Recently, I was talking with a client who had just achieved a major goal in her professional life. She got on the phone with a triumphant “I did it!” and was excited to tell me the story.
After she did, I asked her one of my favorite questions. I asked her to check-in with herself and see: What did she want to do to celebrate? What would actually feel like the right kind of celebration, the perfect way to honor this milestone?
I love this question. Creative answers always show up, if we really go inside ourselves and consider it. It opens up a process of inner listening, and of coming up with a unique expression of self, of joy.
This is an intuitive process. It’s not about the conscious mind or the ego designing a plan of what we think we should do, what would be “appropriate” or what others would enjoy or be likely to show up for.
This is about listening within, to the subtle leanings that say… “You know? This. This is what feels appealing, what feels right, as a way to honor and celebrate this milestone.”
Maybe the celebration of an important accomplishment looks like taking a favorite walk, just you and your dogs, just basking in what you’ve done, and allowing it to really sink in. Or maybe it looks like a huge party, champagne and balloons and all. Or maybe it looks like a particular dinner, with a particular three friends, in a particular setting. Or maybe it looks like taking yourself to the symphony, solo.
Celebrations may look traditional, or they may look like something no one else could recognize.
In my coaching training, one of my teachers said that most people resist slowing down and really experiencing whatever is happening in their lives. That rang true.
But then she said that surprisingly, this isn’t only true for the hard stuff—that people tend to be even more resistant to celebrating, to acknowledging accomplishments or blessings, to slowing down to bask in them.
That really rang true.
There are many reasons for this:
We forget to celebrate, because we run at a fast pace and it takes time and attention to celebrate.
Our egos’ rapacious appetites for more — more accomplishment, more productivity—drive us to ask, “What’s next?” and get on with the next thing, the very moment after something important has occurred.
Or, we get caught in the illusion that it’s selfish to take time — and even more outlandish to invite others to take time — to honor something in our own lives. A birthday? Maybe. But some other milestone — just because we decided it’s important? That’s tougher for most of us.
Sometimes we fall victim to our culture’s dysfunctional norm that big, unadulterated joy is only for children, or drunk adults, or someone whose team just won the Superbowl. We’ve internalized the message that it’s a little wacky, or even embarrassing, to express big joy outside of those contexts.
But more than anything, I think, we resist celebrating because it’s vulnerable, intimate. Celebrating something in our own lives requires being present to ourselves, really showing up for ourselves.
And, if the celebration we desire is communal, the preparation for it requires saying to other people: “I’d like this. I’d like to celebrate this thing in my life in this way. Would you join me?” To our insecure egos, that feels like asking, “Do you care? And by the way, how much do you care? And also, how important and worthy am I?” Also, “are my desires appropriate and legitimate and okay?” It involves exposing one of the most real parts of us – our authentic desires. And there is also the real risk that the people you are talking with might disappoint you, or even hurt you, in how they respond.
And those are just the vulnerabilities that arise in the preparation. Then there’s the celebration itself. Truly celebrating with others is very intimate — not just showing up at the dinner and drinking champagne, but actually celebrating, feeling something important to you, in the presence of others — that’s vulnerable and intimate.
To avoid the vulnerability that comes with articulating our needs and making direct asks of the people in our lives, many us get passive agressive. We expect the people in our lives to get what we want or need, intuitively. We let our minds be ruled by the resentful, and very unhelpful doctrine, “If they loved me, they would…” or “If they had any sense of me, they would…” That’s all a way of avoiding the uncomfortable vulnerability that comes discerning what you want, and then asking — directly and without attachment — that others help you create that.
So there are lots of good reasons we avoid authentic, meaningful celebrations.
But we miss out on so much if we miss out on the celebrations. The pleasure of them. The love we give to self through them. An honoring of self that fortifies us and enriches our character. I know for sure that celebrating what we’ve accomplished changes us in that way.
We also miss out on the resolution we get from celebrations — the sense of really completing one chapter, making room for the next. We miss out on the wisdom and insights that come when we take time to reflect on what has occurred.
Maybe you are already at ease at tuning in to yourself and then creating the celebrations you desire. But if you aren’t, you can learn to be. This is a muscle, a habit, a practice. This practice – and the wonderful celebrations that flow from it- can become a part of your life.
Is there a personal or professional milestone you’ve just reached, or overdue one from earlier in the year that you failed to acknowledge? Ask yourself: “What kind of celebration is called for, for this milestone? What would feel good and right?” Notice what fears or limiting beliefs come up – beliefs about what’s okay, what’s selfish, what would be perceived as such-and-such. Just note them all, and keep tuning in to your inner guidance about what you’d like to do.
Then have the courage to do it.