I Failed the Kindness Challenge

It only took five days for me to fail the 30-Day Kindness Challenge.  Five days.  If I was being graded, I’d get a 17%.  That’s worse than an F.  What kind of kind, generous and compassionate person am I?

Last week, I heard about the 30-Day Kindness Challenge and immediately decided to do it.  It seemed easy!  All I had to do was to pick someone I wanted to improve my relationship with, refrain from saying anything negative about them, say nice things about them and do something kind or generous for them every day.  I picked my husband, Lancelot.  Easy!  I love that guy – how hard could it be to be kind to him?  I started to envision how our relationship would improve, and how we’d be even closer than we already are in just a few days.  I was excited and proud of myself for making this choice.  I was patting myself on my back on day one, just for choosing to do the project.  I even asked friends and family if they wanted to join me in the challenge.  I was gung ho, baby!

And then I failed on step 2.

STEP ONE:  Pick someone.  Husband!  Done.

STEP TWO:  Refrain from saying anything negative about that person for 30 days.

FAIL.

Either I’m a miserable and hateful person, or this challenge is a lot harder than it seemed to be at first.

The truly sad thing is that I honestly consider myself to be a really nice girl.  People have called me nice ever since I was a little girl.  I have the notes in my yearbooks to prove it!  “Stay sweet!”  my friends wrote to me, with little hearts and smiley faces dotting the pages.  I consider one of my biggest character flaws to be the fact that I’m an insatiable People Pleaser, often sacrificing my authenticity for the sake of other people’s happiness (or their approval of me).  I’ve even worn that as a badge of honor, just like people do when they tell interviewers that their biggest flaw is that they are too much of a perfectionist.  “Oh, my biggest flaw?  I’d have to say it’s that I make sure everything I work on is absolutely perfect.”

Clearly, I’m not as kind of a person as I thought I was if I couldn’t even go five days without talking negatively about the love of my life.

In my defense, I do think that it can often be the most challenging thing in the world to be kind to the people closest to us.  I see Lancelot every single day.  He occasionally sees me at my best, but more often, he sees me at my worst.  This guy knows what I look like without makeup on.  He knows how I act when I first open my eyes in the morning.  (Let’s just say I’m not a morning person).  And likewise, I also see Lancelot in the morning (he smiles in the morning!  He wakes up before the alarm blares and never hits snooze and walks downstairs immediately like he’s happy to be alive!  It’s astoundingly infuriating.  But I digress).  I see him at his worst.  I see him at his best.  I see him at every level in between.

It can be a lot.

I don’t want to be a perfectionist, but it’s not something that you can rid yourself of overnight.  My perfectionistic demeanor can sometimes make me self-conscious when I don’t look, say or feel in any way close to perfect – and in my day-to-day life, I feel that way a LOT.  I may be on a personal journey of self-acceptance, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t get frustrated and irritated by myself and the people around me on a regular basis.  Worse, I sometimes take those ordinary frustrations of life even more personally simply because I’m on this self-acceptance path.  It’s quite natural that I take those frustrations out on the people closest to me … like Lancelot.

I may put on a pretty face for the world, but the people that know me best know that I don’t always have a smile on my face.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been frustrated and irritated at myself or my kids or the weather or something mundane like that and in the midst of a tantrum, I’ve had to speak to an acquaintance, and I’ve found myself transforming into the sunniest, sweetest, calmest, most pleasant person you’d ever want to meet.  It’s pretty ridiculously fake, and yet, I see people do things like that all the time.

The tale of my commute to high school illustrates this two-facedness perfectly.

When I was a 16-year-old junior, my little brother was a freshman at my high school and I used to give him a ride to school.  I’d wake up in the morning (not happily), throw on my favorite flannel shirt, skip breakfast and head to my little red Ford Escort (lovingly called Edna).  My little brother would slide silently into the passenger seat.  If he tried to talk to me, he would be met with an evil glare.  If he dared to reach for the radio dial and stray from WKFR I would flip out.  Absolutely flip out.  (We didn’t have iPods in those days – getting to hear a favorite song on the radio could very well be the only time you heard that song that day or even that week, and interrupting it was a big deal).  Those few miles to Portage Central High School were stony and silent and anything but sunny.  Yet, the moment that we parked and I saw my friends in the hallways, I’d be as sweet as could be.  “Jenny!  Traci!  Oh my gosh you guys, you’ll never believe this …”  I’d leave my poor little brother completely in the wake of my morning tirade and go off with my friends as if I didn’t have a care in the world and life was beautiful.

My little brother knew the truth, though.  He knew that I was putting on a fake smile.  He knew that I wasn’t always so nice.  He knew then what my husband knows now.  There are many different sides to Carrie, and they certainly aren’t all very sweet.

I said negative things to my husband in the middle of a month I had vowed not to.  I’m mad at myself for that.  But I don’t think he is holding it against me.  He accepts me at my best and at my worst.  My negativity didn’t ruin our day or weekend or month.  He was able to forgive me.  We were able to move on.  Maybe that’s what it’s really all about.

I may have failed the 30-Day Kindness Challenge on Day 5, but my failure has actually taught me a pretty great lesson.  The people we are closest to may be the hardest people to be kind to, but they are the most deserving of our kindness.  They are worth the challenge.  They are worth our brightest smiles and our strongest efforts.  They do accept us at our worst, but they shouldn’t always have to.  They should get more of the good inside of us.  They deserve it.

I’m going to give the 30-Day Kindness Challenge another shot.  Maybe I’ll make it to Day 6 this time.

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