I recently celebrated another birthday. The day itself was rich with color, singing, and dancing. I was surrounded by amazing people , ate delicious treats, and received some of the best gifts I could imagine. I know this description conjures up a big birthday bash, but let me back up. I actually spent the majority of my birthday weekend in a hotel meeting space right outside Boston Logan airport. This was the fourth consecutive month I had spent an entire three-day weekend in an intensive coach training.
To be honest, I approached this birthday with the same trepidation I experience in most years; there is always this internal struggle between the fear of drawing too much attention to myself and feeling totally let down by others. My inner-critic, or Saboteur if you will, goes something like this: “No one really cares it’s your birthday.” “Why do you care so much anyway?” “Why can’t you be like most people and not get so worked up over one day?” “Grow up!” “You sound completely spoiled and ridiculous!” And then comes this embarrassing, cringe-worthy image of myself as a child, captured on an old VHS video buried somewhere at my parents’ apartment:
Zoom-in on awkward ten-year-old Amanda, about 20 minutes before her birthday guests are due to arrive. She is so excited that she cannot stand still, and bounces from one leg to the other. She looks at the video camera with a huge silly smile and declares, “It’s my birthday!” Pause. Awkward birthday girl moves closer to the camera, and giggles: “It’s my birthday!!” Another pause. This time, awkward birthday girl moves so close to the camera that the cameraman actually has to take a step back. Again she states without apology: “It’s my birthday!!!”
Fast forward 27 years minus one day, and, in front of the entire group, one of the trainers asked me how I would like to be honored and celebrated on my actual birthday the following day. Feeling uncomfortable, I laugh off her question without providing an answer. But the leader (who is also an experienced coach) does not let me off the hook. She reminds us all of the power that comes from knowing what you need and articulating it to others.
Luck would have it that the focus of our training weekend is how to be present, and go deeper, with a coaching client who is stuck with uncomfortable feelings. The concept is that if we can explore these feelings, rather than avoid them, then they lose some of their power. From there, we have more space to find a place of resonant choice and articulate what we want. So here was my chance to examine some powerful questions: What did I want and need for my birthday to have meaning? Why was “this ask” entangled with embarrassment and anticipation of being let down? What was it about the awkward ten-year-old version of myself that I found so hard to acknowledge?
By the end of the day, armed with new coaching tools and a different perspective, I was able to state the following to my colleagues and our trainers: “Tomorrow, it would be nice if you would acknowledge my birthday when you see me … and I always like getting hugs …. and I really like sweets.” It was easier to say than I had expected, and I thought I recognized some relief and excitement on others’ faces as they heard from me what I wanted. Later that evening, I had a similar conversation with my husband. I told him that going out to a nice restaurant would feel exhausting to me after a long weekend of training. Instead, I wanted to spend time with him, and our kids, and thought it would be nice if he cooked us dinner. Oh, and a bottle wine to share for after the kids went to bed!
So here is how it all played out:
- The morning of my birthday, I woke up before the others because I had to leave for training by 7:30am. I received some delicious, sleepy, “happy birthday’s” from my husband and kids, and drove off feeling blessed. I knew I would get to celebrate with them later, and that they loved me.
- I felt happy and peaceful on my drive to the airport hotel. I knew that my birthday would be recognized in a way that had meaning for me. I also realized that I was going to spend the day with a group of people I absolutely adored while learning and doing work that makes me feel alive.
- When I got to my training, there were smiles, hugs, birthday donuts and flowers. During the morning break, I was ushered aside by one of the assistants and then invited back into the room where my friends and colleagues serenaded me with a birthday song and dance … and beautiful cupcakes!
The rest of the day was focused on wrapping up our training. As the day went on, I was struck by all of the “gifts” in the room. The gift of knowing what I needed to feel honored on my birthday. The gift of being present with a group of colleagues who come prepared to share their authentic and vulnerable selves each time we convene for trainings, and then use this power to transform their own lives and the lives of others. And lastly, the gift of reconnecting with that ten-year-old version of myself and seeing her as a vibrant, dynamic, and precocious girl that knew how she wanted to be celebrated on her birthday.