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Don’t fall into the congratulations trap

Stop hoping for a surprise party in your honor. It’s not going to happen.

Photo by Yuni Stahl on Unsplash

After reading my acceptance letter, I texted my friend the news. She replied, “That’s cool. Should I get my nose pierced?” Part of me wanted to drop a load of F-bombs. Instead I just texted back, whatever.

My friend didn’t care that my top doctoral program was giving me a full ride. Not that much. She wasn’t a bad friend. After all, she said it was cool. What more did I want?

My friend cared as much about my PhD as I did about her nose ring. We always care more about our own shit. Human nature.

And yet we all want other people to congratulate us. As if our accomplishments weren’t enough by themselves. It took me a long time to realize how that desire drags down good news.

It’s almost like we need people to feel even happier than we do when something good happens. You earn a promotion. A raise. An award. Your automatic next move? Post an update. Text all your friends.

Call your parents.

And then get pissed off when none of them react the way you want. When you think about it that way, the logic makes no sense. I’m not even sure how I wanted my friend to respond. With an animal sacrifice?

The Waffle House at 2 am isn’t the best time to tell people you got nominated for a Pushcart Prize. In case you were wondering. One of my friends asked why a writer would even want a pushcart. So I tried to explain. “No, that’s just the name.”

He asked me where the name came from. I said I didn’t know. So he shrugged and said it sounded kind of dumb. In the end, he was right.

My friends weren’t assholes. They were normal human beings. Okay, they were kind of assholes. But so was I. Still am, kind of. Anyway. Here I was, expecting them to carry around confetti in their pockets in case someone popped open a bottle of good news.

Time taught me that normal people can’t burst into song whenever someone achieves something that means a lot to them. Hell, I can’t do that. It’s hard enough not to roll my eyes.

Discovering my own hypocrisy led to great relief. No wonder I always felt worse after sharing a bunch of good news. I was seeking even more validation for validation I’d already received. That’s pretty fucked up.

I’m not the only person who makes this mistake.


Take one of my other friends. After publishing her first book, she couldn’t stop complaining about her mom. She sat on a couch and told us all about the cruelty. Like forgetting to congratulate her. Asking for a free copy. Declining to recommend the book to her knitting group.

Listening to her showed me how pathetic I was for even thinking like that. Duh. Of course your mom’s not going to plug your book to all her knitting friends. They’re her friends. Not yours.

You can accomplish all kinds of amazing feats. They mean nothing unless you can appreciate them on your own. Maybe you can try this one experiment. Next time you achieve something, wait a day to tell anyone. See what happens. If you die, btw, I take zero responsibility.

Nobody will ever react to good news the way they do on TV shows. Those people get paid to dramatize everything. Real life doesn’t work that way. Not even when it comes to little things.

If you already know what I’m saying, you’re way ahead of the game. My outlook on life improved when I stopped looking to everyone else for pride in what I accomplished.

These days, I celebrate by myself. At Starbucks. Drinking a mocha. With enough espresso to kill a mouse.

I’m kidding. I have no idea how much espresso it takes to kill a mouse. It’s probably less than three shots.

Anyway, I’m not really into sharing big news anymore. Except with my spouse. I tell him things. But even he doesn’t react the way you’d think. Just a smile. A nod. A hug, followed by kind words.

Sometimes I still fall into the congratulations trap. I expect him to throw a bottle of champagne on the floor and cheer. My logical side knows that if he ever really did that, I’d test him for rabies.