29 Days: That’s a Wrap

IMG_0817On October 8th, 2013 I embarked on a 29-day random act of kindness project in celebration of my 29th Birthday. What I learned may surprise you.

1) Being kind doesn’t always feel good. When I began the project I imagined experiencing immense satisfaction after completing each act. I imagined smiling ear to ear, tears welling up in my eyes, as I congratulated myself on a job well done. I frequently got emotionally reading other people’s stories of kindness that my own adventures had to lead to the same feel-good reaction. Right?

Wrong. Most of the time after finishing my act of the day I felt fairly indifferent. Sometimes I even felt downright disappointed. It took most of the project to figure out why.

First, I entered into this endeavor with very specific expectations. First, I would do nice things. Then people would be happy and appreciative. Finally, I would feel good. I forgot that out of those three elements I have no control over the second one: the reactions of others.

Maybe it’s because people don’t expect a stranger to do something nice. Maybe it’s because what I considered to be a kind gesture they considered to be an annoyance. Maybe it’s because I am terrible at interpreting emotions. Whatever the reason, peoples’ reactions were mostly unenthused.

Have you ever watched Ellen or Oprah? You know that moment where she gives an unsuspecting guest a check for 10,000, a new car, or some other extravagant gift? The person breaks down crying, hands covering the mouth in disbelief. Apparently fun-sized candy bars and $10 gift cards don’t elicit quite the same reaction.

Expecting that they would was doing myself a disservice. Expecting that they should was doing the recipient a disservice. Acting with kindness shouldn’t have self-serving motives; it kind of defeats the purpose. It’s not wrong to hope that what I did made people happy but it’s only going to be frustrating to me if I hinge the success of that random act on exactly how happy I make the recipient or how that happiness is expressed. I had to learn to just be content in the knowledge that I had done something nice, regardless of the outcome.

Secondly, a lot of the time I didn’t get to see the reactions others had to what I was doing. I equate it to getting invested in a really good book only to find out that the last couple chapters are missing. It’s a lot of build up with no resolution. It really forced me to evaluate my motivations behind the project. Was I only being kind to get something in return? Is it a bad thing if I was? Does that negate the good I might have done? Is it even possible to be completely altruistic?

I don’t yet know the answers to these questions, but I am fairly certain of one thing. Acting with kindness will always be the right thing to do, regardless of how I feel about it. Or in other words, things don’t always have to feel good for them to be good.

2) Being kind isn’t life-altering. I made the mistake of entering into this with the mindset that I could change the world, one random act at a time. I thought I would see a tangible and immediate effect. I’m finishing the project with a slightly different perspective.

One small random act of kindness is simply that, one act. The chances of it having any far-reaching effects are minimal. Setting off a chain reaction of kindness is a nice in theory, but the reality is more akin to pushing over one domino that may or not be close enough to hit the next.

Does that mean I shouldn’t even try? No. It means I have to try harder. It means every one has to try harder. To use a sports analogy, if I’m shooting free throws and can only make 1/10 shots, then I better shoot that ball ten times if I want to make the shot. Having something be challenging isn’t an incentive to give up, it’s an invitation to try harder.  

I’m starting to think of acts of kindness less like dominoes in a row and more like drops of water behind a damn. One kind act isn’t going to catalyze a major change. It takes an accumulation of acts, slowly building over time, to finally burst through.

I also have to remind myself that from my vantage point it’s hard to see the big picture. Like a musician tasked with learning one instrument’s part in a symphony, it’s hard to appreciate the notes you’re playing until they are combined with the rest of the orchestra.

I am only person, carrying out one random act of kindness at a time. But so is every one else. We are all only one person. I imagine if I could step back and see all the single acts occurring in unison they might start to look a little more monumental. They might start to sound like music.

3) “Random” is a very misleading term. Very carefully planned and executed acts of kindness are more descriptive of what I actually did.

Think of it like this. Being kind is a skill, and like any skill you have to practice if you want to get better at it. Recognizing opportunities for random acts of kindness became easier throughout the 29 days as I carried out my intentional acts. The elderly lady carrying groceries that I walked right past on day one I noticed by day eight. The guy begging for change that I didn’t see on day two got my attention by day ten.

I don’t feel that this project lacking true randomness detracts from the experience at all. If we all are waiting for opportunities to present themselves, who knows how long we’d be waiting. Like all things in life, it never hurts to be proactive.

