I’ve always been a huge fan of Chinese food. Ask anyone in my family, this was my go-to restaurant request whenever I got a vote. Greasy lo mein, lemon chicken, even plain white rice: I love it all. And at the end of this glorious feast, you still get one last treat: your fortune cookie. The cookie itself is certainly no match for something scrumptious like triple chocolate layer cake, lemon squares, or pretty much anything else under the dessert sun. But inside is a tiny note that can at times be poignant, hilarious, or total nonsense. I don’t take them too literally (except for the time I was visiting colleges in Connecticut and had a fortune cookie without a fortune in it – I knew I wasn’t meant to go to school there), but they can make you think or laugh – both good things. Years ago, I started saving my favorite fortunes, and here are a few I’ve held onto:
If you’re scared the world might end, don’t worry, it’s already tomorrow in Australia.
How many of you believe in psycho-kinesis? Raise my hand.
If you see a black cat, the answer is yes.
It’s amazing how much good you can do if you don’t care who gets the credit (maybe I’ll pass this one along to the White House as a soft suggestion).
And then there’s this one, which is currently on my fridge: Compliment three people every day.
That seems easy enough, right? To go out of your way to compliment three people each day: you like her outfit, you like his watch, she has a nice smile, he did a great job with that report. I’ve always been a firm believer that random acts of kindness (like complimenting people) are easy, wonderful, and necessary things to do as members of a community. And I do it often: walking down the street, talking to a friend, connecting with a stranger. It’s always been easy to me.
Which is why what happened in March was so surprising. As you may know from past blog posts, I’m taking it upon myself to try something new for 30 days in a row every month in 2018. I decided that my March 30 day challenge would be to really acknowledge a different friend every day. Not just say “great outfit” or like something they wrote on Facebook, but really acknowledge who they are as a person and why I love them. I was so excited to get started that I started my list in February and came up with 35 people that I wanted to acknowledge. I wondered how I’d choose 30 and decided to just throw on the extra 5 for good measure.
March 1st, I emailed my first lucky recipient of my love and affection. I didn’t tell her why, just that I was thinking of her and wanted her to know how much I like and respect her. I never heard back. March 2nd, I emailed a good friend – someone who was in my wedding even. This time I told her that it was part of my 30 day challenge, so maybe she wouldn’t think it was as weird as the first person may have. I told her how amazing she is, how much I love her and went on and on about her qualities. Crickets. March 3rd, I emailed another good friend. This time I followed up with a text: did you get my email? Was that weird? She assured me it was not weird, it was incredibly sweet, and she can’t believe she forgot to write back. And then I stopped for a few days. I got scared: was it weird? Was reaching out to people telling them they’re awesome just a weird, unnatural thing to do? A few days later I mustered up the courage, this time turning to iPhone voice notes. I reached out to a few friends in one day – you know, to make up for failing to live up to my every day of the month rule. This time, I got texts or voice messages back: this made my day, I love you too, thank you so much I so needed to hear this! And then I stopped again. Every time I reached out, it made me nervous: nervous to reach out to my own friends to tell them something wonderful about themselves.
And I stopped. I couldn’t get through the month that I thought would be a no-brainer for me. And I’m pissed at myself for this. For one, I didn’t fulfill my promise to myself to do something new each day in the month of March. And second, I’m depriving people of feeling good about themselves, or even taken by surprise that someone is taking a few minutes out of their day to randomly spread some love and kindness. Why couldn’t I get through this? Why did it make me nervous? I can’t help but think that it’s because I wanted some instant feedback: thank you, this is so nice, random but hey I’ll take it – anything. Maybe it’s one of the reasons I love live theater so much: you know in that moment what the response is, whether good or bad. There are so many people I would love to acknowledge – many more than the 35 people I thought I would feel comfortable reaching out to. And yet I maxed out at 12.
I don’t really have a pretty bow to wrap this up in, more of just an open thought to leave with you all. What would you think and feel if a friend sent you a text, or email, or voice note, saying without much explanation why they think you’re amazing and love you? I can’t imagine you wouldn’t be completely flattered. But would you do it? Would you be the one to reach out and fully acknowledge someone – just because? Knowing they might never respond and your words are just out there? It’s April, so I’m on to my next challenge. But I’m not going to forget my intention behind my March challenge, and when the mood strikes me to acknowledge someone (and it often does), I’m going to listen to another fortune I have pinned on my fridge: Stop trying to do, Just do it.