I am not sure why I decided to celebrate my fiftieth birthday by doing fifty good deeds during February, the month of my birth. I am really not all that altruistic. I am not the person you are likely to think of when you reel off your crusading, do-gooder friends. But fifty is a big one, and I did want to mark this milestone in a way that was memorable and meaningful, and 50 for 50 was the plan I came up with.
As was so totally like me, I did not do a lot of planning for this month-long event, but I did set some ground rules.
1. I needed to be open to the world and look for opportunities to do good in the moment.
2. As much as possible, I needed to try and do good different kinds of good deeds.
3. I could not count good deeds that I, as a rule, already do (e.g., drive my girls all around town or make extra time in my schedule to meet with students).
4. I needed to work within a pre-determined budget. That being said, I had to use my entire budget. In fact, the money not spent on good deeds throughout the month was donated to three non profits. My husband and kids each got to choose one of the organizations I sent the money to.
5. To reach my goal, I realized that I had to do about two good deeds a day.
Outside of those guidelines, I could--and was ready to do--any good deed that the universe put in front of me. And here is what I very quickly learned: this was going to be hard. The first day--a Sunday--I only managed to do one good deed. I picked up trash on my morning walk. The rest of the day I was all, "Okay, universe, what next?" But the universe did not answer. By day two, I was beginning to realize something IMPORTANT: Fifty is a freaking lot! It is a lot of years and it is a lot of good deeds to do in the shortest month of the year.
That second day I came up with one original idea: I dropped a five dollar bill in the playground of a park that I walk by everyday. In my own life, few memories shine brighter than the times I have found money, and more than the five dollars, I just wanted someone to feel as happy about finding money as I do. That was fun, but what was the second good deed that day? It was basically the same as good deed #1: while walking I saw a razor blade on the ground and I picked it up and put it in the trash so that it couldn't hurt any person or animal. It felt worthy, but also lame. As per my guidelines, I was not supposed just do the same thing over and over.
Quickly, I realized that I could not expect the universe to throw good deeds in front of me: I would have to be intentional about what I was doing. At first, that felt a little stressful because--like you--I am busy. I work. I write. My family demands much of me. Blah, blah, blah. And now I was using all my mental energy thinking things like, "Who can I give this extra soup too? Who would like some lavender from my garden? What else can I do? Who can I make happy? Who can I help?" Does that sound like a crazy lady? Yes! It does! Because I was crazy! And when the universe did throw something my way (seeing someone struggle with a large package, seeing someone who looked down on their luck), my eyes would bulge out and I would run like crazy to get to here my help was needed. I'm a little worried that I scared my officemate when--with frightening enthusiasm--I made her take a quarter so that she could get some hot water and a paper cup from our student store for her tea bag. Actually, I made her take two quarters, so she could have tea later too.
I have three favorite good deeds. One: This first one is more of a type. I liked anything that let me play secret Santa. At Bec's advice, my big girl and I hid eight one dollar bills among toys at the 99 cent store. That was super fun. Two: I enjoyed writing letters to my husband and daughters telling them each the top ten things I loved about them. Three: I had a fantastic time participating in the Firecracker Run, which benefits nonprofits in LAs historic Chinatown. My husband and I walked the 5k course and it was just really great. That was my last good deed, and I was glad that it involved me participating in something larger than myself.
All in all, I am really glad that I did this. Despite my good intentions, I very quickly became started discouraged, then I turned crazy, but in the end I accomplished what I set out to do, and I feel proud of that. Bottom line lessons: One, you make your life, not the universe. If you want to do good, you have to take charge. Two, it doesn't cost a lot to be useful. Most of the things I did did not cost a penny. Three, you probably do a lot more good than you realize. By thinking about the things I DID NOT count as good deeds, I realized that I actually do good deeds all the time. That being said, I also realized that I could do a lot more. Four, in most cases, my good deeds did not translate into instant happiness, although sometimes they made me smile for a while. However, accomplishing my goal of fifty good deeds really has put a spring in my step.
List of fifty good deeds
1. Picked-up trash on walk
2. Picked-up and threw away scary razor blade found while walking.
3."Dropped" five dollar in park
4. Wrote a note to someone special.
5. Brought donuts to the Writing Center on campus.
6. Bought coffee for the person in line behind me.
7. Brought homemade soup to a neighbor who has been ill.
8. Brought a head of lettuce from my garden to a neighbor who just had a baby.
9. Chroma project (involved sending colorful stuff to some artists)
10. Birthday card to a boy who I do not know, but who is very ill and wanted lots of cards.
11. E-valentine to patient at Children's Hospital LA (Thank you universe and Liz Daley)
12. Super courteous driving day (If you needed to merge or turn left, I was there for you).
13. Filled out a boring but important survey for my profession.
14. Wrote a testimonial for a program my daughter uses.
15. Kiva loan
16. Letters to my elected officials
17. Mailed valentines to my Girl Scout co-leaders and mom.
18. Donated books to the Friends of Cal State LA library.
19. Spent time educating my classes about Covered California and urging them to sign up.
20. Read grant applications for an internship program at my alma mater.
21. Dropped off blankets for a dog rescue organization.
22. Gave $5 to a musician in front of the bookstore. (Thank you universe!)
23. Brought donuts to my Saturday class that had to meet on Valentine's Day.
24. Paid for the donut order of the guy behind me at the donut shop.
25. Gave the leftover donuts from class to one of my students, a nurse, who was going to drop them off at the hospital where she works. (Thank you universe!)
26. Gave lettuce, lemons, and a brownie to my daughter's math tutor.
27. "Hid" eight one dollar bills among the toys at the 99 cent store.
28. Brought ice cream to another one of Elizabeth's tutors.
29. Put some succulents (cut from some in my garden) in a pot I wasn't using and dropped it off at a friend's house.
30. Gave a bouquet of lavender from my garden to a neighbor.
31. Operation Beautiful http://www.operationbeautiful.com
32. Money to officemate for tea
33. Notes to family members telling them the top ten things I love about each of them.
34. E-waste recycling
35. Dropped off clothes at Salvation Army
36. Threw wildflowers seeds on open area reserved for electrical towers.
37. At All Saints Church signed letters addressed to the families of the young muslims killed in North
38. Gave $5 to someone down on her luck.
39. Helped a woman struggling to get a large package out of her card (Thank you universe!)
40. Brought some homemade cookies to our police department.
41. Brought some homemade cookies to some friends celebrating their anniversary.
42. Popped a birthday present to an old friend in the mail.
43. Dropped off a bunch of teas and individual-sized Kleenexs in the library bathroom at CSULA for sick students.
44. Girl Scout cookie gift of sharing program.
45. Blogged for good causes.
46. Put a great book on an empty table in the school library saying, "This is a great book! Enjoy!"
47. Made a donation in my husband's name to the Glendale Humane Society.
48. Made a donation in my daughter's name to The Children's Ranch.
49. Made a donation in my other daughter's name to All Saints Church.
50. 5k Firecracker Walk benefitting nonprofits in LAs historic Chinatown.