On a Friday morning, I found $20 on the ground in a Starbucks parking lot on my way out. This isn’t the first time I’ve found money on the ground. I’m excited at first as I look around and laugh to myself how cool this is but after the excitement wears off, the anxiety sets in. What should I do with this money?

I don’t need the $20 and spending or saving it feels unsatisfying to me. On one side of my brain, I think about all of the nice ways I could treat myself. On the other, I think about how I could make an impact through some random acts of kindness for a friend, stranger, family, or donate to a cause. One time I decided to save it for the “right moment” and used it for myself when I was in a pinch only days later. Never again.

While I understand giving and practice it at the base level, I’m no saint and I won’t pretend to be. I’ve never really learned about the full spectrum of giving and have been selfish over the years. I’m learning that there is no “right moment” to give. Found money or time shouldn’t be the only time to be generous.

I have much to learn about giving. How about you?

What would you do with found money?

I continued to wonder about what purpose I could give this money on my drive home. Had I thought of it in the parking lot, I think it would have been cool to walk into the Starbucks and give the barista the $20 and tell her to pay for as many orders as possible. Then I thought, while a random act of kindness could start a fun chain, those folks coming into Starbucks probably don’t need it either.

Then shit gets real. I pulled up to a stop light on my typical route home and saw a homeless person panhandling on the corner. He’s holding a sign that says “hungry, anything will help.” Surely this is a good candidate for the found money?

I’ve always been skeptical of street-corner panhandlers. Sometimes I wonder if it would be better to buy food or gift clothes or something else useful instead of offering money. I’ve always thought about approaching the homeless people in the park near our apartment and introducing myself and asking these questions: What would provide the biggest impact on your lives? Is it food? Money for food? Clothing? Accessories/tools? Is it better to eliminate choice or just give money?

It feels wrong to think this way. Whether with this example or any other opportunity. Is it? Aren’t I taking away the freedom of choice money offers? Who am I to play the martyr and determining the ideal circumstance of gifting?

A short story

I recall a time when I was at a work conference in San Fran and I was eating breakfast at a Corner Bakery. As I walked in, I saw what I assumed to be a homeless person standing out in front. As I ate my breakfast, I thought about following my past intuition and giving food instead of money on my way out.

So I saved the buttered toast in a napkin and offered the food to the woman as I left. She looked curiously at it and nodded her head motioning that she did not want it. Did I wrongfully project a need onto someone I thought might be happy to receive a gesture like this because it was easier for me to do so?

I kept driving.

Giving isn’t always convenient

It’s safe to say we’ve all had both good and bad experiences related to giving. Ask Michelle about her experience of buying a meal for a homeless person who asked her to. 

Or maybe you’ve felt like me thinking there’s a more ideal way to give $20, even when its found money. This depends on the person and the situation and I’m not just talking about giving to the homeless. The same applies to a church offering, any cause, any person, time, work, etc. Thinking about the external impact of to justify doing something selfless is not a mindset in life I want to live with.

Giving is not about ROI and the amount isn’t the most important thing. Nor is it about a fear-based gesture that comes from pressure or force. While $20 isn’t much the intention behind it is a vote toward the person you want to be and what you want to stand for. Many people (including me from time to time) convince themselves that once they create money or success, that’s when they will become generous and giving.

Maybe the reason that success or money hasn’t come is that by holding on and hoarding money is what’s keeping us from creating abundance in the first place. When we hold something back out of fear and believe we don’t have enough to give, aren’t we creating an internal vibration of lack?

The art of the gift

I believe I am a generous person but there’s a lot I need to improve on. Sometimes I wrongfully forget that the external results are not what matters if the intention comes from the heart. This experience has encouraged me to reflect on giving. After all, the happiest people are those that do more giving without expectations of receiving. Ironically, when you give, the Universe rewards you if you remain open-minded.

I believe giving is about hope and is practiced in many forms. Giving your time, attention, money, or skills, to a person or a cause or anything else that’s selfless without the expectation of return is the foundation. Don’t we all hope that someone struggling or someone having a shitty day can experience one of those special receiving moments of life? Even with the simplest of gesture like a smile or a genuine conversation? 

Hope to me is that no matter how shitty things are, good things can happen at any moment. And if they happen to one person, one place, in some other way, then what’s stopping you from the chance to receive an equally wonderful gift from God or the Universe? No gift or moment is any more special than you determine it to be from another. An open heart and mind make it so.

What if we all thought that something small doesn’t really make a difference? Nothing great in life would be achieved. Small collective actions with the optimistic belief that we are not alone is what creates a better world.

If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. We need not wait to see what others do. It’s the action, not the fruit of the action, that’s important. You have to do the right thing. It may not be in your power, may not be in your time, that there’ll be any fruit. But that doesn’t mean you stop doing the right thing. You may never know what results come from your action. But if you do nothing, there will be no result.

Gandhi

I decided two weeks ago to stuff this found money away and wait for an opportunity to use it. It’s not much and it doesn’t give me a free pass to slack off until the next time I find the money. We can never know how much time we have in life so its best to spread joy and gifts as much as possible.

This time, I think I know what cause I’ll donate to because Black Lives Matter!

What would you do with a found $20?