I got to thinking about that a month ago when I took my niece out to lunch at Panera. Jaren lives in Richmond with her husband and toddler (and their firstborn, Murphy the Pug), but had traveled back home for a week’s visit. Standing in line to order at Panera, Jaren turned to me and said, “I bought my own birthday cake to take back with me. I was going to have them put “Happy Birthday, Jaren” but decided to just put ‘Happy Birthday’ instead.”
I was nonplussed. Now, she bought her cake from the hometown bakery and donut shop – JR’s Donut Castle – which has a very loyal and perhaps even fanatical following. So it’s understandable that, while here, she’d pick up a hometown favorite to take back.
But that started me thinking about celebrations. I’m awfully good at celebrating others’ accomplishments, birthdays, events, activities. In fact, I’m quite possibly the queen of masterful surprises. I managed to gather Charlie’s entire extended family at Snowshoe for his surprise 50th birthday weekend – and planned it all right underneath his nose. He’s still trying to figure it out, three years later. Oh, yes. I’m good.
What I’m not so good at is doing that for myself. In fact, I have to admit that I hardly ever really celebrate myself. It just seems, I don’t know, decadent or something. Maybe even selfish and self absorbed. And that’s why Jaren’s statement hung in the air between us. I think I was, for a moment, truly puzzled why she’d have to – no, want to – buy and deliver her own birthday cake.
But I think I get it now. Who better to celebrate my event or my accomplishment than me? If I don’t take the time to honor myself, why should anyone else? If I don’t respect my own celebrations, why should anyone else?
Is it because I may feel boastful? (I was always taught not to boast.) Or because I could appear selfish? (That’s not very pretty. Every teenage sitcom handles that issue.) Or narcissistic? (Ouch. That smacks of something serious.)
Yes. And yes and yes. It’s all those and more. Most of us learn at an early age that behaviors like that are not to be cultivated. Somewhere along the line, I truly embraced my non-boastful, unselfish and definitely not narcissistic self, and more often than not found myself just passing my celebratory days involved in all kinds of work and personal obligations. I would push aside any thought of celebrating myself, but throw myself fully into someone else’s celebrations and activities.
I have a friend who is highly accomplished, very motivated, exceptionally friendly and caring, helpful, supportive, and smart. She’s also excellent at deflecting compliments, bouncing attention back to others, sidestepping anything that celebrates her. If you’re nodding in recognition – and many of us fit that description – just stop. Stop for minute, and realize something. It’s maddening and frustrating to those who are trying to pay the compliment or recognize the achievement or celebrate something about you.
I know this, because I can deflect, bounce and sidestep with the best of them, and I’ve been doing it all my life. But talking with Jaren made me stop and think about the message I was sending when I do that. I came up with two possibilities:
1. I’m not worth celebrating, or
2. You don’t know jack.
Whoa. Neither one is very flattering, is it? And suddenly, I’m back in coach training in a hotel room in Washington, DC, and we’re all lined up in pairs, face-to-face. Our instructor rings a bell. Ding! One of us must begin complementing our partner, nonstop. Ding! Roles reverse. Ding! We move one person down the line. Ding! One of us must begin complimenting ourselves to our partner, nonstop. Ding! Roles reverse. Ding! Switch partners. Ding! Do it again. Ding! One more time. Ding! Grab the tissues and sit down.
Wow, how difficult, how draining. Finding the good things to say about others? That was easy. Finding the good things to say about ourselves? Not so much.
It’s so hard to compliment ourselves, to risk appearing self-absorbed, to really celebrate ourselves. But if we want to be real, and true, and authentic, I think we have to be willing to celebrate ourselves, whether it’s on our birthdays or any other day of the year. We have to know what it is that we like about ourselves, what it is that we’re proud of. We have to do this, or else we aren’t fully authentic. We lie to ourselves … about ourselves, and if we do that to the one person we should be honest with, how can we ever be sure we’re not lying to those we compliment and praise and celebrate? I’m not sure we can.
So, Jaren, thanks for buying your own birthday cake. It reminded me that I need to celebrate myself and compliment myself. One, because it’s right to honor what’s good about me and, two, so I can be confident that when I do the same for others, I’m not doing it FOR me. I can be sure that I’m being real, true, and authentic.
Ding! Let the celebration begin! Today is my day.