“I love birthdays,” I can hear myself saying to every stranger I meet. “The two most important things to know about someone are their birthday and their middle name… followed closely by their favorite candy bar.”
With my birthday just a few days away, though, I’ve been stuck in a lot of thoughtful reflection. I love birthdays. But I was feeling weird about it. Then it hit me, I love other people’s birthdays.
The truth is, as much as I joke about my birthday week (okay, my birthday month), in general, I don’t feel all that comfortable with the attention. I’ve grown more and more accepting of my extroverted tendencies (see birthday conversations with strangers above) and I love public speaking more than anything in the world, so it isn’t a matter of shyness. But there is something I’ve always struggled with about the idea of my birthday.
If you think I’m bad at receiving a compliment, you should see me try to respond to a thoughtful gift. I have a massive capacity to experience gratitude and for that I am exceptionally, well, grateful. All that is to say that the smallest thing can mean the most. That’s why birthdays can be kind of overwhelming to me. I don’t need anything. I don’t want the attention on me. We don’t need to throw a party or doing anything spectacular. If I get to hug the people I love, read a chapter of good literature, and run through a park until my legs give out, I am happy. (Okay, and I don’t mind blowing out candles on a cake. What can I say; I have a relentless sweet tooth and a sentimental love of candle wishes).
When I was younger, I found my workaround. I asked for donations to the animal shelter instead of presents. I still got to make my wish and as we ate cake, I opened bags of cat litter and dog food. It wasn’t about me anymore. I was helping someone else. So I was happy.
Since then, I’ve always tried to spin the “birthday attention” onto something else – a service project I’m working on, a cause that I’m passionate about, etc. Last year, I signed up for all the birthday freebies in New York City and I went location to location, retrieving free sandwiches, juices, cupcakes, and coffees and distributing them to people in need or strangers who happened to be at the right place at the right time. My goal was to hit at least 22 people – to celebrate my 22nd year. I hit that goal and then some. And as I returned to my apartment that night, a sweaty mess of hungry, fatigued, and dehydrated, I felt one emotion shining above the others – happiness.
I think I knew at that point that I would always want to dedicate my birthday to the community in a big way.
This Saturday, May 20th, is my 23rd birthday. My goal this year is to raise $23 for 23 charities that I wholeheartedly believe in. On Saturday morning, I will post a photo album to The Smile Project Facebook page. Each photo will be captioned with a short blurb about the nonprofit I am supporting, why they mean so much to me, and how you can donate. Those who donate at least $12 will receive a postcard print of the corresponding charities' photo as a thank you from yours truly.
Even if you do not have the means to make a donation, I ask that you still click through the album on Saturday and learn more about the 23 amazing groups that I will be writing about.
Last year, #BirthdayGiveBack was all about what I could do as one person in the community. This year, I’m looking to you. How much impact can we make if we work together? If we use our networks for kindness? What if we create ripple effects of giving? What if our birthdays were about more than just us?
Stay tuned for #BirthdayGiveBack23 hitting your social media accounts this Saturday.