This year for my 35th birthday I embarked on a project and committed to doing 35 intentional acts of kindness and giving the gift of myself to others – cuz that doesn’t sound conceited at all. Ha! As of today, three days after my birthday, I’ve completed 27 acts of kindness. I still have eight more things to go and I’m hoping to finish them all by December 31!
It’s been a really interesting experience. It’s been more intimidating than I ever thought it would be, especially for an outgoing person like me. How do you just go up to someone and tell them you’re going to do something for them without them thinking you’re crazy, rude or condescending.
My first shot at the whole thing was on Black Friday. “Perfect!” I thought. I loaded my purse with chocolate and intended to give it out to harried store clerks. My first stop was Starbucks for some coffee. I desperately wanted to buy coffee for the girl behind me, but she was giving off a vibe of “don’t talk to me,” so I didn’t say anything. She was the only person behind me, and there were only two people in front of me, but suddenly the whole store filled up with this gigantic line of people, all of them had angry eyes. They scared me. Seriously though, this one woman came in to pick up coffee for a group and she was going on and on about how she tried to come through the drive through first and a woman tried to cut her off so she flipped her the finger and dared the woman to hit her because, “You will see just what an impolite person I can be.” I nodded and gave a half sympathetic smile, but really I was thinking, “How sad!” This woman had an opportunity to do something kind and instead she chose to do the exact opposite. Ugh. So finally, when my coffee came up I half threw three Take 5 candy bars across the counter and said, “This if for you and the other baristas, I’m sure it’s been crazy!” The barista was super excited and sweet. Whew. But the people behind me still had angry eyes. Oh well.
On the Saturday after Black Friday I was in Target and caving to that unbelievable popcorn smell that I swear they pipe through the store. There was a couple in front of me counting out change to buy a bag of popcorn, a juice and a chocolate milk. I stood there for a bit trying to figure out how I could pay for their things when they were in front of me. Finally I just kind of went up to the cashier and said, “I’m paying for theirs, too.” And the woman and the cashier both nodded at me like they understood, but I could tell they had no idea what I was talking about. So I said again, “I’m going to get popcorn, but I’m going to pay for theirs as well. It’s my birthday in a few weeks and I’m doing kind things for other people.” The cashier couldn’t believe it and the woman said, “That makes me feel like it’s MY birthday!” Win!
One of my BFFs asked me what my favorite act of kindness was so far, and it’s still Lisa. Hands down. Lisa sent me a text on Sunday, Dec. 8 – one of the first days that we got snow this season. She said, “Yay for snow! I am trying out my new boots today.” It totally made me smile. I love thinking of her in those boots whenever it snows.
My experience with Lisa makes up for the awkwardness at the Dollar Store where I took the two older girls to help me place $1 bills around the store. I approached the teenage checker and explained, “I’d like to put dollar bills on items around the story as a project for my birthday where I’m doing kind things for other people.” Confused silence ensued. Finally, she said, “Um. I don’t know if we’re still doing that.” Suddenly, I was the confused one. Incredulously I said, “You mean, there are other people putting money on things for their birthday??” More confused silence. “Um, I don’t know. I’m new here. Let me get my manager.” The manager was nice, but still confounded by what I was asking to do. Finally she got on board, but the whole thing was just awkward and the girls were being seriously annoying and I just felt like my shouting at them in the store, “WE ARE HERE TO DO NICE THINGS FOR OTHER PEOPLE, WOULD YOU STOP GRABBING EVERYTHING,” was a little contradictory with what we were there to do.
A few other observations: it’s so much easier to do things that involve money. It requires less time and thinking. But I don’t necessarily think it’s better. I think it’s a good thing to spend a little time and thinking. You really mean it then, I think.
Which brings me to my second thought. A lot of my things have involved money because damn, my birthday is RIGHT BEFORE Christmas and there is NO TIME. The no time thing is the biggest reason I dislike having my birthday right before Christmas. You may remember I wrote about that a few years ago (OMG, I sound like such a brat). But seriously, there are so many other things going on, that it’s been difficult to devote as much time to thinking about cool things to do, and instead I’ve opted to go broke spend money. Not tons of money, but still.
Which brings me to my third thought. I guess what’s been to my advantage of doing this around Thanksgiving and Christmas is that there are naturally a lot of opportunities for giving.
