What’s Your Superpower?

“When you meet someone, you need to have a super power. If you don’t, you’re just another handshake.” – Seth Godin’s Blog, March 15, 2009

What could be better than x-ray vision?

A couple of years ago I overheard a conversation between a group of five-year-old boys that I will always keep in my pocket for days that need a little sunshine. The boys were talking about superheroes and weighing up the benefits of each of their powers (nothing knew here – I have heard grown men having the exact same debate twenty and thirty years on.) They all wished vehemently to have x-ray vision or superhuman strength or the ability to create fire out of thin air. All but one. He stated that he did not want any of those things because he had a superpower already. The other boys scoffed and scowled and sarcastically asked him what it was. He shrugged, unphased, saying he hadn’t figured it out yet, but he was “pretty sure it was going to be awesome”.

Without any help at all, children instinctively dream big and happily believe in the impossible no matter what the evidence to the contrary. I remember when I was in kindergarten a girl told the whole class that Santa wasn’t real – not a single person believed her. Our belief was so strong that her suggestion seemed completely ridiculous. Even at the tender age of five people begin to question us, to criticise our beliefs, to cast doubt on our dreams. And pretty soon we do the same. So even when there is no one telling us we’re not good enough, strong enough, smart enough, we start telling it to ourselves.

Believe in yourself like some of us believed in Santa – without question.

But in adulthood being aware of what you can uniquely contribute to the world and having complete faith in that contribution is a superpower in itself. Not so long ago I thought Year of Kindness was just silly and idealistic. Pretty much everyone I spoke to about it thought the same thing. Nice idea, sure, but not practical and definitely not something that could have any real impact in our crazy, mixed-up world. Even after I started Year of Kindness, a small part of me still thought it was naive to think I could possibly influence anyone elses actions.

So you can imagine how I felt this week when I recieved a link to a Facebook Page called 12 Days of Kindness. It is a page created by two of the Year Nine students I spoke to a few weeks ago about The Year of Kindness. They have just completed their own kindness project for 12 days, with kindnesses including bringing lollies for the teachers to share, vacuuming the house without being asked, cleaning up the playground and going vegetarian for a day. I doubt that anything could have brought a bigger smile to my face than reading their posts. Katie and Ben, you are amazing and I’m certain your generosity and thoughtfulness will bring so many positive things your way. I also think perhaps wasn’t a coincidence that this morning when I told my barista I would pay for the next person’s coffee, it turned out to be a hot chocolate for a Year Nine student whose resulting smile was the biggest I’ve seen in a long time.

Hi, my name is Cat, and I’m going to make the world a kinder place.

Chris Guillebeau says in order to have faith in yourself and value your unique contribution, you have to consider what the world would look like with you in charge. He suggests we imagine meeting someone important and introducing ourselves by saying “Hi, my name is ____ and I’m going to ____.”

You have something that you can give to the world in a way that no one else can. You have a perspective, an idea, a talent, a wish for the world that is uniquely yours. The tricky part is listening to your instincts to figure out what that is and ignoring anyone who says it’s not important, or valuable, or necessary. Even if – or especially if – that critic is yourself.

What do you love? What do you value above all else? What can you give to others? How can you change the world? If you haven’t figured out your superpower yet, you can and you will, and I’m pretty sure it’s going to be awesome.

Gen Y: Indifferent Or Just Different?

Impatient. Demanding. Selfish. Lazy. Indifferent. Gen Y has managed to collect a whole bunch of cliches over the years, and apart from being tech-savvy, most of them aren’t very flattering. Often it seems older generations simply assume the worst of us and we live down to their expectations. But I think that while the cliches might be true, that’s not necessarily a bad thing. We are impatient if that means we aren’t willing to wait around for results, changes and answers. We are demanding if that means always questioning everything instead of accepting things as they are. We are selfish if that means asking for more when we feel we deserve it. We are lazy if that means not believing work is the most important thing in life. And we are indifferent to politics and politicians if that means we find them collectively uninspiring and out of touch.

