Monday, November 26, 2012

Parting thoughts

When I started this project, I was not in a good place. Life was wearing me down on all sides. I knew I needed to change course, but I didn't know how. Then I saw a couple things that gave me an idea.

From self pity, I turned my attention outwards. The truth is, everyone has struggles. And in fact, a lot of people have much bigger challenges than me. What if, instead of worrying about my own headaches, I started paying attention to everyone else? And so this project was born.

How'd it go? Well, I covered a lot of ground - friends, family, co-workers, total strangers, old people, young people, and animals. Health, poverty, conservation & agricultural causes. From people in my local community to people on other continents. I ran a 5k for the first time in my life. And the second. I made people smile, laugh, and cry. There were literally blood, sweat, and tears -- but all the good kind.

Lest you think altruism is an unselfish act, know that since I started this blog, my life has improved: Besides having a lot of fun, I connected with people and did things I wouldn't have otherwise done. I discovered new things in my community. I got a new job paying a good bit more (plus bonuses!) I've made new friends. I've gotten invaluable guidance on navigating the arcane and frustrating world of special needs services, I got a great low-tech tip that's helped my 9-year-old son overcome some behavior issues, and, well, I just feel more positive about life in general. 

Even so, after almost two months, I'm drawing this project to a close. I will still keep doing many of the same kinds of things I've been doing, just not publicly.

As a parting shot, I challenge anyone reading this to give it a try. You don't have to start a blog, but for me, it really helped me keep going, avoid skipping days, plan ahead, and seek out new ideas. Yes, it feels weird to brag about doing good things, but I don't think it seems nearly as weird to the people following along. Rather, some people feel inspired to go out and do nice things too.

One side note - be careful of over-giving, especially to friends and family. In researching for this project, I did some reading on "gift economies". If you want to give big, make sure your recipient has some avenue for reciprocating if they desire. Of course, you do something nice without expecting anything in return, but you don't want your recipient to forever feel at a moral disadvantage. This can create problems in your relationship. It can be a delicate balance - you don't want a quid pro quo arrangement, but they don't want to feel like a charity case either. Reciprocation can take the form of "paying it forward," and you can steer people in that direction if you want, but don't steadfastly block a payback if your recipient is determined to somehow "even the score." You may even want to give them a suggestion for how to return the favor, depending on the circumstances.

Thinking about doing this stuff is one thing. Maybe even making a plan makes you feel like you did something. But remember that the follow-through is what makes an actual difference in the world. Trust me. You will love it, and the people you help will love it.

If you do, link back to me, or let me know, so I can follow along. I spent money on some of mine, but you don't have to. I can point you to some places with lots of free ideas. Try it for a month. Try it for a week even. Or one nice thing per week if you want to keep it simple. Whatever works for you.

See what happens. I triple-dog-dare you.


"No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted." - Aesop

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