A few weeks ago it was my birthday. I did not tell my friends, I did not post pictures or words. I did not celebrate myself or invite others to do so. I did not make any sort of deal about it, because I was ashamed. A year had passed and I did not feel like I had enough to show for it, so I tiptoed around the momentous occasion. Facebook reminded me as did other platforms, but I hoped no one would remember and not too many did.
When enough time had passed and the guilt had subsided to a manageable level, I began to wonder… Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we determine our worth by our accomplishments? Why do we focus on what we have not done? Why do we berate ourselves by what we have not achieved? Why do we assume that just because we have not reached certain goals we are ‘less worthy?’
Cake Cake Cake Cake
When it’s someone else’s birthday we gear ourselves up to celebrate them in every way. We order cakes, we post messages, we purchase presents and we remind them of how special they are. We do not sit down calculating how much they have earned, how many lives they have changed, how many promotions they have received or how far along they are in the course of empire building. Even the mere thought of doing so sounds crazy. Instead, we simply celebrate them. Why? Because we are happy they exist. Their existence is enough. The fact that they are still alive and still available to receive our love and sentiments is enough to warrant a celebration. We do not value them by what they have achieved, but simply by who they are. Therefore – we celebrate them! Simple.
I know a lot of wonderful people and projects that are still a work in progress and it has never once occurred to me to judge them the way I judge myself. Aren’t we all works in progress? If they miss a few deadlines, fall back into old patterns or do not make as much progress as initially planned I am not tempted to throw them out with their lukewarm bathwater. I encourage them to keep going, advise them not to be too hard on themselves, tell them to redirect that negative energy into progress and future performance and just enjoy each day as it comes. But this is not what I told myself on my birthday. Instead I was disappointed in the outcome of my self-run performance review. Instead I began to wonder if I should pull the plug or if I was up to the task of succeeding at the life I had chosen.
We are fond of speaking of #SelfLove but many times we fail to love ourselves.
Time and Tide Wait for No (Wo)man
No force is strong enough to stop time. It happens anyway. It can be daunting. It can be scary. It can loom over us like an invisible presence that constantly questions our every move. What are you doing with me? How have you used me? Have you grown, (because you have certainly aged)? Have you built something worthwhile (because you are less of a ‘spring chicken’ than you were)? With every year the pressure rises – to do more, to be more, to have more to show for myself. It was my birthday and I did not get myself a cake, pose with helium balloons or host a party – because I was ashamed. The last year had started with a bang – we did so much, we said so much, we inspired so many, we planned to go so far. As the year went on life happened and we broke promises to ourselves, became more irregular with our goals. Regardless, a year has passed and we are still alive, so we should celebrate ourselves for where this is life there is surely hope. And where there is life, there should be gratitude for it.
Therefore I have decided to do better – and to do it now because better late than never.
Deep Roots and Tall Trees are Not Affected by a little Breeze
I’ve come out of the shadows to celebrate because – a tree is a tree is a tree. I think we all have a lot to learn from trees. They stand tall and proud, they withstand all weather and weather all seasons. Trees always have something to offer and something to give – and so do we when we aren’t fixated on what our future selves are meant to be. And no matter what conditions trees find themselves in, they stand tall and remain true to their nature – trees.
Likewise if we have determined that we will win and succeed, then that is the fruit we will bear, that is the trunk that holds us up, that is what extends from our branches, that is what our leaves emanate. Even if there are weeds around our roots, fungi on our trunk, or worms eating away at our leaves – we know we are still that tree. We become a symbol of that which we aspire to be. Even at times when our leaves have fallen, our fruit is out of season and not producing, and we know we remain a skeleton of our aspirational selves – we are still trees. Therefore we do not worry, we do not cease to celebrate, we do not deem ourselves less than that which we are no matter the outlook.
When a tree is blossoming and beautiful and little girls are using its leaves and buds to make daisy chains and flower crowns – it is a tree. When birds build nests and rear their young in its branches – it is a tree. When is it lush and full, providing shade to lovers in the summer and countless games to little ones – it is a tree. When its leaves are bare and barren due to the weather – it is a tree. When it is pruned back and appears less mighty – it is a tree. When it is in its most productive season – it is a tree. When it is still growing and looks just like a shrub and gets no love – it is still a tree. As the years pass and it grows tall and strong and its roots go deeper and tear up tar and asphalt and people cannot help but acknowledge its presence as they step around it, stand under it, swing from it, and cannot ignore it – it is a tree. And if we determine so, then so are we.
The Art of Becoming A Tree
Trees are not that high maintenance and honestly neither are we. We know what we should do, when we should do it, the little steps that we can take to get us to where we will be more inclined to celebrate. So can we commit to a two-fold approach? I think: yes we can.
- We can choose to celebrate wherever we are and whatever we have done – no matter how small. If it’s your birthday order a cake, pop a bottle, say a prayer of thanksgiving, assess progress (but not to the point of depression) and plan for the year ahead. After all, we are trees. Even gardeners do not worry about how trees will grow and whether or not they will reach the heights they are meant to. Why? Because they are trees! Of course they will grow. Of course they will flourish. All in due time.
- We can determine ways to use our time better to grow towards that eternal sunshine we want to live in. Instead of being intimidated by its passage, we can be mindful of our actions. We can be particular about the soil we plant ourselves in, the conditions we create around ourselves, how we prune back that which is harmful to our growth and nurture that which helps us grow. There’s always something to be done.
Let’s celebrate where we are planted while we plan and work towards the heights we plan to grow to. Let’s do what we can to encourage our roots to go deeper, allow our branches to reach higher, and allow ourselves to simultaneously simply be. Let us be trees, and let us eat cake.
On that optimistic note: Happy 1st birthday to Heels and High Standards! 🙂