My solo birthday party
Updated: May 27, 2022
I turned 27 on the 16th of May. And I made sure to celebrate. But it wasn't easy.
Why? Because birthdays feel charged for me. You see, I have a history of failed birthdays:
My history of failed birthdays
- On the day I turned 19, I got robbed in Argentina and lost everything I had (including wallet, passport, and journal in which I’d been documenting my travels for a full year – with no copy). It was the most panicked day of my life, of which I spent a good chunk crying on the floor.
- On the day I turned 20, the party I had been planning with two close friends in Barcelona got cancelled because we got into a fight that ruptured the friendship.
- On the day I turned 21, I was on a ship in the middle of the Atlantic (I was training to become a sailor). I was seasick and didn’t drink alcohol. I got made fun of by other crew members who called it the most ‘sober’ 21st birthday they’d ever seen.
- On the day I turned 22, I was in Amsterdam and had organised a small gathering with friends. But most of them cancelled last-minute. And one friend showed up really late at night, thinking it would be a big house party. When they entered and saw me with just one other friend, I saw the disappointment on their face. I also remember eating my own birthday cake all by myself (yes, very sad image).
Not every birthday has been like this. The past few years I’ve had some really lovely celebrations. But because there was this pattern of failed birthdays, I still feel this tension around it. I’ve become afraid of organising birthday parties, because I fear people cancelling on me at the last minute. In short, I’m afraid of spending my birthday alone.
As you can tell from the above list of failures, I’m always in a different part of the world on the 16th of May. It’s a lifestyle I consciously choose and design, year after year. Because travel is one of the things that makes me feel most alive. But things like birthdays, when you actually want to be with family and close friends, can be tough.
Changing the story
This year, I am in Bali. I moved here 10 days ago, without knowing anyone on the island. I felt the same tensions coming up for me, so I decided to take a different approach this year. Instead of being dependent on others to make the celebration a success, I faced my fear and embraced the idea of spending my birthday alone.
I decided to celebrate full on, and to treat myself big time. A day centered around what I desired to do.
A day of giving to myself.
A day of receiving from myself.
The effect of this decision was huge. I felt the inner tension turn into relaxation, as I realized that I could totally give myself the gift of an unforgettable birthday. And I got super excited planning this day full of self-indulgence.
I asked myself: how do I really want to spend this time? How can I truly treat myself?
The answers came quickly: I want to relax. I want to nourish my body. I want to reflect (I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t journal on this transition from one life cycle into the next). I want to dance. I want to eat yummy food. I want a cocktail. I want to soak up the sun. I want passion.
So here’s what I planned for myself:
- Morning: Full body Balinese massage
- Afternoon: Spent at Ubud’s most beautiful bar with infinity pool in the middle of the jungle.
- Evening: Fire dance show, to bring the heat.
It was perfect.
Now, I’m not sharing this story with you without a reason. There’s always a take-away (or multiple ones) for you in there. I share specific stories about my own life because they contain big life lessons that are hopefully of use to you. For today, there are 2.
Watch out for getting attached to self-fabricated negative stories. In this case, I’d made up a story about myself and my failed birthdays. Every time my birthday would come along and something would go wrong, I’d point at it and confirm ‘Look, another failed one. See how this always happens to me?’.
It became part of my identity: "Hey there, I’m Simone and I’m unlucky when it comes to birthdays". Now obviously, I’d never introduce myself in this way. But it was one of those things that became fixed in my mind. And every year, I started to expect failure. To look out for it. To wait for the evidence to emerge that this story continued to be true about me. To even desire the repeated failure. Because then the story remains valid, and I won’t need to change the beliefs I hold about myself.
Here’s the danger: when you start to get attached to a failure repeating itself, just so you can maintain some silly made-up story about yourself, you’re sabotaging your own success.
The birthday story is a low-level example of that. Higher-level stories with heaps more impact on your everyday life (and not just 1 day per year) can sound like: I’m not good at X. I’ll never find love. I’m never going to succeed at life. Every time I try to speak my mind, no one listens. Living out my dream life is not for me. I will never make friends. I suck at Y and always will. I’m not good enough to do Z. I always miss out on promotions (‘look, another year passed and they *still* didn’t promote me’).
What’s a negative story you keep telling yourself? And be honest here, do you really want this story to change? If so, what actions are you taking to change the narrative? And very importantly: what do you need to STOP doing in order to disrupt this negative pattern?