The recent Gen Y episode of Q&A tackled this very issue of our generation being seen as totally apathetic when it comes to politics and global issues. I do not think of myself as a political person (in fact, I must admit I almost changed the channel when Q & A came on…) I do not have any strong allegiance to a particular politician or political party. I do not understand half of what goes on in Parliament, nor do I care. I have minimal respect, trust or belief in anything politicians have to say.

However, there are a few select issues that I am extremely passionate about, and am willing to stand up and be counted for. Listening to Samah Hadid, the most eloquent and intelligent 23-year-old you could ever come across, talking on Q&A I realised that generation Y-ers are not indifferent about world issues, we just show our interest differently to generations past. Rather than take to the streets about an issue we make small changes in our everyday life, circulate a video to inform others, sign an online petition or make a small donation towards the cause. And this week, focusing my kindness project to world issues, that is exactly what I did.

For global warming I caught the bus to work and had my very own earth hour at home by turning off all the lights. For changes in our policies and treatment of asylum seekers and refugees I signed a petition and spread the word about an incredible documentary called Go Back To Where You Came From, one of the most personally moving and globally significant documentaries I’ve ever seen. For marriage equality I – along with thousands of others – donated money for a same-sex couple to have dinner with the PM and tell her their story. I did this through GetUp!, a fantastic website making such political action far easier and more accessible to our generation. For saving Tasmania’s forests I wrote to my local MP, also through GetUp!

I believe each of these issues are connected by a need for us to let show more kindness and compassion – whether it be to another human being or to our beautiful planet. Generation Y is indeed very different to past generations, but just because we are not passionate about a political party does not mean we don’t care about what is going on in our world. Far from it – I think Samah summed it up perfectly when she said the difference of our generation is that “Our compassion, our commitment to human rights, is not conditional on political election cycles”. And that seems like the opposite of indifference to me.

Chocolate and Rainboots

I adore the above poem by spoken word poet Sarah Kay. The honesty, the optimism, the beautiful metaphors and striking imagery. Mostly I love the idea that although every mother wishes they could simply pass on the lessons of life and save their child all the hurt and the heartache, unfortunately each one of us must learn the hard way that “getting the wind knocked out of you is the only way to remind your lungs how much they like the taste of air”.

This kindness week was all about positive affirmations, to remind my friends and family of their beauty, strength, intelligence and value. I wrote kind messages on post-it notes and sent messages of encouragement every day. These included: “All you have to do is believe in yourself and follow your instincts, and you will end up exactly where you are meant to be” and “You are strong, kind and beautiful. Every moment is an opportunity.” As each person recieved their individual affirmation and repsonded so positively, I realised that while its true that thoughts create words create actions, sometimes it happens differently. Sometimes reading or hearing positive, kind things about yourself from someone else can actually shift your own thoughts. One post-it note that I put on the bathroom mirror at work simply said “You are beautiful”. The next day I saw that someone had added their own comment: “Thankyou for reminding me. :)”

Imagine if everyone knew beyond any doubt their own strength, beauty, compassion and innate value? And for those that didn’t know it yet, imagine if they all had cheerleaders around them to remind them every day of their unique contribution to the world until they did realise it for themselves? Life will always throw enough curve-balls to ensure the necessity of chocolate and rainboots, but maybe being our own cheerleaders can allow us to face the hurts and the heartache like the little girl Sarah describes who just keeps on singing, whose eyes keep shining, who never stops asking for more.

