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Happy Birthday to you. At least I hope it was happy. A birthday without the happy is like every other day and not something we probably want to think about. Yet aren’t birthdays for many folks bittersweet? Nobody really wants to get older, but we love being recognized by friends bearing gifts. After all, we earned it, right? Even though the tradition has become a bit cliche and the meaning has been lost, we still want our cake and to eat it too.
The Dirt: Happy Birthday to Me
There’s nothing wrong with celebrations, especially for birthdays. But have you ever wondered what exactly are we celebrating? The origins of birthdays is a pagan tradition they thought evil spirits lurked on days of major change and so candles were lit in response. The irony is that birthdays have become a regular tradition whether or not any great change has taken place. We not only don’t question the how or why, but we expect recognition and even take personal offense when not given. Are we celebrating change in our lives or just that we still have our lives?
Let’s consider how it works. Each year, we gather our friends around, light a few candles, and eat cake to say,
“Hey look at me. I managed to stay alive this entire past year in a first-world country. That’s right, I fed myself, didn’t walk off of a cliff, and paid my taxes. I somehow didn’t accidentally cut my jugular vein with a knife, I drank just enough water and not too much alcohol. And by the way, for these great accomplishments, I should get gifts, recognition from everyone I know, and permission to gorge myself with unhealthy food. After all, it’s my very special day!”
Yes, I’m being a bit trite and cynical. Look, if you’re in a very poor place, where staying alive is a true accomplishment, then by all means, party it up. If you live in relative safety, have running water, and a pair of shoes, then perhaps we should set the bar a bit higher. In no way am I suggesting that we don’t celebrate, just that maybe we can have something other than age to get excited about.
Here’s the rub. Most people tiptoe through life hoping to make it safely to death. The goal of many truly is to just survive. If that’s the case, what’s the point? Other than using up resources and perhaps experiencing an occasional happy or ecstacy-filled moment, why spend so much time on a journey whose sole purpose is to make it to the nonliving side of things. Again, in a first-world country, it’s hardly a challenge to survive. While it may seem like it’s tough, remember that there are 1700 new millionaires made every day in the U.S. And we still feel the need to ham it up for just barely making it?
But isn’t life itself special? Isn’t that enough? Life is absolutely precious and should never be taken for granted. For all intents and purposes, it’s our one shot to do something significant. This is exactly why we should not waste a single drop. This is the reason we must take advantage of it and not excuse ourselves, letting it slip by unnoticed.
Getting back to birthdays, what if we had something truly special to celebrate? What if we didn’t have to repeat each year like Groundhog Day? Here are three simple tips to make birthdays worthy of any celebration.
Figure out why you were born
They say that the two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you figure out why.
What’s the point and purpose of your life?
Why do you get out of bed each morning?
Why keep fighting the good fight?
These questions, taken seriously, should elicit an immediate answer if you’re clear on your purpose or at least some thought if you’re not. Let’s leave the kids out of this one. I understand that your kids are your life, but surely there’s something more to living than reproduction. At what point do we stop procreating just to produce procreators?
So finding your own purpose is key. If you need help answering this one, what would you do if you only got paid in happiness? In other words, if happiness were the national currency, what could you do that would make you ‘wealthy’? This may be a good starting point. From here, an entire fountain of options on things you can do at this age will be available to you.
Once you know those things you wish to do, now go do it. Don’t just wait for another year to pass by. The time will pass regardless with the only question being what you accomplished. The last thing you want is to repeat this year, like being held back in school. If this year will be different, we can’t repeat our actions, else we will end up repeating our results. For the majority, this would not be a good thing.
Put together a plan of achievement that will detail what your 29th, 35th, or 78th year on this planet will mean. Will it be the year you finally start a business, go skydiving solo, learn how to play the oboe, or just stop a bad habit? Whatever you choose, make sure it’s consistent with your purpose and/or it improves you as a person.
Once the goal is clear, use a myriad of resources from books to audios, mentors to coaches, and any other source of competent information you can find. In our age of information, there’s no excuse for not being able to do anything you wish. The only thing that could stop us is our own laziness.
Since you probably believe I’m a big party-pooper now, I’m going to surprise you. Celebrate often. Don’t wait for your birthday. The caveat is to celebrate victories and accomplishments, not just days. These success can be small or large, but if you’re moving forward with intention and purpose, recognize yourself for heading the right direction.
Consider each step, milestone, and victory as another birthday, because it is. Each time you get better, do better, and become better, you are leaving the old you behind. You’re shedding old habits, beliefs, fears, doubts, and worries and blossoming into a new skin of competence, pride, joy, fulfillment, and happiness. So celebrate these events often.
Of course, this is not an excuse to go out and buy an ice cream cake every 3 weeks. Nor do you necessarily want to invite all your friends over for another “birth”day party (or maybe you do?) At first, it might be worthwhile to allow yourself a simple pleasure of a nice meal, movie, or even a short vacation. Eventually, the fulfillment of accomplishment and the joy of success will be sufficient. Walter Payton once said that when you’re good, you must tell everyone, but when you’re great, everyone tells you.
The good news is that we don’t have to keep getting older without getting better. If our cake isn’t melting with too many candles, it’s not too late. With some purpose, planning, and action, we can transform birthdays from a good time to a great success.
“The older you get, the better you get. Unless you’re a banana.”
I appreciate each of you. I challenge you to share this with your closest friends so that they too may have a very happy birthday. We’ll celebrate at the top ‘cause the bottom’s way too crowded.