Where to go from here? With the 29 days over, I’ve been thinking a lot about the direction I want this blog to head. More ramblings about my own acts of kindness? A report of acts of kindness from around the world? Interviews with people who are making a difference through their kind acts?

I’d love your input!

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Day 29: Celebrate a Birthday

“We make a living by what we get; we make a life by what we give.” –Sir Winston Churchill


It’s finally here! Today, the 5th of November, is my Birthday. It’s the one day of the year where I can strut my inner diva and demand that I be given breakfast, lunch and dinner in bed. It’s the one day where I can pass off every poop-filled diaper change and angry baby tantrum to my husband. It’s the one day where I can rewrite history and pretend the expression “remember remember the fifth of November,” is actually a tribute to my importance and, you know, not a reference to a plot to kill King James I.

Wait, this just in…my husband is informing that I can’t do any of that. Apparently we are adults, he has to go to work, and Oliver’s diaper rash will get out of hand if I wait for him to come home and change a diaper. Also, I cannot rewrite history, but rewriting Wikipedia is fair game.

Let’s face it, adult Birthdays just aren’t quite as fun as kid Birthdays. Once you’ve celebrated enough they lose a lot of their luster and become just another day. Or just another day where you also happen to gorge on cake. I wanted to find a way to make this Birthday stand out.

After a couple days of scheming, I couldn’t really come up with anything that could fit within the constraints of real life. Running out of time, I started to think about my 29 Random Acts of Kindness Project and what final act I would do on my Birthday. That’s when the idea came to me.

If I couldn’t come up with a way to make my Birthday memorable, why not try to make someone else’s Birthday memorable. But who? I didn’t know anyone else who shared my Birthday, and a quick internet search only turned up some “notable” celebrities: Kevin Jonas of the Jonas Brothers, Kris Jenner of Kardashian fame, and Vivien Leigh aka Scarlet O’Hara from Gone With the Wind. Not exactly who I had in mind.

Then I got another idea. In a hospital not far from my home there must be a tiny baby that is celebrating his or her actual birth day. Why not do something special and unexpected for that baby and her mom?

Since cake is mandatory at all Birthday celebrations, I ran out to a local cupcake shop called Cake in a Cup and bought some cupcakes for the parents. Then I went to the store and bought a really cute 3-month-old girl outfit and a card. I wrapped it all up and headed off to the hospital. After verifying that there was a baby girl born that day (there were three!), I asked the nurse if she could pick one and give the mom my gift. She asked me if I wanted to come back to the room with her, but since I didn’t want to intrude on a new mommy who was likely very tired and frazzled, I declined.

Walking out of the hospital I started to realize something. I had spent a good deal of time trying to think of things to do for myself to make this Birthday special, when all I had to do was think of something to do for someone else. Buying and delivering that gift made this Birthday special in a way that receiving hundred of gifts never could.

Today was memorable not because it was all about me, but because it wasn’t. Sometimes it takes stepping outside yourself to see that.

So happy Birthday baby girl. You are entering a complicated world that at its worst can be cruel and callous and hard. But today, on your Birthday, I hope you only learn of its kindness.

Note: Thank you to all my friends and family members who did go out of their way to make my Birthday special. I may be too old to celebrate with the animatronic mouse at Chuck E’ Cheeses, but you guys are a close second.



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Day 28: Write a Letter Praising an Employee

“A pessimist, they say, sees a glass as being half empty; an optimist sees the same glass as half full. But a giving person sees a glass of water and start looking for someone who might be thirsty.” –G. Donald Gale


There is a man that works at the local grocery store who, if it were up to me, would win employee-of-the-month twelve times a year. He’s very friendly, has a positive attitude, engages with the customers, and makes entering the store so enjoyable that my husband and I have a made a point of doing the bulk of our shopping there.

As someone who has held multiple customer service type jobs, I know acting this way isn’t always an easy task. Customers can be rude, working conditions are often far from ideal, and the pay tends to be low. Putting on a friendly smile, checking your personal problems at the door, and representing your company in the best light possible can be challenging. There are so many excuses for phoning it in.

Despite this, Mr. Should Be Employee of the Month never does. He greets each customer with a smile, inquires about their day, and then offers his assistance. He goes above and beyond the call of duty, and I wanted to make sure he received some recognition for that. I decided to write the management at the store at let them know how valuable of an employee he is to them.

