In January 2013, I decided to try something different from my typical list of New Year’s resolutions. Instead, I vowed to do a unique random act of kindness every week for the entire year. I wanted to feel connected to the community around me and to help bring small moments of joy to others.
Little did I know that the person I would end up helping most would be myself.
This was me: 25 years old, finishing up my last semester of graduate school, with zero job prospects upon graduation. I felt isolated, living halfway across the country from my family and close friends. I had just gotten engaged to a man I loved, but whose controlling and angry behavior was growing steadily worse.
Looking back, I think my kindness challenge was a way of filling up my inner reservoir, of giving to the authentic core of my spirit, week by week, until I built up enough strength to address my life head-on and make the hard decisions I needed to make.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but little by little, I was weaving a web of community.
- That first week, I cleaned out my closet and gave a large bag of clothing to a women’s shelter.
- The next week, I donated canned goods to a food pantry.
- I scattered lucky pennies on a playground.
- I wrote thank-you notes.
- I baked cookies for my neighbor
- I left quarters on Laundromat machines.
- I bought flowers for a colleague who aced her thesis defense.
- I reached out to friends I hadn’t spoken to in a while.
And in March, when everything came crashing down and my relationship ended, and I had to move out of my apartment and, of course, the final draft of my thesis was due the exact same week, it was this community who came to my rescue, helping me find a place to stay and making sure I was safe, sending me supportive emails and inviting me over for dinner.
Life had more changes in store—good things, yet still change can be hard. I was awarded a writing fellowship from San Jose State, so after graduation I moved to the San Francisco Bay Area. I began teaching writing classes for kids. I joined a spiritual community. I made new friends. Through all the newness and uncertainty, my weekly routine of doing random acts of kindness was a comforting anchor.
My year of kindness taught me many things.
- I learned that you do not need a ton of money or time to have an impact on the interdependent web of life.
- All that’s required is an open heart, a little creativity, and the willingness to do so.
- Aesop is right:“No act of kindness, however small, is ever wasted.” Even small acts of compassion and joy, as simple as a smile, can make a difference.
- I learned that if I’m in a sad or grumpy mood, the quickest way to turn my day around is to be kind to someone else.
- Being brave and putting myself out there is always worth it.Yes, it could be scary to strike up conversations with strangers and step outside my comfort zone! But I was always left with a smile on my face and grateful connection in my heart.
Most of all, I learned faith.Time and again, I was surprised by wonderful coincidences—and kind deeds that others did for me! We truly are all connected.
My “year of kindness” officially ended in 2014, but I’ve continued doing random acts of kindness, and last year, I celebrated my 27th birthday with 27 of them. It was my favorite birthday to date.
This year, I’ve only got one thing on my birthday wish list. Yep, bring on the connections. Bring on the kindness. Keep weaving the web.
Dallas Woodburn, a recent Steinbeck Fellow in Creative Writing, has published fiction and nonfiction in Fourth River, Superstition Review, The Los Angeles Times, and Monkeybicycle, among others. A three-time Pushcart Prize nominee, she won second place in the American Fiction Prize and her work appears in American Fiction Volume 13: The Best Unpublished Short Stories by Emerging American Writers. Her short story collection was a finalist for the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction. She is the founder of Write On! For Literacy, an organization that empowers youth through reading and writing endeavors, and blogs frequently at Day-by-Day Masterpiece.
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