Welcome to the Get Gutsy interview series! Each month, I interview people who are getting gutsy– stepping outside their comfort zones to reach their goals and live a life that makes them truly happy.
Here’s a quick story about me and Kirsten:
My side gig working as the features editor for the Muck Rack blog allows me the chance to meet lots of really cool and interesting people. Kirsten just happens to be one of them! She’s the queen of writing the Muck Rack Daily, MR’s popular newsletter. In my role managing the MR blog, I email Kirsten every time a new post goes live- after more than a year of doing this, we became Facebook friends through a mutual friend and I got to know more about Kirsten beyond our twice-weekly emails. I quickly noticed her #100helpfuldays project and knew I needed to share her story with you!
I hope Kirsten’s story and #100helpfuldays project inspires you to do something good today!
1. Hi Kirsten! Thanks for being on the blog today. Could you please give us your best Twitter-style introduction? (140 characters or less!)
I’m fond of saying I’m a journalist suffering from a case of wanderlust and Florence Nightingale syndrome.
2. Tell us about how you are getting gutsy.
Coming up on the year 2015, I decided that my New Year’s Resolution would be to do one, demonstrable good deed for someone else for 100 straight days. It’s called #100helpfuldays.
3. #100helpfuldays sounds amazing! How did you hear about it and what made you decide to participate?
Benjamin Franklin deserves credit for serving as my initial inspiration. If you look at Franklin’s daily schedule, he started each morning with one question: “What good shall I do this day?” And before bed, he asked himself another: “What good have I done today?”
I wanted to be able to adopt the same practice, and have an answer every time. I also recently moved back to the States from China, where there is an old proverb that says, “If you want happiness for an hour, take a nap. If you want happiness for a day, go fishing. If you want happiness for a year, inherit a fortune. If you want happiness for a lifetime, help someone.”
At the same time, I also noticed the #100happydays campaign, and couldn’t help but worry that many of the things we’re tempted to post under that hashtag aren’t really the things that keep us happy–at least, not in the long term. What studies have shown, however, is that acts of altruism and charity do actually help boost our endorphin levels in more sustained way…and so like a fused tree that grew from two seeds, out of those two ideas #100helpfuldays was born.
4. What have been your 3 favorite #100helpfuldays projects so far?
I actually embarked on #100helpfuldays once before (last May through June), but had to stop about 40 days in because we had a medical emergency in the family and I had to fly home. But out of all the projects I’ve done for either #100helpfuldays campaign, my favorites are:
1) Fostering litters of abandoned kittens through Best Friends Animal Society (we’ve taken in a couple of litters and found homes for all of them, and ended up adopting one ourselves)!
2) Making sunny flower arrangements and then bringing little bouquets of brightness to terminally ill hospice patients through Silverado’s Petals for Patients
3) Playing sports with differently abled children through KEEN Los Angeles
4) Essentially any project benefiting the homeless (we have a big problem with homelessness in LA)
5) Reading to kids/tutoring children in reading with Reading Partners
Okay, sorry, it was hard to pick just three! Regarding the last one, a bonus for me involved a Jumpstart event where I got to volunteer alongside Tia Mowry (now Tia Mowry Hardrict). Sometimes giving back means you get to meet one of your childhood role models!
5. It sounds like #100helpfuldays requires a lot of planning ahead. How did you begin the process of figuring out each of the projects you want to participate in?
I reserve each Sunday evening for researching charities and exploring possible volunteering opportunities in my area. My go-to sites to mine for charitable projects are Volunteermatch.org, LAWorks.com and BigSunday.org. I’m also fortunate to live in Los Angeles, which is a city that I’ve realized is rife with philanthropic people! I harbored many prejudices about this town before I moved here, and I’m so delighted to have been proven completely wrong.
Honestly, the only hard part of this project, for me, is the simple act of taking a picture every day. I’m very self critical, fearful of being perceived as vain, and I do not enjoy taking pictures (other than on special occasions) and especially not by myself! But I’ve learned my pictures are the best way to document my deeds and raise awareness of the causes I’m advocating…so here’s hoping this little campaign will help cure me of my hang-ups here, as well.
