Why I Spent My Birthday Alone This Year

I’ve had some cool birthday parties in my life.  For my ninth birthday, I had a bounce castle.  For my 24th, I went to a nightclub with a bunch of friends, and my friend Forrest charmed the servers into giving us a free table. 

For my 25th, two of my roommates had birthdays that were near mine, so we had a massive combined party for the three of us, with about a hundred guests, a keg, tiki bar, hired bartenders, dance floor, hot tub, and Thor shots- a drink I invented where you set a plate of shots on fire, then spray more alcohol and sprinkle cinnamon on the shots so they flare up and sparkle. 

The bounce castle is still the best one, obviously. 

The point is, I love to party…sometimes.  This year I chose not to, but it took a while to arrive at that choice. 

For those who don’t know, I recently moved down to Los Angeles.  For the past three months I’ve been about as busy as I’ve ever been in my entire life.  Here’s what I’ve been up to:

  • Coaching my online training clients.  I now have more of these than I’ve ever had before.
  • Writing a lot of articles, mostly for other websites, but also for my blog when I have time.
  • Building up my personal training practice.  Until recently, I always had one or two days a week when I had no PT clients and could stay home all day, but recently I started training people on every single weekday.  LA traffic means that 10-12 hours a week of training sessions equates to 20-25 hours a week when commutes are included. 
  • Marketing stuff.
  • Still making time to hit the gym myself, despite everything.
  • Playing Dungeons and Dragons.
  • Playing volleyball.
  • Going out to bars and clubs 1-3 nights a week with friends.
  • Going on dates once in a while.
  • Somehow still finding time to read and watch TV.
  • Getting 6-8 hours of sleep a night…usually. 

In other words, I’ve been feeling burnt out.  I’ve been exhausted.  I’ve needed to take a nap most afternoons.  I hardly ever have a day where I stay at home and then spend a quiet evening on my couch anymore.  And despite the relatively busy social calendar, I’m actually an introvert- I enjoy socializing, but I need a lot of time to recharge afterward.

For three weeks leading up to my birthday, I had a to-do item in my calendar called “Plan birthday party.”  I kept pushing that back, promising I’d do it the next day, when I had a better idea of what I wanted to do.  Throughout that time, the following conversation kept playing in my head:

I need to plan my party.  My birthday’s on a Wednesday…maybe dinner and karaoke?

My friends might not be able to make it in the middle of the week…shit, I don’t know if I’ll want to go out in the middle of the week.  Maybe we could go out clubbing that weekend instead?

Clubbing though?  I mean I like that sometimes, but a big party with me as the center of attention? 

Alright…maybe dinner and karaoke on the weekend instead?

I’d still have to plan it and then be playing party host all night though.  I don’t really want to do that…I’ve just been so tired lately. 

I have to have a birthday party though.  Only losers don’t have a party for their birthday. 

I guess I could do that, stick it out, maybe end the party early then curl up at home with a good book.

No, it’s a party- I’d have to be out all night.  Anyway, I’ll probably be shitfaced by that point. 

But…I don’t want to.  I just want to relax and do some reading. 

I know, I know, but I have to do it.  My birthday has to be special. 

I was really in no mood to attend a party, let alone plan one, then be obligated to show up early and stay all night, all the while being the center of attention and getting drunk because everyone else keep giving me booze that I feel obligated to drink out of politeness. 

And then to top it all off, I caught a cold that week.  So, the weekend before my birthday, I finally admitted it to myself: I just didn’t want to do this.  And that was okay. 

I didn’t have to have a party because (some of) my friends were expecting me to have one.  I didn’t have to have a party because that’s what cool people do.  It was my birthday, and I could spend it how I wanted to. 

So I took the day off from work (other than answering a few messages from clients) and let myself sleep in.  I went to the gym.  I ate at my favorite fast food place for breakfast, and my favorite sushi place for lunch.  I opened presents.  I talked to my mom.  I went to the movies and watched The Predator.   It was…okay.

That evening I actually did go down to my friendly local gaming store and play a short session of Dungeons and Dragons with some complete strangers, so I technically didn’t spend the whole day alone.  But they didn’t know it was my birthday and I didn’t have to force myself to socialize, so it was still relaxing.

Then that evening I had some ice cream and a brownie, and spent some quality time with one of my birthday presents: White Sand, the (currently ongoing) graphic novel series by Brandon Sanderson.  As I’ve mentioned before, Brandon Sanderson is the great fantasy author in the world right now, and possibly the greatest of all time.  I’m not even a comic book guy, but I got halfway through volume 1 that very night.  It’s a damn good series, is what I’m saying. 

S, it was a nice birthday.  Not an amazing birthday.  Not one of the ones I’ll be remembering years from now.  Just a quiet day of rest, relaxation and self-reflection, which was exactly what I wanted at the time. 

The thing is, it took several weeks of internal debate to convince myself that this was okay- that I could forget about being “cool” and doing what I felt I was supposed to do, and just let myself have the birthday that I wanted.  I had this idea in my head that you have to do something special for your birthday- except in this case, doing something special was directly, perversely at odds with doing what I wanted to do.  And anyway, all of the “special” ideas I had for my party were things I can do on any other week, if I want to.

I’ve seen this in my clients- they clearly want one thing, but feel obligated to do something else.  They want to get muscular, but feel obligated to focus on being thin.  They want to play sports, but think they’re supposed to get all their exercise in a gym.  They want to work shorter hours, but feel compelled to sacrifice other parts of their life for their career.    

Hell, I’ve been down this road plenty of times myself, when my own desires conflicted with that I felt was expected of me.  Sometimes in cases like these, you end up ignoring your own desires and doing what’s expected of you.  More often though, what happens is that you try to split the difference by doing a bit of both, and end up doing everything poorly. 

In this case, if I had tried to do that I would have ended up planning a really mediocre party at the last minute, messing up some of the details, and trying to let myself relax during the day on my birthday but really spending what little “relaxation” time I had planned either getting ready for the party, doing more last-minute planning, or stressing out over it.  No thanks. 

The fact is, doing what you’re supposed to do is never as fun, fulfilling, or motivating as doing what you want to do.  Last week I chose to unapologetically prioritize my own wants.  It was the best decision I could possibly have made. 

John

P.S.  Yes, I answered messages from my online coaching clients on my birthday.  It only took like 20 minutes, but it’s important to me that I keep my commitment to responding quickly to client messages.  It’s (part of) what they’re paying for, after all.  Anyway, online coaching signups are now open again, for a while.