I can’t remember what started the conversation, but a year or so before my Mom died she asked me what one of my favorite memories was. I took her back to my college graduation in 2006, the night before the actual ceremony. My bunch of family had come to town (my twin sister, my Dad, both sets of Grandparents and my Aunt), the whole gang. We had a dinner reservation at an Italian restaurant in Dupont Circle, following a department celebration at my school. Thinking back, I remember feeling like every moment of that night was perfect. From waiting a bit too long for our table (which meant getting cocktails at the bar until it was ready), to joyfully sharing family sized dinner portions and bottles of wine.
From the outside, I don’t think anything looked all too special about that particular night, but it sure felt special at the time. Flash forward to my conversation with my mom years later, I remember being taken aback by her surprise when I shared that specific memory. In that moment, I began to realize that perhaps that evening wasn’t especially special for anyone else. ‘Really?’ she asked. ‘Of all the things we’ve done over the years, that’s your favorite memory???’
After talking with my mom more about it, it became a bit more clear as to why this was the memory that most stood out. At 32 (the time of this conversation), that dinner was the last memory I had where I was being celebrated by my family. As a twin I’ve shared every birthday, and several other big life milestones, and this was the first (and last) time I can remember being individually celebrated by my family. And while everyone seeksdifferent levels of validation, appreciation, and acknowledgement, I think we can all agree on the fact that it never feels BAD to have those you care about celebrate something you’ve done or accomplished. So let’s move forward under the assumption that celebration is generally a good thing we can all appreciate.
What we celebrate
In the 15 years since that dinner at Buca di Beppo the Smith family has come together to celebrate my twin sister at least five more times. In those 15 years we’ve celebrated with a bachelorette party, a wedding shower, a wedding, a baby shower… you get the idea. AND I LOVE THIS. I think these are all important life milestones, and deserve celebrations. What’s interesting to note about these events is that they’re all moments in what we consider to be ‘the path’ for women. And boy, do we know how to acknowledge and celebrate that path. We know what those parties will look like, and who’s supposed to throw them, and we have no trouble finding a card at Target to accompany the gift that’s been picked out from the registry.
Don’t get me wrong! I am not arguing that we shouldn’t celebrate these particular milestones(I’m all about celebrating MORE, not less). I just can’t help but recognize a couple disadvantages of prioritizing the celebration of some milestones over others.
What happens when you don’t choose that path? If we truly want to empower women (and all people, but let’s be honest … women are most impacted by this) to pursue a life full of choice, we have to change the ways in which we celebrate, so that people don’t feel subtly shamed into making the ‘right’ choices. Additionally, it’s not always about choice.here are people who want the typical milestones that society tells us are granted and worthy of celebration, who haven’t been able to experience them for a variety of reasons. See the next problem…
Are the things we celebrate products of hard work, or just choice and a little bit of luck? Graduations aside, the majority of things we know how to celebrate are not the sole result of sustained work, commitment and/or accomplishment. We often celebrate the START of something (like a marriage) rather than the work and dedication it takes to make it successful. This isn’t to say that building a relationship isn’t work, it’s just a nod to the level of compromise and work that goes into a marriage post-wedding. Not to mention, while many of the things we celebrate are exciting (engagements, weddings, babies), they often involve a lot of luck. Which means if you’re not so lucky, the absence of these traditional celebratory moments has the potential to make you feel like you’re doing something wrong. When in reality, it has absolutely nothing to do with you!
If we’re able to diversify what we celebrate, and how we celebrate, women won’t be left feeling the pressure to pursue these specific milestones , as though they’re the only ones that matter. Rather, I’d love to see women pursuing the things they DO have control over, while feeling seen and rewarded for the result of work (not luck).
So what am I recommending?
That we celebrate MORE. We need to add more milestones to the list of things we know to celebrate. You might need to make custom cards, but what about celebrating some of these things: Getting a promotion, buying a house (because especially these days, that process takes WORK), business anniversaries (because starting a business is hard, and keeping a business alive is even harder).
