Jackie Robinson's Birthday Jet Magazine, February 18, 1954
After a certain age your birthday just feels like another square on the calendar. The older I get the less inclined I feel to do something, however small. At the end of my teenage years, like most young adults, my priorities changed. I was in university majoring in a field I had no interest in and was more worried about the student debt I had to look forward to. My birthday just wasn’t on my to-do list. Of course, you can’t really tell people that out loud. Telling your co-workers and family that you don’t want to celebrate your birthday is like swallowing a jean jacket in front of them. It makes you look really uncivilized and ungrateful. Someone I worked with once asked me why I didn’t celebrate my birthday to which I jokingly replied “I don’t celebrate the day my suffering began.” I probably should’ve gone with something a little less brutal. In retrospect, the fact that I’d come up with that response proved to me that I held some kind of negative sentiment towards the day my life began.
It wasn’t until recently I found out that not celebrating your birthday was a thing that other people did— a common one at that. For many, birthdays are a milestone where you surround yourself with those you call your friends to celebrate your achievements, your progress, and existence in general. You look back at the year you had and appreciate the privilege of being able to celebrate another. For others, like myself, it can be a time for bleak introspection and the onset of existential dread. The tendency to fall victim to the “hustle culture” leaves a lot of millennials like me burnt out in a robotic haze. We maintain such tunnel vision that these days very personal to us feel insignificant and worth avoiding. When we do finally put our phones down and take stock of what we’ve achieved across the last 12 months we often highlight our shortcomings and areas we’ve failed, eventually robbing ourselves of the right to celebrate. Queue the world’s smallest violin. How do we regulate this melancholy and doom of our own anniversaries?
manage your expectations.
Maybe nobody showed up to your birthday dinner that one time - so now you’ve decided you’re never having a one again. You still don’t have enough for a deposit on that place you want, so maybe you shouldn’t spend money on a lavish gift. Maybe your car is the only Nissan in the parking lot at work and you feel like you don’t have anything to celebrate yet. Last year you wanted a Nintendo Switch for your birthday but you got a self-help book instead. At some point you’re going to have to realize that things don’t always go to plan. Having L’s to count doesn’t make you any less adequate or any less worth celebrating. Expectations aren’t goals, they’re more like guesses and assumptions we make for our future selves. They’re not a bad thing at all. We need standards and reference points - but we’re much better off when we manage our expectations in a way that’s both realistic and challenging. We’re defined beyond our achievements and material things. Pragmatism is important. There’s a reason why people only broadcast their success and keep their failures quiet. It’s because basking in your achievements feels greater than dwelling in the bad. Instead of your birthday being a day where you concentrate on your losses, turn it into a day where you celebrate all experiences. Celebrate your peaks and valleys. Keep things in perspective and enjoy what your life has come to look like today.
be aware of yourself.
You can’t celebrate who you are if you don’t know who you are. British-Swiss author Alain De Botton splits “knowing oneself” into two parts: having a stable sense of self-worth and having a secure hold on one’s values or judgments. A lack of either leads to poor expectation management and an insatiable need to have and be something “worth celebrating”. Having a sense of self-worth is important in that without it you lack the belief that you’re a human being worthy of that same respect. Don’t assume that you yourself don’t deserve the smallest.
Everybody should be able to celebrate themselves. A lot of people only know how to put on that front publicly but struggle to feel that importance when they’re all alone - the moment that actually matters. It can be difficult. Being alone with your thoughts can be scary, especially if you’re not used to giving space to those voices. Nevertheless it’s a journey some people embark on while others avoid it completely. When self-esteem is ground level you’re not in a rush to hand out birthday invites. But when you feel good about yourself you’re planning your December birthday in July.
Your values can be anything you consider to be important in life. Things like loyalty, creativity and passion can be values. Your core values are at the foundation of who you are. When your values constantly change or you become unsure of them it leads to confusion about overall yourself. It’s necessary to identify what you hold important. Those which you hold valuable are the things you truly celebrate - even when you’re singing those birthday blues.