How many times have you received great service but didn’t stop to truly thank the person providing it? Maybe you expected it? Maybe you were too busy to notice? Or maybe you wanted to show your appreciation but didn’t really know how?

Writing this letter was such a simple way to show both that employee and the company my gratitude for his service. It was a small way for him to get the recognition he deserves.

They say kindness begets kindness. Well in this case, it couldn’t be more true

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Day 27: Be the Coupon Fairy

“Our regrets are the least for those past errors that were made on the side of kindness.” –Lewis F. Korns


Have you ever seen the show Extreme Couponing?  It’s essentially a show about people who treat couponing like it’s a full-time job and save hundreds of dollars on groceries. If I were to describe my coupon usage, it would be the exact opposite of that.

Extreme couponing? I’m more like no couponing. Or cut a couple coupons only to leave them in the car couponing. Yup, that is definitely more my style.

You know when I would actually use a coupon? If someone were to say, cut it for me and set it right next to the relevant product in the store. Yes, if I had to do absolutely no work whatsoever then I would coupon. For all the lazy  people with more important things to do, I decided I would take all the work out of couponing and help them save a little money.

I spent a couple weeks collecting the advertisements out of the Sunday newspaper and diligently cut out every single coupon. Cheerios? Check. Lysol wipes? Check. Citrucel? Check. I had coupons for everything from spicy sausage to antacids to toilet paper. (And I imagine that is the order in which they would be utilized.)  I cut a total of 184 coupons.

I then headed out to the local grocery store where I spent close to two hours taping coupons next to the products. I got a lot of satisfaction out of doing something so simple (and free) that has the potential to make so many people smile. Who doesn’t want to save 35 cents on Eggbeaters right? That’s 35 rides on the 1 penny pony ride in the front of the store!


I can’t say I feel inspired to cut coupons for myself in the future, but if anyone sees this random act of kindness and wants to follow suit, I will happily use the coupons I find taped next to all my favorite products.

And to the Meijer employee tasked with watching the “weird girl” on the security cameras for two hours, I swear I was not taking anything from the store. Only leaving behind a little kindness for others to find.

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Day 26: Donate Blood

“Compassion is not a religious business, it is a human business. It is not a luxury, it is essential for our peace and mental stability; it is essential for human survival.” –Dalai Lama


Have you ever gotten so excited about something that you literally fainted? Well that’s exactly what I did today. Only swap out “excited about something” with “low blood pressure.” Yea that’s a little more like it.

Some quick statistics about blood donation brought to you by the American Red Cross:

1) Approximately 41,000 blood donations are needed daily to match the demand. That’s 41,000 random acts of kindness.

2) But, out of the 38% of the population that is eligible to donate, less than 10% do.

3) One blood donation has the potential to save three lives


Prior to today, I was part of that 28% that is eligible to donate by never had. “I don’t like needles” and “I never thought about it” are the two most common reasons cited for not donating. I am neither afraid of needles nor uninformed about donating, in fact, I considered donating on multiple occasions, but just never got around to it.

How many things in life do we think about doing but then never do? Why? My random acts of kindness project blew all my excuses out the window.

My appointment at the local Red Cross went something like this:

1) Drive to Red Cross. Forget about the importance of being well-fed and hydrated prior to donation.

2) Pass through screening process, barely. Remind self to eat more iron-rich foods. And what is up with my low blood pressure?

3) Get settled on a gurney, stabbed repeatedly with a needle (by multiple nurses), and then watch as the blood slowly drains from my arm.

4) Hear nurse say “hey there, keep your eyes open.”

5) Pass out

6) Drink juice and eat way more cookies than one blood donation warrants.

7) Go home with the self-satisfaction that I helped save a life, and a great story to convince my husband he should wait on me for the rest of the day.

Despite passing out, the donation experience was still an overall positive one. That little bit of discomfort I experienced seems worth it when I think about the person on the receiving end. And for one glorious afternoon, I got to proudly proclaim that I helped save a life. I’m pretty sure that gives me automatic superhero status.

Someone cue the Superman theme song.


I’m taking suggestions for my superhero name.

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Day 25: Give Flowers to a Hospice Patient

“The simplest acts of kindness are by far more powerful than a thousand heads bowing in prayer.” –Gandhi


Hospice is an organization that provides care for terminally-ill patients and their families. They help to meet the emotional and spiritual needs of the dying with compassion, dignity, and respect. Nothing I could do for this random act of kindness could come close to the kindness Hospice employees must display on an everyday basis. It’s a level of compassion I aspire to attain.

