might lead? Now pour yourself some eggnog and enjoy your nap.