That we get more comfortable suggesting a celebration (for ourselves!). In my 20’s it seemed like it was totally okay to organize/plan your own birthday celebrations. ‘Hey guys! My birthday’s on Friday… let’s go out!!!!’ But when I hit my 30’s it started to feel like someone had to plan it for you. This is easier if you’re in a relationship (they typically get stuck with the job) but for those who are single it seemed they just ended up being celebrated less. So another possible solution is that we all get a bit better at helping our friends notice big things that would be fun to celebrate. It doesn’t have to mean suggesting a party for yourself (though you can, and should!), but perhaps just letting your friends know when something exciting has happened and suggesting dinner or drinks. I think one of the reasons we don’t celebrate other things more often, is that often our friends and family don’t know what’s happening and when, because we feel selfish not only celebrating ourselves, but asking others to celebrate us as well. Why is the idea of celebrating things like promotions, paying off credit card debt, or meeting New Year’s goals such a revolutionary idea and why are we so hesitant to ask people to join us in celebrating these significant milestones?
That we get more creative with HOW we celebrate. Not every celebration has to be a party. Or involve a group at all. Some celebrations are likely best done one-on-one, or solo. Creating more traditions and celebrations around different milestones and accomplishments can help us learn how to celebrate all sorts of major achievements and rites of passage that tend to get overlooked . These revolutionary sort of celebrations affirm that regardless of what your specific path may look like, it is just as real, and beautiful, and valid and the person next to you. We can equally celebrate divorce, sobriety, setting boundaries with loved ones, and college graduation in tandem.
Also, can we just normalize the idea of celebrating ourselves by ourselves already? Maybe you trusted your instinct and made a really difficult decision for yourself that feels deeply personal. Why is it such a baffling idea that we might take up time and space to celebrate the hard work that we have done specific to our own personal journeys, regardless of how “celebration-worthy” those achievements may seem? Imagine if we celebrated ourselves as much as we celebrated the people we love.
SO, here are some crowdsourced celebration ideas. It’s not an exhaustive list, but it’s certainly a place to start if you feel a bit lost on how to begin celebrating more often with the people you love, or with yourself. As you look at it, I challenge you to think of at least one person you know who is currently experiencing something on the list and find a way to celebrate that person or to think of something in your life that feels celebration-worthy and to celebrate that thing by yourself in whatever way feels best for you. Could be a dinner out with friends, could be Friday night drinks, could be a bouquet of flowers delivered to their office, could be starting that passion project you’ve been putting off, or could be a surprise party.
- Starting a business. Wouldn’t it be cool to create a registry for new business owners? Or create other ways for fellow business owners who’ve been at it longer to celebrate and support them as they get started.
- Business milestones. Meeting goals, anniversaries, growing a team.
- Closing a business. Celebrating all the good, all the work, and the next chapter.
- Friendship anniversaries. Maintaining friendships as we age can be he
- Buying your first home. Housewarming parties are common (and fun!) but what about a housewarming registry for first time home owners?
- Renovating a house. Same as the one above, though this one often requires even more work (so maybe more celebrating?). Love the idea of this celebration honoring some of the history in the house, as well as the updated, completed version.
- Paying off a mortgage. One person responded with the idea of a ‘mortgage burning party’ as something people used to do and I love this idea!
- Back to School. For your friends who are teachers, what about a ‘stock the classroom’ list or party to kick off the new school year.
- Milestone birthdays. I’d love to see traditions and more intentionality started around these birthdays… recognize what they’ve accomplished so far, what they’re most proud of, and what’s coming next. Not just black balloons and ‘over the hill’ themed parties.
- Divorce. This one’s tricky, and definitely up to individuals about how they’re feeling about this kind of life transition. But for some people this is an important and liberating step that might feel good to celebrate!
- Paying off debt. Admittedly this one is tricky as we aren’t always good at talking about money… but boy is this something worth celebrating!
- Gender affirming surgery. This can be a huge milestone for a transgender friend, one that’s been YEARS in the making, and marking this with celebration, ceremony or whatever feels good to them can be an incredible way to show support and recognize the significance of it.
- New Year’s goals being met. I love the idea of this being a yearly routine, perhaps with a small group of close friends. An annual tradition in January to set intentions or goals, and then a celebration at the end of the year for those who met them. Possibly even check-ins throughout the year to hold each other accountable and provide support. But most importantly, celebrating big when people meet their goals.
- Life or Career Transition. Making big changes in your 30’s or 40’s can be HARD and scary. How can we celebrate those making this choice, and show our support along the way?
- Setting and/or maintaining boundaries. Why isn’t this talked about more? Boundary setting is an attempt to keep ourselves and our relationships healthy and that feels VERY worthy of celebration.
- Completing or Winning a Race. For some, completing a race (half marathon, marathon, Ironman) can be a huge accomplishment. For others, training and winning a race can be a big deal. Regardless, these accomplishments take MONTHS of hard work that nobody ever sees. How can you celebrate your friends and family when they do it?