How I Celebrated a Big Birthday with No Pressure and Lots of Joy
Okay, picture this. I’m 10 years old. It’s me, my dad, my mom and my older brother in the car. It’s a Sunday morning. We pull up to church and park the car. My mom bursts into tears. It’s her 40th birthday, and she is completely freaked out. It’s quite a scene. Oh, my sweet dad didn’t quite know what to do or what to say. She’s just bawling. She’s muttering something about getting old or being old. We’re just immobilized. We can’t go into church with her like that.
I lean forward from the back seat and, although I was only 10 years old, I conjured some wisdom. Don’t know where it came from, but I just said, “Mom, 40 is just a number.”
It helped. That little phrase, “it’s just a number,” kind of calmed her down. I honestly do not recall if we made it into church that morning or if we just went home. But I know that that stuck with her., because, over the years, she mentioned it now and again. “Mom, it’s just a number.”
Maybe that stuck with me too, because, at this point in my life, I have yet to have a birthday totally freak me out. And at this point I’ve had several milestone birthdays. As a matter of fact, I just recently had one, and it’s one of those milestone birthdays for which people plan lavish trips, make ginormous purchases, and plan lavish parties. And sometimes people have unplanned midlife crisis moments associated with this birthday. Thankfully, mine came and went with a very measured approach, and I actually loved, loved, loved this milestone birthday.
I thought I’d share with you how I approached this big one, the big Five-O, y’all. I did so very peacefully and energetically, and I felt like it was just a great celebration, kept all in perspective.
Here’s how I celebrated.
I held space for myself and was intentional.
First of all, this is one of those birthdays you think about for a year in advance of it coming. And I knew it could feel very weighty. I’ve never been this old before, so I didn’t know if there’d be some deep-seated, emotional response. So I gave myself some mental space to welcome the anticipation of the big birthday and to think through how I wanted to make the most of it. So, I was very intentional.
I focused on purpose over pomp—with no big deadlines.
A big part of that was to focus on the purpose over the pomp. Reaching a milestone year such as this, I wanted it to be about my ability to honestly look at my life and say I was pleased with where I’m at and content—yet very motivated to keep moving forward. For a few years, I’ve been wanting to create some new ventures, and I’ve been on that path already. So, I knew I just wanted to remain intentional in this year, which I did. And that’s why we’re here on this website, on this blogcast. This was part of what I’ve been on the path to create. And I just honored that commitment to myself and stayed on the path in this birthday year.
The birthday itself was not necessarily some big formal deadline. Life is unpredictable, and my big year has happened in the midst of the global pandemic of COVID-19. There was a lot of surprises that happened related to my workload and my regular business. So, I’m very glad that I had not put that pressure on myself to say that, by a certain date, all this had to be done. But it was certainly a wonderful motivator to keep me on the path that I had already started carving. So that was really special.
I gifted myself a unique way to look back that proved to be very meaningful.
Another way I wanted to bring purpose to this birthday was… For the longest time I had been thinking about having all my old VHS and cassette tapes digitized. As you may likely know, I am all about digital organization. What you may not know about me is I love memorabilia. If I had untold free time, I could really get genealogy and the like. I’m the keeper of the family’s old photos. I love, love, love that stuff, but it can be very time-consuming. I actually really measure out how I allow myself to enjoy that because in this season of life, I have some more urgent things I want to spend my free time on, but I certainly love that stuff.
So that had been on my list for a long time—to get VHS tapes and cassette tapes digitized so that I could have them in a way to enjoy them fully. My husband also has a complete inventory from his growing up, and I wanted those digitized as well. So, this was a gift I gave myself, and I am so pleased that I spent that money. It seemed like kind of a lot of money, to be honest with you, for something of that nature. And yet, every dime was so wonderfully spent.
I chose a company that provides digital files. I didn’t want a thumb drive. If you hang with me and you learn about digital organization, you’ll know we’re always looking to where the technology is going. Right now. I don’t even have a USB port on my very recently purchased laptop by which I could even watch files off of a thumb drive. So why would I want that? I want those digital files that I can save to the cloud in a way that I can share them easily. That’s very important to me.
So I accomplished that. Maybe I’ll share more about that later because the journey of looking back in a healthy way is such a cool thing, and it was really a neat thing to share with my husband. We feel like we know each other better after having watched some of those videos and listening to those cassettes. So that adds a lot of great meaning.
I kept the celebratory indulgences simple and very true to me.
Another thing I did to celebrate my birthday meaningfully was to keep the indulgences simple and true to me. As I’ve mentioned, my big birthday took place during this year that is very altered from what we used to know as normal because of big global COVID-19 pandemic. Earlier in the year, back in February, I had planned with my husband to go New York for a long weekend. There was a particular show that I really wanted to see. The show was to open the month before my birthday, so we planned the trip. Then the pandemic hit, and all that was off the table. So—to be honest with you, what can you do—I’m just at peace with that. It’s all good. We’ll try again later.
But we still wanted to do something really fun and special, and that was certainly a goal of my husband. So, we did an in-town staycation. We got a beautiful suite at a really amazing hotel in our city. We had friends who also got a room at the hotel. It’s a couple, and she had also celebrated her 50th birthday this year. So, we had friends there who are in a similar place in life. We had a fabulous dinner and I got to dress up. It was very ‘me,’ I guess is my point. And I told my husband “job well done, sir!”
As it turned out, I loved that it was in town. You know, trips can be like a part-time job if they’re taking you somewhere far away or you have a lot of packing to do. I loved that this getaway was incredibly simple to plan for. It hit all the right notes for me because I love to eat out and dress up and just have really good conversation with a tight circle of friends. It hit all the right marks—very meaningful and yet very peaceful and chill for the birthday girl.
