Taking Birthdays Seriously
This week at work I committed a terrible faux pas. I made a big deal out of my boss’s upcoming birthday. Nothing wrong with that, but the thing that I didn’t know was that the same day was actually another teammate’s birthday. So there I was talking up something that was a few days in the future and unintentionally ignoring my teammate. When I found out that it was her birthday I felt terrible. Of course I apologized and tried to make up for it but I still felt bad.
I didn’t always feel strongly about birthdays. It was my 21st and 22nd birthdays that changed things. There’s not much to tell about my 21st birthday. It came and passed just like it was any other day. At least, that’s how it appeared to me. 21st birthdays are one of those key birthdays that you expect magical things to happen. I can’t remember everything about it, but I remember where I was that night. I was sitting on my bed when the door closed, sobbing into the telephone with my mother on the other end. Those of you who know me well probably realize how unusual that is (and that’s not even taking into account how unusual it is for me to be on a phone to begin with).
I was never the type to cry on anyone’s shoulder. In my youth I was always the one trying to present the tough guy persona. Being a tough guy created a shell that repels anything that might cause pain. However, that night I just broke down. I couldn’t help it. I was looking at my life and looking at that day and wondering why no one cared.
My 22nd birthday wasn’t much better. At this point I was working at BCBSFL. It turned out that I shared a birthday with our team’s senior advisor. I didn’t think much of it at first. But as I watched everybody make a big deal about her birthday it started to eat away at me. Cakes, cards, balloons and even a party were the order of the day, but not for me. I remember when various people would find that it was my birthday they would stop for a second, offer a lame “happy birthday” and move on. By the end of the day I resented my entire team. I felt so separate from everyone else.
I’ve had great birthdays and poor birthdays since then, but those two stand out because of what they taught me. Birthdays are meant to be special. They shouldn’t be treated like just another day. A birthday represents a chance for the people in your life, especially the people closest to you, to reach out and tell you how much they care about you. It’s a chance to celebrate a person’s life and let them know how glad you are that they are here. This is unmatched by the other holidays. Everything else has a specific purpose. The purpose of a birthday is to make people feel special for being who they are.
Don’t take the birthdays of people closest to you for granted. When you are really close to a person, or work closely with someone on a daily basis, make sure that you take a few seconds to tell them that they are special and that you appreciate that they are there. It’s a small, simple offering but it will resonate in their soul and remind them that they are loved.