My final observation for tonight is that this experience has taught me just how conscious of a choice it is to be kind. We can choose to engage with people, or we can choose to just go about our own business. Not that it’s rude, necessarily, to just go about your business, but the opportunities for showing kindness are pretty limited when you don’t engage with people. I’m not saying that we always need to pay for things for other people, but the simple gesture of smiling, making an accommodation, showing patience, engaging in a discussion – those are all worthwhile acts of kindness. And they’re free! But they’re hard. Because sometimes we’re just not in the mood, or we’re having a bad day, or it’s just EASIER to not say anything. My friend Sara thinks that as a society we’re conditioned to not pay attention to other people and just go about our own business. And it is easier. For sure. But I think it almost makes it more worthwhile when we do something kind when it’s not easy, right?
I donated blood for one of my acts of kindness and the tech who worked with me was pretty quiet – straightforward, buttoned up, seemed like she was tired and maybe not having the best day. I could have just politely answered her questions, sat there quietly and donated. But I pushed myself to make small talk. I went out of my comfort zone to keep making conversation even though it made it harder for me. It turned out that we had things in common, including going to the same high school, and we even knew some of the same people. By the time I was done donating, she seemed happier, more talkative and smiley. So even though I’m not counting these types of engagements on my official list of acts of kindness, I am pushing myself to engage with everyone and it really is a choice and it really is HARD.
Here’s my list so far:
- Gave Lisa the boots
- Gave the Starbucks baristas Take 5 candy bars
- Gave the girl behind me in line at Kohl’s my extra $10 coupon instead of separating my purchases into two transactions and using it myself
- Bought five pairs of slippers for Dignity Bags that will be distributed to victims of sex trafficking in Milwaukee
- Waved a driver looking for a parking spot into my spot at Target on Black Friday
- Gave a shopper my cart as I was leaving the store when there weren’t anymore
- Bought customers’ popcorn and drinks at Target
- Donated $30 to the International Justice Mission (the cost of an aftercare bag) on #GiveBackTuesday to help victims of modern-day slavery and trafficking
- Bought a $10 grocery bag for the food pantry
- Donated a toy to the Cardiac ICU at Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin in honor of dear Sadie
- Donated $5 to a college student who was short on his semester tuition and couldn’t ask his parents for help because his parents have disowned him for being gay
- Donated gloves, a hat and gently used toys to the Milwaukee Rescue Mission’s Joy House (the girls helped me go through all their toys and we ended up with a HUGE box)
- Donated change to Coins for Caring at Peace Lutheran for a student’s mom who underwent a double lung transplant (the girls donated from their piggy banks, too)
- Donated new toys and new gloves/hat at Allenton Elementary for local families in need (the girls came with me to the store to pick out the hat and gloves)
- Donated blood
- Left 10 $1 bill on items at the Dollar Store
- Gave Take 5 candy bars to the workers at the DMV when I went to renew my license (the VERY stoic woman cracked a half of a smile)
- Complimented a stranger on her earrings (they were awesome)
- Went through our Christmas decorations and donated things that we weren’t using to a friend who was collecting things for her friend who didn’t have anything; I got word today that this woman LOVED the wreath that I donated. Yay!!!
- Left a special note for my massage therapist who has been going through a hard time for the last couple of years, and who I felt really needed to hear that she has value and that she is worth it
- Paid for a few groceries for someone who was paying with a WIC check
- Gave my mom flowers on my birthday as a thank you for going through labor and having me J
- Gave my grandma flowers on my birthday as a thank you for going through labor and having my MOM! (my dad rolled his eyes at the whole thing)
- Tipped our servers 35% on our family birthday pizza dinner outing
- Gave our servers some of the chocolate peanut butter brownie cupcakes my mom made and one of the servers said, “You made my NIGHT!”
- Donated my birthday gifts from family and friends to Exploit No More (I think the total is around $300)
- Upped the ante on my annual “Make my grumpy UPS man smile,” game and included a $5 Starbucks gift card with the usual holiday package of homemade goodies that I leave for him (really, it’s the least I can do given the number of things I’ve ordered from Amazon.com alone this year)
So, like I said, eight more things to go and 12 more days before Dec. 31. I have ideas for the remaining things, but let me know if you have suggestions!
Oh and P.S. I just realized it now, but I totally didn’t miss opening birthday presents. I really didn’t. I had a FANTASTIC birthday dinner with all of our family members, minus the ones who live far away, and my two best friends and their families. It was perfection.
“I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.” – Edward Everett Hale
Love wins. <3
Donate to the International Justice Mission