More Wisdom from (Online) Strangers

I must admit, that for a long time the idea of blogging held very negative connotations for me. Although I love to write and I love to read, bloggers have that reputation of being somewhat self-absorbed people who believe everyone wants to read their opinion on whether cereal or toast is the superior breakfast food. However, since becoming part of the blogging community I have found many inspiring, witty, thought-provoking, smile-inducing bloggers on amazing journeys towards happiness and self-discovery. My kindness today is to share a few of my favourite lessons from some of my favourite blogs:

1. Say what you want, without expecting to get it The Power of ‘I Want’ from Growth Journal. This is a beautiful, insightful blog about personal growth. This post impacted me a lot because one of my biggest flaws is an inability (or unwillingness) to say what I want or need, for fear of seeming selfish or entitled. This post made me realise I need to give myself permission to communicate what I want. It doesn’t necessarily mean I always expect to recieve what I want, but it can be validating and empowering simply to give it a voice.

2. Self-perception is everything Change how you see, not how you look from Drawing My Own Conclusions. I adore the hand drawn pictures that accompany the thoughtful words and affirmations in this blog. This is a gorgeous post about accepting yourself and your situation completely.

3. Asking for help is not selfish Asking for Help When You Need It from 1000 Mitzvahs. This blog is Linda’s journey to perform 1,000 mitzvahs or acts of kindness in memory of her father. Asking for help always seems like placing a burden on someone else, but this post made me realise that sometimes its actually a kind thing to do not only for yourself but for someone else who is made to feel needed and giving.

4. Find the balance between kindness to self and kindness to others – Lessons in Generosity from Smile, Kiddo. This blog is all about finding happiness in, and gratitude for, the little things in life. I could relate to this post very easily because I know all too well that giving too little can make you feel guilty and giving too much can make you feel resentful. But those emotional reactions are just your instincts trying to guide you towards finding the balance.

5. Experience all the seasons before passing judgement – The Seasons of Life from Happiness is a Lifestyle. This blog is Lexy’s personal journey to create more gratitude, inspiration and happiness in her own life. I really loved this post which encourages us to make sure we don’t judge a person or situation after seeing only one, negative side. Seeing a tree in winter does not give any indication of its beauty in spring.

6. Don’t talk change, make changeWhat If … from Resolve to Give. This blog is about Eric’s pledge to keep the giving spirit of Christmas alive all year long. It’s inspiring to read about how he is actively living out the change he wants to see in the world.

7. Give yourself more credit and remember the big picture – Doing Something Right from Bye Bye Bitters. This blog is an honest, funny, thoughtful account of Helena’s quest for happiness and self-acceptance. This post is a reminder of how we can all be our own worst critic and come up with a million ways in which we aren’t “good enough”, but really when we look at the big picture we are probably doing a lot of things right.

8. It takes time and effort to create consistent happinessLost My Way from Cure My Toxic Mind. A blog about one woman’s journey to free herself from negative thoughts. Even when we know in theory that happiness is created and not found, it takes time and dedication to learn how to put this into practice.

9. Little acts of compassion can change the world – Random Acts of Kindness: Keep it Simple from The Naked Conscience. In this blog Rachel discusses her own experiences in trying to bridge the gap between good intentions and actually doing good deeds. I love the quote by Chris Abani this post focuses on: “The world is never saved in grand messianic gestures but in the simple accumulation of gentle, soft, almost invisible acts of compassion, everyday acts of compassion.”

10. Accept nothing less than a fabulous lifeI can deal with aging but I can’t dig an ‘average’ existence from The Fab Life Project. This is an amazingly motivational blog that challenges us to question everything and develop an unwavering self-belief that we deserve to live our best life.

I'm a sucker for romance… (via Happiness is a Lifestyle)

This has to be one of the most adorable, creative, most awesome marriage proposal's I've ever seen. Too cute! … Read More

via Happiness is a Lifestyle

Survival of the Kindest?

