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My Best Self

by Dane Allred

M -- Make a Positive Contribution

Eleanor Roosevelt once said “When you cease to make a contribution, you begin to die.”

We are here for a reason. There is something only we can do, because the universe decided we needed to be here at this time, occupying this body in the place we appeared. There was no one else who could be us, with our unique collections of experiences, problems, pains and perceptions. We are the amalgamation of all that we have experienced. Our unique perspective from which we see the world as we look out at all the other people in the world is truly only our own.

The M in My Best Self is a great starting point to reaching our best self because it makes us get outside ourselves. To be our best self, we may need to consider what we do for all the others who are on this spinning marble with us.

This doesn’t mean your positive contribution can’t be something you are doing all the time, or that you can’t make money doing it. But making a positive contribution is more than having a job which will generate taxes for governments to use for others. It means specifically thinking about making this world a better place not just for ourselves, but for others, too.

These don’t have to be world changing events. They can be small, medium or large, but the impact is still the same for us. We are doing something we value and trying to make a positive contribution to one person or more. It doesn’t matter if it changes the world; it may only matter because it changes us.

Your contribution may be something small, and though it may seem small to you, it should mean something to someone else besides you.

I like to garden. I have plenty of free time in the summer since I’m a school teacher. I have a nice yard, and time to do the things it needs. People often ask me in a joking way to come over to their house when I’m done if I want some more yard work.

It’s funny, but it does prove the point. Most people don’t like doing yard work like I do, or maybe I just have a positive attitude about doing something I know needs to be done. I also know that if I do it, I’ll feel better about myself and the yard – a true win/win.

This week I weeded around my mailbox, but since I have been taking care of it for a while, there wasn’t much to do. Technically, my mailbox is right on the edge of my neighbor’s yard, but I couldn’t let the bare patch of weeds stay that way for long. As the flowerbed around the mailbox grew, let’s just say the only direction it could grow was away from my house.

So when neighbors saw me outside weeding a flowerbed in front of my neighbor’s house, they actually said to me, “Why are you weeding someone else’s yard?” To myself I said, “Why not?” If the neighbor didn’t like it, they could tell me to stop.

I spent another couple of hours this week weeding another flowerbed we share along the property line by the mailbox. The couple who owns the house is away during the summer, and I took it upon myself to make what could be a weedy patch look more like a flower garden. A little at a time, I have weeded, planted and watered this strip until it really compliments both of our yards.

And some may say I was doing this only to make my own yard look better, but making a positive contribution can also benefit us. It may not seem selfless, but I really didn’t have to do it. I just wanted to. I put in a couple of hours, and for the rest of the summer, everyone will get to enjoy some flowers instead of the weeds.

Here’s a medium example along the same lines. My neighbor around the corner fell and hurt his back at work, and though he probably could have hired someone to mow his lawn, I decided to do it instead. I didn’t ask him for permission, but just mowed it one day. No one came outside and protested, so I did it again the next week.

It’s more than a couple of hours weeding, but it really isn’t a tremendous amount of time. My lawn is huge, so I spend an hour cutting my lawn every week. Mowing his added about fifteen minutes to my lawn-mowing. But that fifteen minutes were incredibly productive.

It made me feel good, and it made a positive contribution to his life, too. I probably mowed it twenty times during the summer. I didn’t mow it the next summer, but by then he was able to take care of it himself.

So the difference we make doesn’t have to be a lifetime commitment. It may be an afternoon weeding, or a summer mowing. I like to perform, and I feel my talents are best used when I get the chance to bring some of the characters from the stage to life for others. There is a great feeling when you perform, and it’s not just the endorphins rushing through your body. I feel at home on the stage, and delight in making people laugh.

But I don’t usually get paid to perform. I have acted in dozens of stage plays and musicals, and the majority of them have been my volunteered time. The venues do collect money for the performances, but most stages work with thread-bare margins so those would be wiped out by paying a salary. So most of the people I work with in stage productions are also not paid.

So perfecting a role for the stage is probably a medium effort, since it involves many weeks of rehearsals at night and on week-ends, plus the time spent during performances. The show I am currently doing started rehearsals about four months ago. We spent Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday nights rehearsing, plus some time on Saturday mornings. As the performances approached, we were rehearsing every night for three or four hours. Now that the show is up, we are performing three times a week – about nine or ten hours total.

But the rewards of this kind of effort are off the scale in terms of returns. I am having the time of my life, playing a part I have really want to play. The theatre is enjoying the fruits of our labors, and may be able to continue as a community theatre for another fifty years. This kind of a contribution can extend into the future, but if it shut down tomorrow I would still have volunteered the time.

Plus the audiences get to see a good show – even if it is vain of me to say so. We are getting so many great plaudits from audience members I want to remind them they paid to come and see this and deserved a good show.  But in some way, they know they are getting more than their money's worth, and the want to acknowledge it.

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