I’m a selfish asshole.
Hear me out.
In exactly two weeks I’m going be 29. And in 29 years of living (plus 9 months in the womb where I didn’t accomplish much) I have never really had to ask for much.
I grew up in a loving household full of people who (while they may not have always understood me, and frankly, who can blame them) always supported me.
I have written before about I have such an abundance of things in my life that I regularly have to purge my life of material possessions. It’s a position that so few people ever find them in, a position I try to remember whenever I feel myself wanting for something.
In the weeks leading up to my birthday I like to take stock of my life. I like to spend some time contemplating, thinking, and comparing where I am now to where I was a year ago. It can be challenging as I constantly find myself coming up short of the places I’d hoped, or expected, to be.
In addition to reflection my birthday usually involves celebration. Typically there are two types of gatherings.
I will do a birthday dinner with a small group of my close friends at a really nice restaurant. We make toasts, we laugh, and we eat incredible food. And then I will set up a get together for my larger circle of friends, something where people can come in and out of at their leisure, stop by, celebrate for as little or as long as they’d like.
And I won’t lie; at both affairs I usually don’t pay for a thing. And I’ve never had a problem with it. I mean on your birthday you should be able to get whatever you want. At least that’s been my mentality.
But for some time now I’ve been feeling a weird strange cloud drifting over my soul. I’d be lying if I had said it was a recent phenomenon, but it is only recently that I have started to pay more attention to it. It’s a feeling that I’m not doing enough.
For the past 4 years I’ve lived alone. For the past 6 I’m floated in and out of jobs that I thought would bring me the things I’ve wanted. I’ve received raises, title changes, and new responsibilities.
In that same time I’ve traveled. I’ve had incredible experiences in places around the country and around the world. I’ve taken up hobbies that have occupied so much space in my mind that others can attest I am sometimes less present than I should be.
More than anything, I have had opportunities.
When I’ve wanted something, the thing I have wanted is so far above the top of Maslow’s Hierarchy that he would probably be baffled that one person could possibly want for so much.
My highs have been higher than I could have possibly imagined, and my lows, while sad and challenging and life changing, have always been something I could eventually work my way through.
There has always been a road. And while that road may have been concealed, or bumpy, or long, there has always been a road. I have never been without a road. But for so many others, that has never been the case.
And I know this. I know it the way people know war and famine and poverty exists. They are the kinds of things we may try to remind ourselves, but never too often so as not to make ourselves feel sad. After all, there is only so much we can do.
Here’s the thing. I don’t do anything.
When disaster strikes a far away country in the form of a tornado or a tsunami I give money to the Red Cross. When my friends do a marathon to raise money to fight cancer I give money to their cause. I have situational generosity. But I never really give anything that requires anything.
A handful of years ago I went to work at a nonprofit thinking that would give me the feeling of generosity and altruism I had hoped would at some point infuse my life.
But for a myriad of reasons, those feelings never came. I wasn’t more generous or giving towards those in needs while I worked there, I was just more awareness. But awareness without action is like a kite without a string.
So I left that job to pursue something I loved. And I was a happier employee than I’d ever been and for many moons that feeling of wanting to give back remained held at bay.
I think we all kind of wait and hope for that moment when everything changes. We expect that moment of clarity, that single instant when our worlds come into focus, our worries fade away and the single most important clear and obvious needs of the universe come into focus.
Though for most people those moments never arrive. It seems silly to admit that I have been waiting for a moment like that when my life has been supersaturated with such moments.
So after two weeks spent on the west coast spent socializing, contemplating and interacting in different cities with different people over different issues, I’m done waiting.
And that is why on the eve of my 29th year I’m “giving up” my birthday to raise money for a cause that takes every single cent it raises and uses it to bring clean drinking water to those in need.
The facts of how clean water can change the world are truly overwhelming. And if you’re interested in reading about them you can find them at Charity: Water.
So what does this mean?
That means this year I will be passing up that small gathering at the fancy restaurant to celebrate me.
That means this I’m not having a party where people come and buy me drinks. Sure I'll still get people together, but the drinks will be cheap, and nobody is allowed to buy me a single one.
Even as I write this though, even as I tell you that I am proud to be committing to raising $1,000 dollars for this incredible cause, I am also aware what a copout it is.
Sure I’m “giving up” my birthday this year but what am I actually giving up?
I’m not giving $1,000 out of my own pocket. I’m asking my friends to help me. I’m asking people instead of buying me drinks on my birthday, to take 29 bucks and put it towards something that actually matters.
While I have no idea if I’ll reach my goal, I do know that it already feels good to want something that will help somebody who deserves it, somebody to whom the words ‘want’ and ‘need’ are exactly the same.