When I think of human evolution the first thing that usually comes to mind is the phrase “survival of the fittest”, and with it the assumption that human beings are hard-wired to be selfish in order to survive. But apparently this was not Charles Darwin’s phrase or even his theory. In fact, a lesser known element of Darwin’s theory was that sympathy is the strongest human instinct and one of the main reasons we have been so successful as a species. Modern scientists are building on this idea, studying the way in which our compassion, altruism and nurturing traits can make us healthier, more resilient and more respected.*

This week I started a new job and as I began to take my kindness project in this new workplace I hoped that sympathy, and not selfishness, would prove to be the better character trait to “survive and thrive”. My first week was hectic and overwhelming. Simply figuring everything out and getting everything done meant I had little time or energy for kind acts, but I did them anyway. I bought biscuits for the staff kitchen, washed coffee cups left in the sink, made a huge effort to learn everyones names and greet them with a smile each day, always expressed my gratitude when someone helped me out in any small way and offered to help others whenever I felt able. I also made sure to be kind to myself and simply say no when I felt taking on a task would be too stressful. (There is a difference between being kind and being a push-over.)

Most importantly though, I made an effort to listen and understand where people where coming from. Almost everyone was extremely welcoming and friendly, and for those that were not I tried to listen even harder. Rather than judging them or reacting in anger, I tried to read between the lines, find the reasons behind their behaviour and be compassionate even when they hadn’t done the same for me. I know many consider it a weakness not to “assert” yourself when someone is rude, and in some cases that is true, but a lot of the time it only creates more issues and it certainly doesn’t make us happier or less stressed.

I think most people find it incredibly difficult to continue being negative and unkind when you are persistently and genuinely kind and positive towards them. And once a group of people have all started to be kind, sympathetic and compassionate towards one another, there is no doubt that they can achieve far more than they could with an “every man for himself” mind-set.

* University of California, Berkeley (2009, December 9). Social scientists build case for ‘survival of the kindest’. ScienceDaily. Retrieved June 12, 2011, from http://www.sciencedaily.com­ /releases/2009/12/091208155309.htm

Laugh It Up

Like kindness, I think silliness is seriously underrated as a way to instantly increase happiness. This clip is very, very silly – the man is a genius of silly, whoever he is – and made me laugh more than I have in ages. So it seemed obvious that the kind thing to do was share it!

A Recipe for Positivity

There are certain questions that have puzzled humankind since the dawn of time. Why is the time of day when the traffic moves most slowly called rush hour? Who stole the cookie from the cookie jar? And how, pray tell, do they get those ‘stay off the grass’ signs onto the grass? And then there are the really, really tricky questions like one I was asked recently when I spoke with a group of year 9 students about Year of Kindness: “How do you stay positive?”

Skyping with the students was very interesting. I know their teacher through the Lucca Leadership course that actually spurred me into action on the kindness project. She was keen for me to chat to them about the project and they had a lot of really thoughtful questions for me that made me reflect on the whole process and my reasons behind undertaking this crazy journey. Who was my biggest inspiration for starting the project? (My grandma – the most loving, giving and kindest person I’ve ever known.) What am I going to do after Year of Kindness? (I honestly have no idea – never been a big “planner”.) Is anyone ever ungrateful for a kindness? (Yes, sometimes.) Do I ever question what I’m doing and feel like giving up? (Yes, all the time.) So, how do I stay positive? (Ummm…) It was good fun, although we had a few technological issues and I was also reminded that I’m far better at organising my thoughts into written form than spoken! And it was especially fantastic to hear about the kind things they are doing themselves. Listening to their experiences made me feel like maybe a Kindness Revolution really is possible.

Since my last post I have signed the petition to ban live animal export.
I bought a bunch of flowers for my Dad (he loves flowers and says its not fair they are only given to women. I think most women would attest they don’t get given enough flowers either!) I also picked up rubbish on my block for World Environment Day and bought a copy of The Big Issue.

But it was my chat with the lovely, articulate, curious students that really got me thinking this week. Why am I doing this kindness project if not to create more positivity in my own life and the lives of others? Happiness and positivity have become recurring themes in the Year of Kindness, and I certainly feel I am a lot closer to more consistent positivity and happiness since I started this project. However, as recent posts have shown, I still sometimes take big detours to Negativetown. When it comes right down to it the question of how to stay positive has never, and probably will never, have an easy answer. But next time someone asks me for a recipe for positivity I’m going to defer them to the beautiful Optimists Creed written by Christian D. Larson all the way back in 1912:

Promise Yourself

To be so strong that nothing can disturb your peace of mind.

