Celebrating memorable moments can sometimes feel like it’s only reserved for weddings, anniversaries, and holidays. For others, a call for celebration could be triggered by someone purchasing a new car, a home, or getting that promotion they were working so hard for.
Our relationships with celebrating milestones can differ depending on what you consider a milestone and if these moments are worth celebrating.
My childhood altered my mindset around celebrating my success, and I didn’t honor myself for the longest time.
Maybe you struggle with this too.
After a few years into adulthood, I discovered the importance of celebrating milestones and achievements, but it took a journey to get there.
The “Sweet Sixteen” I never had.
I grew up watching almost every show on MTV. I watched The Real World, Made, True Life, and my favorite, My Super Sweet 16. I started making birthday preparations a decade ahead because the show inspired me.
I would pop out of a 6ft tall pink birthday cake with chantilly frosting, wearing a ball gown to match. My friends and I would sit at a VIP table, and all of my frenemies would sit smushed in a dusty corner. At the end of the night, we’ll all go outside to find the white Jeep Wrangler my parents bought me.
That’s what everyone does for their 16th birthday, right?
Well, first of all, no.
Not to that extent, at least.
But for me, I ended up not wanting it to happen at all.
My 16th birthday never happened because I no longer wanted to celebrate my birthday.
I know that sounds sad, but it’s with good reason…
The cost of celebration.
I was raised in a single parent household.
If you did too, you understand some of the disadvantages that can come along with it.
My mom was a single mother, and as much as I love and appreciate her, I can also acknowledge that times were tough sometimes.
There were activities or fun things that I had to miss out on because money wasn’t available. When there was no money, we searched for ways to get more so we could pay bills.
There were a couple of times when our electric bill was later, and we lit matches and candles so we could walk around our apartment. Other times when our bills were late, we just hoped that whoever was working in the office would forget to shut off our lights or water. So, there weren’t many extra things we could spend our money on, like celebrating passing the 6th grade.
When my mom splurged, it was mostly for necessities or big holidays like Christmas. I was grateful for my family’s efforts to make these holidays exciting for my sister and I, but I was also young and had different ideas in my head for how these moments were supposed to be, based on how I saw other kids celebrating.
I had high expectations for every holiday and birthday but always felt disappointed in the end, and then guiltly for being disappointed.
So celebrating became something I didn’t want to do anymore.
Brushing off achievements– the vicious cycle.
There are many reasons why someone may downplay their success, like the fear of looking like you’re bragging, imposter syndrome or low self-esteem.
Maybe you’re a perfectionist who doesn’t believe that you have done anything significant to memorialize it.
Maybe you just don’t know how to celebrate yourself.
That’s how I felt for a long time.
It’s a vicious cycle. You start muting the little wins– getting a good grade on a test, crushing a presentation, finishing a project you’ve been working on for weeks. Then you brush off the bigger wins too.
You tell yourself they’re not a big deal. You didn’t do anything that amazing. What is the point of celebrating?
After pushing small and large milestones to the side, you may not even realize when you meet a goal that you’ve been working on for a while.
Especially if you feel like achieving is expected of you.
I was a high-performer. My family knew what to expect and that I would always deliver. The few times I got a C on a report card, I was upset only because I felt like I had failed them. There was supposed to be an A on my report card and nothing else, not even a B. Because they also expected me to perform well in school if I wanted to get out of the financial situation that we were in. That was known. That was the bar.
Eventually, getting a stellar report card did not feel like much of an achievement.
My family did their best to highlight milestones but it was inconsistent because they also didn’t always have the means to celebrate if they wanted to. The celebration was inconsistent, but my performance was consistent. One didn’t necessarily go with the other, and I knew that was because I would try my hardest regardless.
Eventually, I felt apathetic about my achievements, and every event felt like any other day.
Learning how to celebrate.
Many years later, that finally began to change.
Learning how to celebrate is never a straight path. There are always twists and turns. I still have moments where I don’t want to do anything nice for myself or where I instinctually dismiss achievements.
It’s not a linear progress, but it’s something that you can learn in time.
Maybe you can relate, and you’re also someone who struggles to recognize your own successes.
It takes one particular moment to spark a change that could benefit you later on. For me, it was when I met my current partner, who is always looking for an opportunity to celebrate. The first thing I noticed about him was that he was always happy even when things went terribly. He good highlight the accomplishment and excitement in everything, even the mundane or deeply challenging.
When we met, I had just finished my bachelor’s degree. Something that I didn’t consider a big accomplishment at the time.
I had one class to wrap up during summer semester, and once that was complete, they shipped my $30,000 piece of paper off. I remember driving to my mom’s house, getting out of my car, and feeling underwhelmed when she handed me the huge letter with a red “DO NOT BEND” stamp on it.
The graduation ceremony was four months later and by then, I was over it. I didn’t even want to go, let alone throw a party afterward.
So, I didn’t.
I was content with my decision not to celebrate at first but started feeling dread as the night continued. The night felt a little off, it was dark outside at 5 pm, but I felt like I should be doing something besides laying around. I paced around the house. I thought about drinking some wine, but that felt kind of sad.
I knew in my heart it was something I should celebrate, but I didn’t know where to start.
Later that week, my partner suggested that we go out to dinner to celebrate my graduation. I told him that wasn’t necessary, but he insisted, and we went to dinner anyway. Instead of offering me an arbitrary “Congrats,” he reminded me that I dedicated four years of work to get to this point. He played back the accomplishments I have achieved by my own self-reliance and determination. He reminded me that what I did was worth celebrating.
Then, something clicked for me.
He was right.
I had only heard, “Keep up the good work,” but never a reminder of how significant my hard work was.
Going to college felt like a chore that had to be done and didn’t deserve celebration.
Like other people who can’t remember what they’ve done, I piled on more and more work until I was burnt out so I could feel like I was doing something important.
But it already was important.
Working hard on something, standing on your own two feet and fighting towards a goal, is important.
It’s something to be proud of.
Life really is worth celebrating.
Reflecting is the best way to recognize what you’ve accomplished and you have to make a conscious decision to find joy in your growth and hard work.
I brushed my milestones off because they felt like a chore. The accomplishment felt like an expectation, and the celebration felt like a burden.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
I know that now, but it took some time.
It’s hard to break negative habits you’ve relied on for most of your life.
If you’re still struggling with celebrating your achievements, try to challenge the way you respond. Allow yourself to think deeply about the steps you’ve taken to reach the finish line.
Take the time to reward yourself and remember these crucial moments.
Self-love and self-celebration are like any skill–the more you practice, the better you become at it.
I am learning to take that time, reflect on what I have accomplished and reminisce on the journey I took to get to specific points in my life.
Because not only is celebration important and healthy, but it’s also supposed to be fun.
Everyone deserves fun mixed into all hard work–even me.
I am trying to honor the little and big achievements and milestones of my life.
My partner and I started doing something small for each other for little wins, like suprising the other with their favorite snack or going out together. Now there is something small to look forward to every time–sharing the excitement and accomplishment with him.
It doesn’t have to be a BIG celebration every time. It doesn’t have to cost a lot of money or involve a lot of people.
Celebration is whatever you want it to be.
And whatever you need it to be.
Cheers to that.
And cheers, to you.