Guest post by Kim Dinan, writer and traveler.
Back in 2012, feeling underwhelmed and uninspired by our lives, my husband and I changed course. We quit our jobs; sold everything we owned and set out to explore the world for a while. But just before we left home our friends surprised us with a going away present: A yellow envelope tied in a beautiful yellow bow. Inside was a check for $1000 and instructions to give the money away to those we encountered on our journey
The gift felt important and steeped in meaning. Our friends were asking us to be conduits for their kindness. From Ecuador to India and Germany to Vietnam, we gave that money away. And while I’d never given much thought to giving before receiving the yellow envelope, I came to learn a few unexpected truths about giving– and what sometimes stops us from doing it.
Giving is hard
When my husband and I were first given the yellow envelope I thought that giving money away would be easy. I thought of the gift as a blessing (it was) and an honor (it was). It was a dozen different wonderful things, but it just wasn’t easy. When we first received the gift I daydreamed up a hundred different ways I might give the money away, but when I was out in the world confronted with the reality of actually giving it, I began to overthink it. I was afraid our gift might offend or our gesture would be taken the wrong way. And because I feared being misunderstood, there were times when I missed an opportunity to do something good for someone else.
Giving is awkward
Okay, writing a check to a non-profit isn’t awkward. Mailing a card to a friend on her birthday isn’t awkward either. But giving to a stranger face-to-face, human-to-human? That’s awkward. It’s awkward because giving that way makes us feel vulnerable. We have to step outside of our comfort zones to do something for somebody else and, well, we’re less comfortable out there. Giving isn’t all happy tears and celebratory hugs. It’s messier than that—just like life.
It’s not about you
Giving became a lot easier for me when it finally dawned on me that giving wasn’t about me. I spent so much time worried about how the recipient would respond to my gift, and that caused a whole bunch of insecurities to pop up. Would I appear rude? Would my gift catch the recipient off-guard and offend them? When I reframed the fear and remembered that giving wasn’t about me, it was easier to set my own discomfort aside to do something for somebody else. I also learned that when a gift is given with an open heart the recipient almost always senses that.
There are many ways to give
Even though our yellow envelope money is gone now, it continues to make me pay attention to the many ways there are to do good in the world. Money is just one way to give. We can give of our time and our energy. We can give compassion and respect and tenderness. Those gifts are renewable and they are free.
We can’t know what impact giving has
People often ask me if I stayed in touch with the recipients of the yellow envelope money. The truth is, I didn’t stay in touch with them. I never even knew the names of many of the people we gave to. So, I have no idea how their yellow envelope money impacted their lives, or if it did at all. I can only think back to the times in my life when someone did something kind and unexpected for me. The rare moments when my life was touched by a random act of kindness have stuck with me, they’ve inspired me, and they’ve changed my world.