Marking Milestones

Marking Milestones

Sep 17, 2014

We are hardwired to mark milestones in our lives by celebrating. We mark a child’s first photo, first haircut, first solid food, first day at school, first birthday, first everything with fanfare.

Then as we get older, we become ambivalent about celebrations. Maybe it’s due to the costs involved, or loss of interest, or the need to feel younger. Consider these: Do you remember when you went steady with your boyfriend? You celebrated every month and even coined a term “monthsary” (This term gives me the shrivels. It sounds awkward, but I admit we did this ritual too, we just didn’t call it that way.) Then years after you get married and you reach your 10th, 20th, 25th, 30th, 40th and so on, and you (especially the husbands) refuse to celebrate. Husbands usually say, “Huh! You want me to make the same mistake again?” Not so funny. Then of course, for the aging woman, the birthday celebration becomes a big question, “Should I still celebrate and announce to the whole world how old I am?”

I must have prepared for and hosted over a hundred parties in my life, ranging from very simple family gatherings to elaborate weddings. The number sounds astounding but I just did the math on the annual birthday celebrations of our immediate family members and other major causes for celebration and that’s the number. Go, try it yourself.

From an economic point of view, celebrations might not be very practical but somehow, this Ilocana has always found the value of celebrating milestone events. It doesn’t have to be costly all the time. It should always be “liquidity-appropriate” – i.e. what you can afford without sacrificing needs. Sometimes the smaller the budget, the more creative you get. I devoted a discussion on how we celebrated the boys’ birthdays economically and creatively in my first book.

But honestly, there’s also a part of preparing for a party that’s not enjoyable. There’s a huge room for improvement on how Filipinos respond to RSVP. I have a friend whose children’s parties are so well prepared that we troop all the way to Alabang to witness them. When I complimented her party and beautiful invite, she shared, “When the printer said, ‘Ma’am you forgot to put RSVP, but there’s no more space.’ I said, ‘Ay naku, nobody observes RSVP in the Philippines, I won’t let that ruin my invitation’s design.’ Let it be!”

There’s also something I’m queasy about when it’s my birthday that I’m preparing for. I feel a bit awkward and uncomfortable because it’s like calling attention to myself. I’ve expressed this a few times to my husband and he tries his best to do something about it. But maybe because we all have roles in the family to play (and this is not necessarily his), he’s not so confident doing it without my input. There was only one time he tried to give me a surprise birthday party – maybe over 20 years ago, and I found out about it. After that he said, “You’re really better than me when it comes to planning parties, Honey.” But he’s okay with simple birthday parties with family and a few friends. He just sends text messages to both the guests and the food provider and voila! It’s a party!

My Golden

I’m celebrating my 50th birthday. Fifty, by any measure, is old. That’s why Gold rhymes with Old! It crossed my mind not to celebrate it because I still have what I call a SilverHangover from last month’s wedding anniversary. It was the most beautiful and meaningful celebration I’ve ever had that I needed time to come down from Cloud 9.

When my sons learned that I considered not celebrating, they were the first to say, “But Ma, you always say we need to mark our milestones. Fifty is a great milestone!”

So here I am preparing for my milestone birthday, again feeling uncomfortable that’s why I have to remind myself why it’s important to celebrate milestones.

1. A few years ago, I heard from an author being interviewed by Oprah that one of the causes of midlife crisis is our inability to mark milestones. She said that men who fail to mark their milestone might resort to womanizing and some dangerous sports, while women might get into depression. I don’t remember the author’s name but her message left an indelible mark. I found a confirmation or a happy justification for my penchant for family milestone celebrations.

2. Marking milestones gives us the opportunity, or maybe forces us, to assess our past. What have we done in the past? Have they been all worthwhile years? Did we learn our lessons well? Given our goals, where are we now?

3. The continuation of the previous point is to ask ourselves the question so what do we do now? Charles Schwab has a very interesting book entitled You’re Fifty, Now What? that outlines what to do from this age forward, primarily with your investments and also about your life in general.

4. In our life journey, we are only certain about our starting point, our birthday, but not our finish line. Nobody knows when that is coming. But we do know that each time we add a candle to our cake, we get closer to our finish line. Celebrating our milestone reminds us to prepare for our finish line.

5. It’s an opportunity to honor ourselves. This sounds too self-centered and this is probably the reason why I’m uncomfortable preparing for my own birthday party. But do you know that we need to honor ourselves, especially during transitions? I am at a transition. I’m going to join the ranks of the Golden Girls. Gosh! To those who are old enough to have watched that sitcom, they really looked old. Incidentally, one of the main characters was Rose. They say transition is difficult because of the element of unknown and this is the time when we need the support and cheer from our loved ones.

6. The biggest reason why I opt to celebrate is that I’ve always considered celebrations my act of thanksgiving. I may be old but I am not complaining, not one bit, because I have a lot to be thankful for: from the most profound reason of having always felt His blessings, incredibly wonderful family, marriage, great sons, old and new friends, to the most mundane (but maybe not) gift of not having changed my dress size. Yes I’m thankful for all these.  

7. I’m thankful for my newfound role of sharing what I know with others. I am overwhelmed by the wonderful, sometimes glowing, feedback I get from those who have been touched by my books, articles and talks. This is the reason why for this Golden Birthday celebration, I wish to meet some of you personally. If you’d be free on September 28, 2014 Sunday at 3pm, email me your story at and tell me how you’ve been touched by any of my books, articles, talks. I have allotted some slots for you in my milestone celebration.

One last thing, all these years I’ve observed this Oprah quote to be true, “The more you praise and celebrate life, the more there is to celebrate in life.” This is a version of the famous quote from Buddha, “What you focus on grows.”  So to all my co-celebrators in September and to everyone turning gold this year, happy milestone birthday! Let’s celebrate with great cheers!

Thankfully yours,