Recently, a friend of mine completed an arduous two-year Masters degree, made even more difficult by the fact that for a huge chunk of it, her partner needed to work out of province. My friend, who was simultaneously working and going to school, was now also single parenting two children. On top of that, her mother suddenly became sick, and within a few months, died.
During the long days and nights, my friend had often imagined what pressing send on her last assignment would feel like. She thought she would likely just sob with relief. But she didn’t. Instead, she got out a pad and pen and started to make a list of everything that had gone by the wayside in those two years, all the things left undone that she now needed to take care of. She felt there was no time for reflection, and certainly no celebrating.
How many of us have done the same thing?
How many of us have not stopped, even for five minutes, to acknowledge that we’ve done something big? Something big to us. It doesn’t have to be completing a Masters degree – it could be joining a choir when we’ve always wanted to sing, or running a 5K, or facing a limiting fear or a stumbling block head-on.
For me, recently, it was teaching a class. In spite of having earned my Teaching Certificate in Ontario back in the early nineties, I have never taught for a living. In fact, it was standing up in front of those children when I was doing my practice teaching in my twenties that made me realize I might not be cut out to be a teacher. There were a number of reasons for this. I was shy, so I didn’t like all those people looking at me. I was an introvert, so preferred one-on-one interactions. And it just seemed like such an important job. Teaching children. Precious, impressionable, wonderful children. Back then, I didn’t feel up to the task. I didn’t think I knew enough. I didn’t think I had lived enough.
Since then, I’ve done a lot more living. And I’ve realized that there is a part of me that feels called to teaching. Flashback to my astrology reading of 2001 and the astrologer who shocked me by seeing public speaking and teaching in my chart and telling me they were an integral part of who I was and what I was meant to do.
Since then, I have plunged into the public speaking part but have really only dipped my toes into teaching. We could say that I’ve tested the waters over the last few years, co-facilitating a few classes and workshops on writing and creativity, but haven’t done any teaching on my own.
That’s why, back in the summer, when I was asked to teach a short fiction class for new writers, my knee-jerk reaction was “agh!” This visceral response wasn’t because I desperately didn’t want to do this thing. It was because I desperately did. It was definitely a “face your fears” moment.
I knew without a doubt that I was being given an opportunity. And so I knew I had to say yes. Who says no to the universe?
During my preparations, I surprised myself by feeling more excited than nervous. And I also surprised myself with the discovery that I really did know a lot about writing, what’s important for a good story, and how to take care of yourself as a writer, too.
And then, suddenly it was March and there were a dozen writers signed up.
Twelve really nice and very keen writers, who wanted to learn. From me. And as I sat in front of the class on that very first night, I realized that I had arrived at a place where I could do this. Where I could share with people what I have learned and experienced and that maybe they would benefit from something inside of me. This felt very, very good.
At the end of the last class, I packed up my books and my notes with a smile on my face, and rode home in the dark on my bike. I was beaming from ear to ear. And because my friend with the Masters Degree had recently told me her story, and because I’ve done the same thing as her a hundred times before, I decided that I didn’t want to let this proud moment just slip by.
I let myself feel the joy of having done a hard thing, a thing that had once really scared me. There was some impromptu and jubilant singing and dancing while bike-riding, and when I got home to the woman I love, I let my happiness spill over onto her. I could see how lit up I was through the reflection in her eyes.
I’m very glad that I took a few moments to celebrate this small victory. It’s been a week since then and already a hundred other things have rushed in to fill the space I made for that class. But the good feeling remains. It’s what propelled me to share this idea here, with others, and to encourage you to find ways to celebrate yourself and your successes.
In the midst of our busy lives, it is easy not to make the time to acknowledge the things we do well. It is not commonly done. Our society’s emphasis on “instant” everything doesn’t encourage reflection and contemplation at all, and certainly doesn’t advise we stop and pat ourselves on the back. In fact, we are taught to be humble and not overly congratulatory about our own accomplishments, lest we appear boastful.
But how kind is this? Simply barging headlong into another project without stopping to say “way to go” to yourself is just not nice. Good managers are trained to praise and support their team members when a project is completed successfully, but individuals rarely do this for themselves. Think of how you would respond to someone you love in the same situation. Likely, you would take the time to congratulate them on their accomplishment before you pressed them for “what’s next?”
This experience has made me see that celebrating ourselves is really gratitude, turned inside. I have written before about how taking the time to appreciate what is going well seems to breed more of what is going well. For many of us, it’s easy to feel grateful for a beautiful day, a wonderful friend, or a meaningful experience. But what about feeling appreciative of ourselves; really acknowledging how we stretch ourselves in certain situations and the feeling of success that brings.
Have you faced a fear lately and survived? Have you challenged yourself in some way and come out feeling emboldened and passionately alive? Have you finished something that was hard? If so, I challenge you to find some way to celebrate yourself today, whatever “celebrate” means to you. I’m happy to report that my friend with the new Masters degree let someone throw a party for her. There were celebratory t-shirts and there was dancing long into the night.
What can you do for yourself? Can you stay with the feeling of your accomplishment, just for a moment? Can you take a deep breath and revel in your own success? Can you give yourself a well-deserved pat on the back?