Tag Archives: 29th birthday

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

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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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