To talk health, happiness, and prosperity to every person you meet.

To make all your friends feel that there is something worthwhile in them.

To look at the sunny side of everything and make your optimism come true.

To think only of the best, to work only for the best and to expect only the best.

To be just as enthusiastic about the success of others as you are about your own.

To forget the mistakes of the past and press on to the greater achievements of the future.

To wear a cheerful expression at all times and give a smile to every living creature you meet.

To give so much time to improving yourself that you have no time to criticize others.

To be too large for worry, too noble for anger, too strong for fear, and too happy to permit the presence of trouble.

To think well of yourself and to proclaim this fact to the world, not in loud words, but in great deeds.

To live in the faith that the whole world is on your side, so long as you are true to the best that is in you.

Love the Rain (and Other Wisdom from Strangers)

Over the last few days little pearls of wisdom have been spilling forth from strangers in the most random of places, and each one has inspired a different act of kindness.

1. Thoughts create words create reality. On Saturday at the beginning of a gym class my instructor told us she was having a terrible morning, she was a magnet for things going wrong and all she needed now was for the “stupid microphone” not to work. Having also attended the previous class (sometimes I’m a little crazy that way), I knew the microphone was working perfectly well. But sure enough, she spent ten minutes flipping switches before exclaiming “It’s not working, as usual.” She then spent the rest of the class in turn shouting instructions and complaining about having to shout. She was so frustrated that she kept messing up the choreography. All day I thought about how easy it is to be your own worst enemy and not even realise it. I decided to make a conscious effort to be kinder to myself over the weekend. I did things that make me feel calm and happy – catching up with friends, exercising, meditating, eating well, reading, cooking… I also bought all my fruit and vegetables from a local organic market – to my great amusement the Englishman who was running the market told me I was “doing a jolly good thing for the environment but more importantly a jolly good thing for your health”.

2. Your life should love you. On Monday while I was in a shop, a fairly successful-looking woman was asked what she did for work. She laughed and gave the most amazing response I’ve ever heard: “I do whatever work loves me.” When asked what she meant, she listed an assortment of different jobs which she claimed all had one common element – they made her feel appreciated, valued, talented and loved. The lady went on to say that this was also true of people she had in her life – “How could anyone ever expect to be happy if they choose to spend time with people or work that doesn’t love them?” Of course we all know it is true, but as friend recently told me quite matter-of-factly, “Sometimes I think if I let go of every person who let me down, there wouldn’t be many people left.” I can empathise with this so strongly. But I realise more and more each day that it’s better to be surrounded by a few people that truly love you than many who don’t. Following on from this lesson I decided to make someone else feel loved and I wrote a gratitude card to my amazing friend R. She is constantly inspiring me, making me consider things from a different perspective and encouraging me to have unwavering faith in myself and the universe.

3. Love the rain. Today while waiting for my daily caffeine fix, I noticed a little girl (around five) sitting at the window of the cafe watching the rain outside. All around her us adults were complaining to each other about the cold, wet weather. This little girl, however, had a different take on things, bouncing excitedly in her seat as the raindrops fell heavier and heavier, and saying quietly: “Hello, rain! I love you. Thankyou for making the flowers grow.” If only we could maintain children’s natural ability to find such joy in things. This little girl inspired my ‘piece de resistance’ for this week (if not month): I went around to every unit on my floor (25 in total) and left a flower and a note on the doorstep reading “A random act of kindness to brighten a gloomy day.” Strange how nervous this made me – I did it so hastily you would think I was robbing the places. Maybe my last flower incident has traumatised me. I didn’t want to get “caught”; didn’t want to be judged; didn’t want to answer suspicious and ungrateful questions. I just wanted to imagine that each person came home after a stressful, rainy day to find a lovely bright flower on their doorstep that made them smile and wonder.