I recently contacted the Hospice near my apartment and asked them what would be a nice, small gift to give one of the patients. The receptionist that I spoke with gave me a few suggestions: cards, bright flowers, a food basket (for the family that visits if not for the patient), and personal care items like nice lotions or a warm, fuzzy blanket. Since I didn’t know who the recipient of my gift would be prior to arriving at Hospice I opted for flowers.

I selected the brightest bouquet I could find at the store and put it in a vase. Oliver and I then drove to Hospice eager to (hopefully) brighten a patient’s day. More than giving someone flowers, I was looking forward to just saying hello. Maybe be that cheerful smile or a listening ear.

When we arrived at Hospice I showed the receptionist the flowers and asked her if she could point me in the direction of someone who might like some company. She said she thought it would be best if she delivered the flowers for me, so Oliver and I left the gift with her and took off. I was a little disappointed that we weren’t getting to deliver it ourselves, but then realized the disappointment I was feeling was for me, not for the patient.

I had to remind myself that I’m not doing kind things for my benefit. I’m not doing them so I can be witness to the reactions of others. It’s nice see that, don’t get me wrong, but acting with kindness only when I benefit is more self-indulgence than kindness.

True kindness is completely selfless. It is a hope, a wish, that I am making someone’s day a little brighter, even though I may never see it unfold.


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Day 24: Leave Pregnancy Books for Someone to Find

“I would rather make mistakes in kindness and compassion than work miracles in unkindness and hardness.” –Mother Teresa


In previous posts I talked about how thankful I am for both my doctor and the nurses at the hospital where I gave birth. Well now I have a third source to credit for keeping my sanity intact both during and after my pregnancy: informational books.

When we found out we were expecting, one of the first things my husband did was go out and buy me the Mayo Clinic Guide to a Healthy Pregnancy. I think he was feeling overwhelmed and slightly frazzled by the news so finding a reliable source of information was important to him. When asked why he selected that specific book, he shrugged and told me, “I wanted a book that is scientific. I’m not falling for that pseudo-science nonsense.” According to my husband, the standard What to Expect When You’re Expecting is full of witch doctors midwives, voodoo water births, and magic spells hypnobirthing. We can’t all be enlightened…

Later I was gifted with a couple more books from my sister-in-law and aunt that really helped me navigate through the first year of parenthood. Having read each book cover-to-cover multiple times, I feel so confident in my abilities and knowledge that I thought it was time to pass on my books to someone just embarking on this journey. I took my four books and left them laying on tables at an OBGYN office. I attached a note to each one that read:

“I enjoyed reading this book. Now you can too! Take it home with you if you’d like. Pass it on when you’re done.”

For a little comedic relief I included a quote by Nora Ephron that says “if pregnancy were a book, they’d leave out the last two chapters.” I find that hilarious now, but I’m not sure I would have been laughing at 9-months pregnant. I’ll just have to hope whoever finds and takes the books is still coasting through that second trimester high.



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Day 23: Take My Mom Out to Lunch

“While we do our good works let us not forget that the real solution lies in a world in which charity will have become unnecessary.” –Chinua Achebe


“I got it.”

“No, I got it.”

“No, really. I got it.”

This exchange happened every time I went out for a meal with both my mom and grandma. As the only kid among the group, I would sit back and watch the argument unfold, not having the desire or ability to pay the bill. After about ten minutes of physical and verbal tug-o-war, one of them would finally admit defeat. The “winner,” the one who actually had to fork over the money for the meal, would smugly whip out her wallet and throw down some money. At the time, I didn’t get it.

“Hey mom,” I would say, “don’t worry I’ll never fight you for the bill when we go out to eat when I’m older.” I really meant it too at the time. My 10-year-old brain couldn’t understand the concept of fighting for the opportunity to pay for something. Fortunately I’ve since become a little wiser, and I’d love to be able to pay for every meal out with my mom. I imagine the conversation would go something like this.

“Mom, you paid for my meals for so many years. It’s my turn now.”

“Thanks. I’ve raised such a generous daughter.”

“Now would you like the value fries or the value nuggets because I can’t afford both?”

Okay so this is a little removed from the truth. But only a little. When you’re a stay-at-home mom and your husband is a graduate student (6th and final year!), you don’t have a lot of expendable income. Whether it’s because my mom knows this or because she is just that nice (I think it’s both) she almost always pays for our family’s meal when we go out to eat. Brad and I are immensely grateful for this act of kindness.