6. How do you find the time to fit #100helpfuldays into what I’m sure is already a very busy schedule for you?
The most time-consuming part is actually the planning part on Sunday evenings, which I tackle in much the same way that a person on the “meal planner” prepares for his or her week’s meals. After that, I’m really only devoting a couple of hours a day or less to a good deed. I’m often reminded of Parkinson’s law–that work expands to fill the time allotted. I’ve discovered that since my schedule has become more “planned,” I actually have just as much time as I did before. I’m just wasting a lot less of it!
7. What are some challenges you’ve faced along the way? Has anything surprised you about the journey?
As for challenges I’ve faced, aside from having to overcome feeling a tad camera shy, I would say in the beginning I felt consumed by feelings of anxiety when I would first head out to a volunteering project, especially on Day One, which was January 1 of this year.
In the past I’ve felt paralyzed by perfectionism–not that I am perfect, but rather that I am plagued by this overwhelming feeling that if it isn’t done perfectly, I shouldn’t even try to do it at all. Many a would-be novel has been banished to a dusty drawer of mine for this reason. Would I be able to complete my 100 days? Would I get too burnt out? Would people think I was a quitter if I did?
But now I find that the more I give and the more I help, the less difficult and daunting it becomes. It’s now second nature to get in my car and drive to an unknown destination, or send a care package to a stranger in need. I’m less afraid to meet new people, because I’m working alongside completely new groups of kind-hearted strangers every day. I’m less likely to lose my patience on the road (which is really saying something in LA traffic!) and I’m also a good deal earlier to things than I used to be, because I’ve gotten lost so many times that I’ve learned to give myself plenty of leeway.
Most importantly, I used to struggle to find time to help people. I wanted to drop everything to assist others I noticed in need, but I just felt like I couldn’t afford to spare the time for them.
#100helpfuldays has trained me to see how I can make room in my life for others to lean on me, without falling over myself. It was supposed to be about helping others, but truthfully I think it’s helped me most of all.
8. What has life been like since you started the #100helpfuldays project? Has it changed anything for you?
The greatest change has been developing a more grateful attitude– for the interminable human spirit of the people I meet, for the infinite compassion and ingenuity of the philanthropists I’ve met and for the way I have been blessed to be in a position to help others.
And yes, it’s created in me a happier heart–it’s darn hard not to be happy, when the little girl you’re tutoring gives you a big hug and tells you she missed you, or the elderly Filipino grandmother asks you if she can take a selfie with you after you’ve taught her how to text. I’m also finding that it’s getting easier and easier to fit helpful deeds into my day, and many of these projects have turned into recurring commitments that I will continue even after the 100 days have finished.
9. How can others get involved? What would you recommend someone do to get started with service projects in their own community?
I want to stress that my own experiment with #100HelpfulDays is occasionally ambitious for a reason, and that I don’t expect everyone to do a big volunteer project every day! That can cause people to grow demoralized and fatigued, and it would violate my only two rules for the project: 1) Don’t sacrifice beyond your means (for example, if you choose for your day’s deed to involve a donation, don’t spend more money than you feel you can responsibly spend!) and 2) Don’t do something simply because you feel obligated to do so, because that will have the opposite effect of happiness — obligatory good deeds will only lead to misery!
Instead, a good deed a day can be something as small and effortless as writing a letter to a person in need of encouragement through an organization such as MoreLoveLetters.com, or going for a run with the Charity Miles app, so every step you take literally benefits a charity (of which the Michael J. Fox Foundation is a favorite for me)! I’m also a passionate proponent of microvolunteering, which essentially is any task done either a) purely online from the comfort of your home or b) offline in small increments of time. Some invaluable sites where you can find short-term, easy kind acts that meet your skills and scheduling needs include helpfromhome.org and the aforementioned volunteermatch.org! I also highly recommend browsing the posts on GOOD.is, which is a social network that’s become a global community of conscientious people.
10. What does your life look like five years from now? More importantly, how do you hope to feel?
Five years from now, I hope to find myself making an even bigger philanthropic impact on my community and, ideally, the world. And I hope it will be for 365 days a year, rather than just 100!
11. What does getting gutsy mean to you?
Mustering the confidence and courage to do that which you were told is impossible or unlikely or just plain out of your hands. The very first time I posted about my little idea, my first comment was from a well meaning friend who said “Nice idea, but sounds a bit hard to me.” I almost agreed and hung it up right there! Almost. But like all good habits, it’s only hard in the beginning. Then it becomes second nature!
Want to connect with Kirsten?
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