Happy New Year!
365 days ago I embarked on an amazing journey. I didn’t know it at the time, but it would forever change my life.
When I started I had been out of work for 75 days, I was hungry for a job, at least that’s what I thought. Looking back on it, I think I was searching for something even greater: purpose.
Sure, the first month without work is awesome. I got loads of sleep, made it to the gym on a regular basis, read all the books that were on my list to read and made time to see friends and family. But the second month brought with it changes. I started waking up late and staying in bed watching television until midmorning. Don’t get me wrong, not all of my skills were wearing away, oh no. I was actually developing a rather impressive talent in guessing the showcase showdown price on The Price is Right! By the way where do they get those people…I should be on this show. Anyway, this need for a higher purpose in my life combined with my interest in philanthropy and the values my mother and father taught me as a child all collided. I literally woke up one morning in early December with the idea of giving a different stranger a few dollars every day.
Writing the blog was a purely personal venture at first. It quenched my thirst for a job-like activity. Every day I would come home and write up the blog entry. I had never blogged before and to be honest, hadn’t really followed anyone else’s either. So I really had no idea what I was doing.
I started on the three-year anniversary of my mother’s passing. Possibly the kindest and most generous person I have ever known, she was a huge inspiration. She guided me through all 365 days.
Every day was a unique adventure. People always ask me who my favorite recipient was. That’s like asking a parent to name their favorite child. So many of them were special in their own way. Whether it was someone’s personal story that touched my heart or their creative idea of what to do with the ten dollars, every person left their own unique footstep along this year’s path. And at some point what was a personal project turned into a movement and you joined me on the journey. That moment was magical. I received over ten thousand emails and comments from people all around the world who said that they were inspired; whether it be by my personal commitment or by one of the stories of the year-long cast of characters I introduced them to.
December 14th always loomed deep in the distance but before I knew it the day had arrived. I decided to host a celebration with the goal being to reunite as many of the recipients as possible and put them together in one room. In addition to introducing them to one another, it was also an opportunity for those who had been following the journey on the blog to meet the recipients in person.
It was bitter cold and windy on the 365th morning of the Year of Giving and my emotions were equally turbulent. The excitement for the evening was met with a bit of sadness that this special year was coming to an end. Sure I have some tremendous plans for 2011, but things would be different. It’s like moving back to a place you once lived. It’s never the same. The magic isn’t easily created twice.
I spent all day on the 14th doing last-minute things for the event. Thankfully my good friend Patricia Anderson had volunteered to take care of the brunt of the work and I was only left with a few minor tasks. I ran a few errands and delegated a couple of jobs to my father. The thing that took me the most time was editing the video that I wanted to show. I have close to two hundred video files from the last year and I wanted to piece something together that would capture what this year meant to me. I had never worked with video files before I started blogging and one thing that I learned is that it is a very time-consuming process. A film editor once told me to benchmark one to two hours of work for every minute of final cut video. I literally was editing until 10 minutes before I needed to be at Tabaq Bistro, the location of the event. Miraculously I managed finish on time. Click here to watch the video.
I arrived and any plans I might have had for the evening were checked at the door. Events tend to just take over and you are then on autopilot for the most part. It was very much like a wedding; lots of beautiful and emotional moments all blurred together. Thankfully there are some great video clips by ABC-7 reporter Jay Korff and amazing photographs by Michael Bonfigli. I encourage you to check out both of these links.
The year would not be complete however until I passed on the final installment in my $3,650 investment in kindness. Who would it be? There were several people at the celebration who I didn’t know, so they qualified. But who? People often ask me how I choose the recipients. It’s not a science, it’s much more of an impulsive decision. Then I remembered the dozen individuals who were volunteering their time to work the event. I knew some of them, but there were a few unfamiliar faces. One of them belonged to Alyson, a 25-year-old DC resident who was busy working when I pulled her aside and placed the ten-dollar bill in her hand.
She works in congressional relations at the Peace Corps headquarters here in Washington, DC.
“I’m going to buy two raffle tickets,” Alyson told me. Participants at the event could purchase raffle tickets for five dollars a piece for a chance to win some fantastic prizes from generous organizations and individuals (see list of sponsors) in the DC area. All the money collected, about $2,200, is being donated to three amazing nonprofits: DC Central Kitchen, Street Sense and the Urban Philharmonic. Each have played a special part in this year-long journey and it seemed fitting to mark this event with an act of giving back.
Unfortunately Alyson didn’t win anything in the raffle, but that wasn’t this Minnesota native’s real motivation. She is just a giving person at heart. In addition to her meaningful work with the Peace Corps, she takes time out of her busy schedule to do things for others. In fact, she had recently volunteered at DC Central Kitchen.
So what now? Well, for 2011 I have two big things planned. First, the ten-dollar a day giving continues with other unemployed people signing up to be Kindness Investors and give a ten spot away every day for one week and then share their stories here. It’s truly an amazing experience. Later today you will start to get blog posts from Melinda from Xenia, OH, the first Kindness Investor for 2011.
The other big project I am planning is to personally volunteer once a week for the entire year. After reflecting on the previous 12 months I realized that the most valuable part of this experience has been the interaction with others, the time I spent with the recipients. That’s what matters, to really care about someone else and their story. So, I am going to be volunteering my time with some great nonprofits over the coming year and sharing the stories here on the Year of Giving! I hope you will follow along and drop me a note about how you incorporate volunteering into your life.
In addition to my personal commitment, I am challenging all those who are out of work to volunteer at least one day of their time. We currently have 15 million individuals who are out of work in the US. If we take an arbitrary hourly salary for each of them of $20 and calculate the value of each of them spending an eight our day volunteering, it comes up to $2.4 billion. Now the average person is unemployed for six months right now, so double that amount and you get the total potential for the US for a year. $4.8 billion is a seismic amount. To put that into perspective, that is more than the economy of Zimbabwe! Or three times the economy of Belize! And we haven’t even mentioned the benefits the individual gets from volunteering!
I also want to work with companies to get them to create programs that encourage their employees to volunteer. Imagine what we could do if we got just 20% of the active workforce to volunteer one day a year! Anyway, check back in the coming weeks for more on this exciting new project.
Everything that I have ever done that was meaningful was sad when it came to an end. So too is this moment. The Year of Giving is not an earth shattering idea. As Pierre from Day 359 put it, “Probably many people have thought something similar, but the difference is that you took the initiative and did it!” He’s right. What is unique is the experience that I have had. When I started this project I thought that I might potentially change the lives of a handful of people, but I never thought about how it would change me. I am forever changed. I look at giving differently now. It’s contagious and it has seeped into all aspects of my life. I look at the homeless man on the street through a new lens now. I’ve learned that sometimes it’s more valuable to stop and ask their name and how they are doing than it is to drop a dollar into their bucket.
As I reflect on this experience, I can’t help but be reminded of some sage advice in Mitch Albom’s real-life story Tuesdays with Morrie. In the book, Morrie tells Mitch, “The way you get meaning into your life is to devote yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.” I did just that and today I have 365 new friends and a truly meaningful purpose in life.
It’s ironic that just when I thought I was reaching the end I’ve realized that in fact it is just the beginning! It is truly a happy new year. Stay tuned…