Yesterday, for the first time in the twenty-five years since I owned my first vehicle, I figured out how to change a burnt out lightbulb on my van’s turn signal. After that, I changed the broken windshield wiper. And in both cases, I’d bought the right ones for my vehicle and didn’t have to go back to the store to exchange them. Score!
When I finished, I wanted someone to celebrate with me, so I told my daughters. They have no clue what it feels like to be newly single at fifty and in charge of all of the little details of solo home/vehicle ownership and were suitably unimpressed. So I told my friends on Facebook and some of them understood and gave me virtual high fives.
There have been a lot of those small victories lately as I navigate this new terrain. I installed a set of closet doors earlier this week. And last week I built a small table, a large tray, and some shelves out of wood. A few months before that, I tore most of the flooring out of my house and learned to use a circular saw. All by myself! Huzzah!
These were all firsts for me. Nearly every time I’ve accomplished something new, I’ve looked for someone to celebrate with me. Sometimes I’ve texted friends, I’ve shared it on social media, or I’ve even found ways of bringing it up with strangers in the hardware store.
This may sound insecure – like I need someone’s validation to make me feel better about myself, but I don’t see it that way. Frankly, I felt great about what I’d accomplished even before anyone offered a response, so I didn’t need it, but I wanted it. Because celebration is better done in community.
It was celebration I was looking for – not validation.
Celebration is different from validation. Celebration elevates and encourages me, while validation encourages dependency. Celebration lets me know I’m not alone, while validation makes me feel like I can’t handle doing things on my own. If I need validation, it implies that I don’t know how to find my value without it. If, instead, I’m seeking celebration, it means that I want to be witnessed by my people because I honour the role they play in helping me to be courageous and strong.
Of course, there is a fine line between asking for attention/validation or showing off, and I don’t always know where that line is. And sometimes, when I’m feeling insecure, I step over that line. Plus each of us interprets it differently, based on our own set of internalized stories, so when I think it’s celebration I’m looking for, you might see it as validation.
Several months ago, after I’d given a keynote address to my largest audience ever, I shared my excitement on social media, and someone sent me a private message admonishing me for bragging too much. I felt hurt and I second-guessed myself. Was I bragging too much? Should I take the post down and celebrate my accomplishment all alone in my hotel room? No, I decided to leave it where it was and to allow those who wanted to give me a “woohoo!” to join in the celebration. This was my community, after all, and I need them in times of celebration just as I need them in times of struggle.
We get mixed up sometimes. We have a great fear of bragging and being “too big for our britches”, and so we keep our little victories to ourselves rather than inviting our dear ones into the celebration with us. And we let our fear spread to other people – we shame them for bragging so that they too will stay small and out of sight.
Living in an era of self-sufficiency and independence, we have become conditioned to fend for ourselves and act like we don’t need anyone.We’re not “supposed” to ask for too much support. We’re “supposed” to be able to accomplish great things without any support. We’re “supposed” to be self-confident enough to live out our dreams with nobody cheering us on.
I hear these words come out of my clients’ mouths sometimes. It’s not unusual for them to be a little embarrassed to speak of their accomplishments and their dreams. They talk about how they should be more self-confident and self-sufficient and should have the courage to do great things without other people’s support. Underneath, though, these is almost always a longing for the kind of community connections that will give them support and encouragement.
The self-help/coaching world has contributed to this individualistic mindset. We talk about “standing in our own power” but we don’t often talk about “standing in the power that is strengthened by community”. We talk about “creating our own destiny” and “detaching from other people’s opinion of us” but we don’t often talk about how our identity is intertwined with the people we’re in relationship with.
Self-sufficiency is a flawed ideal. We’re not really meant to be doing any of these things alone. We’re meant to live in community and to reach for each other in times of both celebration and grief. Because we are stronger and more courageous when we are together. We are more capable of personal growth and healing when we are in healthy relationships.
We NEED to need each other. We need community celebrations. We need to share our victories. We need to lend each other courage. We need to rely on each other’s strength.
Don’t get me wrong – I have great admiration for people who have the courage to do unpopular things because they believe in them even when nobody is on the sidelines cheering. AND I believe that we often let ourselves down when we don’t dare take a step before it is affirmed by others.
AND I also believe that when we do courageous or hard things, or even simple little things that make us feel good about ourselves, we’re meant to share our victories and allow others to celebrate with us.
Because when we celebrate together, the courage grows and spreads and the celebration galvanizes us to take even more bold steps.
So go ahead, let someone know the next time you do something you didn’t think you were capable of. Share your accomplishments and even your minor victories. Don’t attach your identity or value to whether or not they respond favourably (they’ve got their own stories going on, after all), but enjoy the celebration when they show up to support you.
And when you see others do the same, don’t shame them for bragging – put down your own baggage and celebrate with them!