I let others celebrate me.
Another way I celebrated was to let people celebrate me. I’ve always been fiercely independent. It’s part of my nature that I really like, and I keep that part of me very much alive. I like to be my own thing. But, over the years, I’ve gotten better at better at allowing people to celebrate me—you know, put the attention on me for a day, like my birthday, especially this year. I really welcomed that. I don’t need that. I sincerely don’t. It’s just such an enjoyment to have people in my life who get that this one was a big deal and wanted to acknowledge it.
A few years ago, my husband and I went to a local Christmas light show at a large hotel here in town. We just walked around and looked at the great light display. There’s a little gondola ride through the hotel, and we took that. As is common, they take your photo and want to sell you the photo after your enjoyment of the ride. My husband and I went and looked at our photo after the ride. It was actually a really good photo, which doesn’t always happen on rides like that. But we decided to not buy it. It’s just, you know, money we didn’t need to spend, and what would we do with the photo after a certain amount of time?
We walked away, and in short order, a little girl came running up: “my parents wanted me to give this to you”. They had observed us on the gondola. They saw our picture and that we didn’t buy it. They just, out of the kindness of their heart, bought the picture and gave it to us.
That moment showed me how sweet it is to be able to receive something that just was offered totally out of somebody’s kindness. I guess my point is. I’m so used to being in a role where I’m leading and I’m the one that I feel should be contributing because I have been given so much. Yet in that moment, it was such an honor to receive someone’s kindness. So I’ve been carrying that lesson with me for a few years and certainly on the occasion of my big birthday this year, it got to be applied.
I’m so very grateful for all the sweet people in my life who acknowledged me during this birthday.
I kept perspective and mindfully managed expectations for this birthday.
Very importantly, another way to celebrate this—and really anything—is to put and keep it in perspective. Big birthdays, big milestones, big life occasions can get so weighty and out of proportion for people.
I’ve done it. I’ve never freaked out about a birthday because of the fact that I’m aging, but I do recall my last decade birthday. I planned this outing and had the script in my mind of how it should go. And it veered off script a bit. It was still a great evening, but it just wasn’t quite as shiny as I had hoped. And it left me a little deflated. I took note. Note to self: don’t do that again. Don’t put so much pressure on an event to honor a birthday being perfect. That’s so silly to do. It’s unnecessary, and it can really put a tarnish on something that otherwise would have been quite lovely.
Another example: I have a dear friend of mine who has since passed away. On the occasion of her 50th birthday, she gifted herself a BMW, a very, very expensive car. I remember her talking a lot about it. She certainly was able to do it. She had not financially strained herself to do so, but it was certainly something I think she had thought through and just kind of wanted all because of turning 50. That car turned out to be a lemon. It plagued her for months and months and months after she bought it. Eventually, she couldn’t get rid of it fast enough. It was just a problem.
I don’t know what her lesson or takeaway from that was, but as her friend who observed, I thought, you know, everything needs to be in perspective. I have no problem with someone who is able to buy a fabulous car for themselves doing so in association with a big birthday. Go for it! But just realize a thing is a thing, and it may be a lemon. It may be a problem. Just because it’s shiny and bright and wonderful doesn’t mean that it’s the best way to celebrate. That’s just a lesson that I’ve carried with me that helped me keep some perspective on this birthday.
I am appreciative and confident in knowing I’m just where I should be at this time in my life.
I think, most importantly, I called upon all my life experience and the wisdom that I’ve collected in all these years, walking this earth to acknowledge I am on a good and solid path, the best path I’ve ever been on in my life. It has felt so satisfying to just stay the course, to stay motivated, to not feel undue urgency. I am not on anyone else’s timeline; I’m right where I’m supposed to be in this moment.
What I’ve achieved to this point is true. It has meaning. It’s accurate for who I am. And if I see someone else who’s more advanced and they’re my age, I am at a place of contentedness to see that as inspiration and not intimidation. I’m pleased with where I am. I’m thankful for the growth that I’m experiencing. I’m beyond thrilled, to be honest with you, that I’m a place where I’m learning, I’m evolving, I’m changing. So just appreciating that and staying the course of where I’m already at on the occasion of a big birthday is really an ultimate gift that I give to myself. I’m going to keep carrying and keeping going.
So if you’re facing a big milestone, a big birthday, some notable life occasion for which society tells us we’re supposed to do certain things and celebrate in certain ways, I invite you to hit pause and really think about what you want. As an example… Part of the content that I’m bringing to the world relates to eating well for life. At this point, I don’t crave a big birthday cake. Sure, cake tastes good, but I happen to not desire a big old birthday cake. So—guess what? Even though that’s what happens for most people’s birthdays, I didn’t have a big cake. The hotel where we stayed knew it was my birthday and gave us a couple of cupcakes, which we shared among four people. So all good in the ‘hood.
But the key here is to know there’s no script for what is supposed to happen for your big and special occasion. Make it about you and what you really want. Make it measured, make it meaningful.
…But don’t put too much expectation. Don’t stretch it out of proportion. Instead, make every day mindful and meaningful and special. Dress up on a random Friday night to go out to dinner. Get a little extra something for yourself that you’ve wanted, any old time. Eat your favorite meal on a random Wednesday. I don’t know. But don’t put too much pressure on those milestone days, because every day (this may sound cheesy) really does need to be special.
So, thanks for being here. This is part of how I’m celebrating my journey in this life. And I’m so grateful that you’re along for the ride.
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