Why Celebrate? Well, Let Me Tell You…

I am having a birthday next week, and so it is that my thoughts have turned to celebration. Because I struggle. And perhaps you do too. And we need help.

Maybe like me you’re the first to whoop and raise a toast for everyone else; you’re the one who insists on celebrating their milestones, major successes and small wins. For yourself, though, it’s… awkward.

Which might be OK, except this: every chance we pass up to celebrate our own lives sends a message to our hearts and brains that says “you are not worth it.”

That’s a problem I’m ready to overcome. Are you with me?

Gratitude is widely promoted in personal development circles and well researched for its remarkable life-expanding benefits. Celebration though, has issues — like the latent fear that if you single yourself out (“Whoo-hoo! Go me!”), your ego will suddenly expand out of proportion and you’ll become that insufferable guy who can’t stop telling you how smart and awesome he is — thereby cancelling any chance you’ll think he’s either smart or awesome. Like that.

I get it! (I live it!) Celebrating can embarrass. Drawing too much attention or making too big a deal out of ourselves can feel self-centred and even just plain wrong. Humility is where it’s at, right? Absolutely. But here’s the thing: you don’t have to have a higher opinion of yourself than others to celebrate. You celebrate because you have as high an opinion of yourself as you do everyone else.

What is it with this tendency to minimize our accomplishments and milestones, precisely because they are ours? Why the belief that what we do has less value expressly because we are the ones to do it? Why do we think that those things worth celebrating are done by other — better, smarter, more capable — people?

We’ve got problems, people!

Because I know I am not alone. The reflex to minimize our contributions and significance in general; to focus and draw attention on where we still need to work and grow and go (on all the things we can’t do or haven’t done yet) is a tendency I have observed in most — most! — of the women I know.

Celebration is a feminist issue!

As wives, employees and certainly as mothers we regularly down-play our contributions and put ourselves second. ….aaaand then we lament that no one appreciates us or the things we do. Excuse me while I clear my throat a second, because I am going to quote executive coach Tom Volkar and I really want you to hear what he says: “Celebration builds self-respect. Others treat us according to how we treat ourselves.” The act of celebration not only teaches others how to treat us, but also “feeds our basic human need for self-love and self-acceptance.”

To celebrate is IMPORTANT! Plus, it’s FUN! Hellooooo? We need a little self-redirect, because we are excellent at making merry for everyone else. As mothers, for instance, we are magic, sparkle and unicorn central at every freaking turn: Birthdays, Christmas, Easter, First Lost Tooth, First Day of School, Every Sports Win, You Made a Meal, You Were In A Play… etc. forever, even after they leave home. We extend ourselves and make the effort because we want to mark our children’s achievements as significant — and as people we want them to know they are worth it.

Kathryn Markolf suggests we don’t celebrate ourselves as adults because we’re all so busy being “productive” that taking the time to really have fun and mark the occasion seems silly. Or wasteful. Or something.

This is no doubt part of the problem, but it’s more personal than that too: When we gloss over or skip the celebration of our personal milestones and successes we diminish ourselves, and in the process we keep joy and pride and (self) love at arms’ length. It is healthy and good to take ownership of our accomplishments, and to mark them accordingly! They matter — and are worth the effort — precisely because they are ours.

As Kathryn also says, “we only get so many birthdays. So many promotions.” We only have so many “firsts” and a finite number of athletic, creative and financial wins. This is it, friends! Your life is not a dress rehearsal and all that.

So. As the poet Mary Oliver wrote: “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

Celebrate it. That’s what we all should do, right now. Break our your jazz hands and CEL-E-BRATE!

I will be 47 years old next week. You might think it is not a “significant” birthday, but since it’s the oldest I’ve ever been — it’s significant! And that’s the point: all birthdays significant. All milestones; all achievements.

Raise a glass and celebrate with me, won’t you?

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