A handful of years ago I left my job at a magazine to go work for a non-profit. It was something I had been thinking about doing for a while. I loved magazines but I felt it was time to do something more altruistic. I wasn't feeling fulfilled in my current position and thought by getting into a company that helped people, as a business would fill the hole that I felt within myself.
Needless to say that hole remained relatively unfilled for the 2ish years I spent at the non-profit.
It's a dangerous expectation to have that a job will make you feel better about yourself, work, or the world at large. Granted this is something all of us walk around doing, and when your job fulfills your expectations you can feel 100 feet tall.
But when that job doesn't do what you hoped it would we can be left wanting, frustrated, and often times, lost.
I realized it wasn't altruism I was seeking but something I was truly interested in. I'm not sure what it says about me that altruism wasn't enough to sustain me, but I knew I wanted to do something I cared deeply about, that would be fun, that would allow me to become the man I spent so much time dreaming of becoming.
I left the job at the non-profit 3ish years ago. Since then I've always had this frustration with myself that I haven't made more time for volunteering, for service, for finding a way to make giving back a part of my regular life.
I've had ideas.
I contemplated sitting on the boards of non-profits before. I've thought about offering my skillets, public speaking, creative writing, to people who might be interested in them. Perhaps helping young people learn such skills.
For one reason or another I've felt more comfortable with the guilt of not doing more than with actually calling myself to action to help others.
Being out on my own now, with my own business, and a schedule that I'm more free to control, it should seem easy to actually make time for volunteering, for some sort of service, for some sort of connection.
Alas, it has not happened yet.
Perhaps it is the fear of the commitment to something that scares me but would that stop me from even volunteering once a year? That's some serious fear there.
I know I have the ability to do good things for people, to use my life to improve maybe just the moods of others once in a while. For some reason the thought of it takes me out of a comfort zone that seems to be recognizable to myself only when thinking about leaving it.
I certainly never gave more than a passing thought to how I could physically leave the country to brighten somebody else's day in another state, certainly not another country.
The Far East? The Dark Continent? These are things that scare me for real and perhaps stereotypical reasons. Having visited 20 countries seems less impressive when all of those countries are flush with nearly the same amenities I enjoy in my day-to-day life. Sure there are cultural differences, but manageable ones.
I certainly have never gone so far out of my comfort zone as to contemplate creating an art project that might brighten somebody else's day. And I most definitely never thought about doing an art process that impacts an entire city. And no way did I plan on doing something so significant that it would be an international success changing how people live, if only for a day, around the world.
I never have. But my friend did.
His name is Yazmany.
The first time I met Yazmany I was 16 and he was dressed in a suit holding a giant Scooby Doo stuffed animal that was covered in pins from different states.
We were both campaigning for international positions in a high school service organization. I was from NY and he was From Florida. One could argue how we compared qualifications-wise, but I would say on the day that I met him I was intimidated, not something that usually happened when I met people nearly a foot shorter than me. But his charisma far surpassed my height. And that was intimidating to me.
We both ended up winning our election and served together and while we became close friends I was struck with this feeling of being simultaneously impressed and jealous of him at the same time. He was a gymnast, he could dance classically, he spoke multiple languages, he had lived in different countries, and he was an artist.
I was tall and loud and moderately funny. Sure there was more beneath the surface but I didn't really understand it yet so tall and loud and moderately funny were what was most obvious.
Watching Yazmany ballroom dance around a hotel suite with a friend of ours I whispered to my friend that it was incredible how many things Yazmany knew how to do.
My friend just nodded along and said something that rang like a clock tower bell in my head:
Yea man, I'm just glad he's my friend.
One sentence and any jealousy I had melted into gratitude.
We became close. He influenced my life in significant ways, he propped me up, and he gave me courage.
And then we graduated and lost touch for several years before reconnecting as "adults" living in New York City.
At the time we reconnected his candle was burning brighter than ever, an architect with a respected firm, an Artist with a capital A. He defied description and was always moving. He was more kinetic than ever.
He took bold moves. He made bigger art. He left his job. He took small risks followed by what seemed like his biggest one.
He created a project called Monday Mornings whereby he would visit a city somewhere around the world, and spend an entire morning with hundreds of volunteers, handing out bright, monochromatic biodegradable balloons to people on their way to work that day with only one condition.
That they keep it until they got to work.
It transformed cities, landscapes. It reinvented a morning commute. It excited people. It infused monotony with spontaneity. With smiles. With giggles.
He did it in Japan, in Kenya, and mere weeks from now he will do it again in a place that seems unfathomable.
A place that most people barely know enough to speak about Yazmany is visiting to spread love through bright pink balloons to people who have never experienced anything like it.
But there is a catch.
It is no longer just Yazmany's project. It is everybody's.
Because what goes on beneath the surface far exceeds the already superfluous amount than meets the eye, he has a greater goal in mind.
He wants to connect all of us to the project, to allow everybody to brighten somebody’s day. And to make it so easy that literally every single person can help.
The goal is to bring 10,000 pink balloons to Kabul by having 10,000 people contribute 1 dollar to make it happen.
Not a minimum of 1 dollar. A maximum. Every person will help change one life for at least one day.
Have you ever been able to actually directly change someone’s day around the world for a dollar? Have you ever tried? Have you even considered it?
Today is your day. Join me and become part of a movement.
Ten thousand ways to make a difference.
Click below to watch the video.