Now my younger self would be shocked by this revelation, but I find myself wishing I could engage more in arguments over who pays the bill with my mom. It would be such a simple way of showing her how much I care for and love her.  Which is why I knew I needed to include taking my mom out for a meal in with my random acts of kindness.

We arranged to meet at Barry’s Bagel, a local sandwich shop we both like. When it was time to pay for the food, I whipped out my random act of kindness card and told her that I was buying lunch today. I knew she couldn’t argue with that one. It felt good picking up the bill; it was nice being able to do this small act of kindness. But what was even nicer was just getting to spend some quality time with my mom.


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Day 22: Reverse Trick-or-Treating

“All I ever wanted was to reach out and touch another human being not just with my hands but with my heart.” –Tahereh Mafi

I will openly admit that this random act of kindness was originally motivated by my desire to put my son in this costume:


Isn’t he adorable? The way he waddles around like he can’t decide if he is going to be running or falling melts my heart.


But cute costumes aside, I also wanted to do this because I love trick-or-treating. As a kid I would anxiously wait by the door, counting down the minutes until trick-or-treating began. When I spotted the first group of kids rolling down the street I would shriek wildly through the house, “It’s time! It’s time!” This was a sign that my dad should drop everything he is doing and take off at a full sprint toward the neighbors house with me. For the next two hours I’d race from house to house collecting as much candy as my pale could carry. When it was full I’d run home, dump out the contents, and dash back out into the darkness.

Let’s just say if trick-or-treating were an Olympic Sport I’d take the gold. The first year I was “too old” to go out I remember feeling really bummed. It was one of the many indicators that I was indeed growing up and that adult responsibilities loomed on the horizon. “You can just eat some of the candy I bought to pass out,” my mom said to me as I sat slumped over in the foyer. Clearly she didn’t get it.

When Halloween rolled around this year, I wanted to find a way to bring trick-or-treating to all the young adults out there that like me, might be feeling nostalgic for past Halloweens. I bought two large bags of candy, stuck Oliver in his costume, and headed off to the local university. Because my husband is a graduate student there he was able to take some time away from his work and accompany us.


In total, we passed out about 300 pieces of candy over the course of an hour. Responses varied from great enthusiasm and excitement to confusion. One girl thought we were asking for candy and apologized that she didn’t have anything to hand over. She was pleasantly surprised when we told her it was the exact opposite. Oliver had a lot of fun running around the campus showing off his mad dinosaur skills, which in case you were wondering is a move where he pounds his chest and yells “yeyeyeye.” It’s a little more Tarzan than dinosaur but with how cute he looks, no one cares.

We all had a lot of fun passing out the candy and plan on making it a yearly tradition, minus the dinosaur costume of course. I’m pretty sure teenage Oliver will have some pretty strong opinions about publicly prancing around with a tail.


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Day 21: Treat our Firefighters with Donuts and Bagels

“The everyday kindness of the back roads more than makes up for the acts of greed in the headlines.” –Charles Kuralt


Thankfully, I have never personally needed the assistance of our local fire department. But that doesn’t mean I don’t see the benefit in all that they do. Beyond just fighting fires, they respond to medical emergencies, provide support during a crisis, participate in community outreach programs, and serve as public figures representing strength, integrity, dedication, and general badassness. No wonder most little kids idolize them.

Something you may not know is that out of the 1,148,000 men and woman that serve as firefighters, about 812,000 are volunteers. Volunteers! That means they carry out all of the aforementioned duties for no compensation whatsoever. They put their lives at risk to help others because they believe it is the right thing to do. Because they believe in protecting the greater good. Talk about an act of kindness.

I wanted to show my gratitude for our local firefighters so I decided to stop by the station and surprise them with breakfast treats. First thing in the morning Oliver and I ran out and bought a dozen donuts from the grocery store; then we went to Panera where we purchased a dozen bagels and cream cheese. I wrote a note of thanks and attached it to the goodies.

When we arrived at the station everyone was in motion. I didn’t want to interrupt what might be an emergency response underway so I crept in the back and handed the treats to an employee sitting off to the side. He told everyone was busy running through a drill (phew no real emergency), and they would be very excited about the treats when they were finished. I thanked the man and left.

My random act of kindness may be small in comparison to the kindness these people extend everyday on the job, but it’s a start. To the men and women that give so much to the community, my sincerest thanks.


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