I recently celebrated what most would think of as a milestone birthday – I turned 40.
I wasn’t particularly upset about it, but it did seem like it should be a big deal. I mean half of my life is gone – if I’m lucky. It has made me start to rethink my priorities, irritations, and grudges.
Who has time to be angry about something that happened 20 years ago, right?
But that wasn’t what really stuck out to me. I still had to do most of everything I usually do – cook breakfast, wash the dishes, take care of the animals, and so on. So while I was washing the dishes I realized that sure I was born on this day and sure it was kind of a big deal that I was turning 40, but in the grand scheme of things there were probably hundreds if not thousands of people celebrating the same thing.
So I had to make a decision. Was I going to be a spoiled brat and throw a fit because no one really made a big deal out of my birthday – there was no party or pink flamingos in the yard? Or was I going to realize that it was just another day and be happy that like on so many other days I was happy, healthy, and somewhat well-adjusted?
I’ll tell you in a minute. First, I want to give you some background.
I never celebrated my birthday as a child. No one in my family did.
There were no parties, no cake, no presents. It was just another day. Sure my mom would mention something about giving birth on that day, but that was about it and maybe more about her. I didn’t celebrate my first birthday until I was 20 and my life was becoming one huge bad decision.
I spent the next 20 years expecting people – strangers really – to remember me, to care about me, to make a big deal out of me, on that one day. Well, there’s Christmas, too, but that’s a different post. Never mind that I wasn’t really close to them or that I was uncomfortable with all of the attention.
I wanted parties and presents and cake, dammit.
I wanted others to make me feel special. I wanted others to make up for what I thought I missed as a child. I wanted others to give me what my parents refused to.
And every damn year I was disappointed. Not because of what others did or didn’t do. It was all me. My expectations were so high that it didn’t matter what anyone did, it was never enough – ever. I would spend my birthdays angry, confused, and crying.
You know, like a bratty 8 year old who didn’t get the pony she wanted.
But I was in my 20s…
Thankfully, somewhere in my 30s, I started to get a clue about how life and happiness really works. Well, LATE 30s, if I’m being honest. If I was expecting or needing stuff and attention from other people on one or two days to be happy the rest of the year then I was going to have a miserable life.
Did I really want to have to guilt people into remembering me or my birthday? Or make them so nervous about forgetting that they have a panic attack every year? Or have them so stressed out about buying the perfect gift they can’t think straight for the weeks leading up to my birthday?
The answer is no. And if I’m being honest, that probably rarely ever happened, but you get my point.
If people remember, they remember. If there are presents, fine. If not, that’s fine too. Cake? I made my own this year and it was probably one of the best ones I’ve ever had.
But more importantly, I’ve given myself the gift of no expectations. I’ve finally gotten to the point where I don’t need other people or their attention to feel special or loved or of value. It’s great to have all that from those I’m close to, but I don’t expect or demand it on any day – even my birthday.
No more bratty 8 year old tantrums for me! I’m raising my beer bottle to no expectations and looking forward to the next stress-free 40 years.
Who’s with me??