Tomorrow is my birthday, bringing a close to my 30th year. I feel like this third decade has been off to a pretty good start, and I’m excited to see where the next few years take me: in life, in my career, in my relationships.
I decided to keep my birthday plans pretty mellow this year, just a few special little celebrations here and there with friends, and then tomorrow I’ll have dinner with my mom and watch movies that were released the year I was born (’86 was a great year for movies). But it was definitely still a struggle for me to decide what to do for my birthday this year, how big or little a deal to make of it, whether I should try and plan things with more people or just do my own thing. It’s a debate that I have with myself every year, torn apart by being a people-loving, outgoing yet extremely introverted person (it’s a thing, I promise).
It’s easy to feel like I make too big a deal out of my birthday, that I should just ignore it and not expect so much. But then I remind myself (with my own words) why birthdays are important.
In honor of all birthdays, not just my own, here is an excerpt from my book An Adult-ish Toolkit: 30 Things I Have Learned in 30 Years, about why we should always celebrate birthdays.
I’m always amazed when I meet people who barely even like to acknowledge their birthday, never mind actually celebrating.
I imagine that there are many different reasons that people may not want to celebrate their own birthday. Perhaps they have had unpleasant experiences surrounding their birthday in the past. Perhaps they feel uncomfortable being the center of attention. Perhaps they don’t like to think about getting another year older. Perhaps it simply just doesn’t occur to them that it’s something to be celebrated. It’s just one day of the year, after all, and it’s nothing more or less than what we make of it. So why make a big deal?
My personal belief is that every single one of us deserves at least one day a year that we get to celebrate our own existence. The mere fact of being alive is worth celebrating, no matter what.
Each day that we are alive is a gift, our very existence is a gift, but how often do we take the time to appreciate that gift? Our lives may not always be easy, and you may not always feel like there is something worth celebrating, but being alive means that your life is still moving forward, that there are still endless opportunities and possibilities ahead of you. Our birthdays are a time that we can stop and give thanks that we have survived everything that the world has thrown at us so far.
Your birthday is also the perfect opportunity to kind of check in with yourself once a year; see how you are doing, what kind of progress you have made in the last year, what you want to work on in the coming year. I always see my birthday as my own little New Year, a time for reflection and setting new goals.
Now, celebrating can take whatever form that you choose, and really should be tailored to your own preferences and tastes. Personally, I like to take myself out to a movie for my birthday. I might plan things for other days, like getting together with friends for dinner or even having a party at the house, but on my actual birthday I generally like to spend the day on my own. I usually go out to lunch, I go to a bookstore and browse as much as I want, and I go to the local movie theater and see whatever looks the most interesting that day. I enjoy celebrating with friends and family but I also enjoy taking a day to myself, because then I know that all of my activities are purely for my own enjoyment and I don’t have to worry about feeling embarrassed or uncomfortable about my little indulgences (sometimes I will literally go to see the cheesiest movie playing at the theater).
Now, I’m not saying that I do things alone because I’m embarrassed. I really do just like to do things alone sometimes. It allows me to fully explore my own thoughts, my own preferences, my own dislikes, without the influence (however minor) of those around me. It allows me to be more authentically myself, because I have a chance to really get to know myself.
By taking the chance to celebrate in your own way, it’s a practice in identifying what actually makes you happy. Do you like spending time on your own? Do you want to spend it with a few close friends, your family, your significant other? Do you want to have a big party? Or go out for dinner and dancing? What is it that really brings you joy?
Once you have mastered celebrating your own birthday, I also encourage you to make a point of acknowledging other people’s birthdays. Send people birthday cards in the mail, give them a call on their birthday, ask them what they are doing to celebrate and if they say they aren’t planning anything offer to take them out to dinner or just for coffee. Help people to see themselves as valuable and worth recognizing.
It seems like the older that we get the busier that our lives are, and I know that personally it always seems difficult for me to spend time with all of the people that I would like to. Conflicting schedules, family and work obligations, and physical distance can put some serious obstacles in the way of spending time with the people who are important to us. Birthdays are a great way to make sure that at least once a year you are making an effort to show someone that they are important to you, that you are thinking about them and want them to feel loved and appreciated. And birthdays can’t take you by surprise, since they are always going to be the same date and you will always be able to plan ahead for them. So, get a calendar or a notebook and start writing down those birth dates.
I have never understood why people seem to dread getting older. Every year of my life has brought me valuable knowledge and experience, and I wouldn’t trade that for anything. Every year has brought new people into my life, even if some years have taken people away. Every year that my body gets a little older I feel like I also learn how to love and appreciate it a little better. And every year that I get to be alive I try to be a little more grateful for that gift.
How will you celebrate your life this year?
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