When I was a child my parents decided I should pretty much skip kindergarden. I’m not sure why, but for some reason I jumped ahead in school and was always the youngest person in all my classes. Why is this relevant today?
Because today I have around 120 Facebook friends from high school who have already hit that magic birthday – the big 4-0. I’ve watched them all celebrate with big parties and surprise parties and family celebrations and travel adventures. I’ve silently absorbed it all, watching everyone from the invisible distance that is only possible with Facebook.
But not me. I’m not there yet. Because I was the youngest in my class, I still have 20 weeks to go until I cross that 40th milestone off the calendar. I’ll still be young until October. I am incredibly hesitant to publicly write about turning 40 for several reasons:
- Because if I don’t disclose my age, most people assume I am much younger than I am. It would be nicer/better/easier to let everyone keep on assuming I am younger than 40.
- Because there is just nothing good to say or write about turning 40. Really, there isn’t. I’ve tried to find anything useful and I failed.
- Because no matter how you try to avoid it, the 40th birthday seems to invoke some massive life assessments. It’s very hard to avoid the feeling that you’ve been squandering your years away and you really should have done something more meaningful with your life before now. No matter what I feel I’ve accomplished or created with my life, the perspective of 40 make me feel I should have done more, I should have tried harder, or I should have done something different. 40 just makes everything seem inadequate.
- Because writing about 40 is doomed to be a trite cliche.
But here I am, despite all logic, writing about 40. The largest and most overwhelming question I’ve been struggling with is how to celebrate this milestone? If I cannot realistically pretend the event isn’t happening, then how should I acknowledge the event?
Last year I started having visions about a big weeklong celebration with friends in a villa in Jamaica. I had the perfect location picked out and I figured that if I rented the villa for a week, all my bestest friends would definitely show up. Except for the tiny realities of grown up life: (1) Jamaica isn’t gay friendly for my gay friends (2) Some friends have kids they are obligated to feed (3) or they have work commitments (4) or financial constraints (5) or health constraints or (6) you name it, there’s always issues.
So then I tried to find a location closer in the U.S., and then I tried switching to the west coast and then I tried Belize and the Virgin Islands and Key West and then well I finally succumbed to the reality that I’m never going to get a dozen people in the same place at the same time in October. I gave up. And then I got depressed and felt sorry for myself and the absolute and complete lameness of my miserable and pathetic life.
And then out of the blue I got an email from a friend, who just quit his job to travel around the world for a year. He sent me his worldwide itinerary for the rest of 2012 and invited me to join him wherever I wanted. I looked at his schedule for October and it turns out he’s going to be surfing in South Africa for 3 weeks in October. Did he say surfing?
SOLD!!! I spent a couple weeks thinking about it, researching South Africa and surfing conditions and airline connections. I tried to talk myself out of it, but I kept coming back to these facts: (1) I’ve traveled with this friend before and we travel well together (2) I’ve never been to Africa and wouldn’t feel safe traveling there alone (3) This friend is also an intermediate surfer like me (4) His itinerary lines up with my birthday and (5) Why the hell not!
So yes, I’ll be spending at least 2 weeks in South Africa in October. I’ll be surfing and doing whatever other random adventures we decide to plan. Right now I’m leaving all that open ended – no need to overplan October while we’re still in June.
And yet… a travel adventure will be awesome but that doesn’t seem to be enough. Planning a trip like that seems selfish and self absorbed and just not creative enough.
Then I stumbled across someone online who celebrated their 34th birthday with 34 random acts of kindness. On their actual birthday, they went around town with their family members, performing 34 random acts of kindness for strangers. Turns out, that has almost turned into a modern tradition of sorts, and there are dozens of blog stories about people celebrating their birthday with random acts of kindness.
So I’ve decided to put a new spin on that old idea. Instead of 40 random acts of kindness ON my birthday (when I’ll be in South Africa) – I’ve decided to complete 2 random acts of kindness every week for the next 20 weeks leading up to my birthday.
And this is what I shall call the 40 x 40 project. 40 random acts of kindness before I turn 40. Instead of cramming everything into 24 hours, I’ll spread it all out over 20 weeks.
Instead of crossing adventures off my own personal bucket list, I’ll create a list of kindness acts I’ve performed for others. Here’s some rules I’m putting in place for myself:
- My goal will be to complete 2 acts of kindness every single week for the next 20 weeks.
- In order to be counted, the act must be something I would NOT have ordinarily done during the course of my day – it has to be something “beyond” normal good manners.
- I’ll try to do creative gestures, instead of simply donating money to people. The less money spent, the better; the more creative, the better.
- I can perform acts of kindness together with others – this does not have to be done solo.
- I can respond to suggestions or requests from others.
- Some acts of kindness might be anonymous and some might not – it just depends on each situation.
I’ll use the hashtag #40raok on Twitter. And on a weekly basis I’ll report in with photos or videos or descriptions of kindness. Not as a way to highlight my generosity, but simply as a way to hold myself accountable. And perhaps I might inspire some of you to start your own birthday project…
Since every every epic birthday celebration requires help from others – here’s how I would appreciate your help! Please write in the comments below:
- Ideas or suggestions you have for random acts of kindness I can perform during the next 20 weeks
- If you’d like to volunteer to do any random acts of kindness together with me
- If you’d like to request that I perform any specific acts of kindness
- If this has inspired you to perform any random acts of kindness during the next 20 weeks
- Any general advice or wisdom you can offer about turning 40
Here’s what I think: turning 40 is going to suck – there’s just no way around it. So I might as well do something fun (surfing in South Africa) and do something to celebrate others (random acts of kindness).
Although on my bad days my life seems inadequate, on my good days I know that I am blessed beyond measure. I truly am. All my birthday dilemmas are clearly first world problems. Because I earn more than $48,000 /year I am officially among the richest 1% of people on this entire planet. (You can find your own global statistics here: http://www.globalrichlist.com/) I’ve had amazing educational opportunities and I have access to excellent health care. I have a career that I love, that pays for my wonderful house, in a city that I love. More importantly, I am enriched beyond measure by my relationships with family, friends and colleagues.
And because I’ve seen 100+ high school friends celebrate this milestone already, I know I won’t die when I do finally turn 40. If they can survive the trauma of 40, then so can I.