Slumpy is the 8th dwarf in my emotional repertoire.
He is the illegitimate love child of Grumpy and Sleepy; he is perpetually anxious, and likes to sit in the corner leaking tears over his abandonment issues. As the calendar flips closer to my birthday, you can be sure he’ll rock up to the doorstep, dump his baggage in the room, and overstay his visit.
Birthdays are synonymous with celebration and nobody ever dreams of giving Slumpy an invitation to the party. But sometimes, despite our best intentions, he gatecrashes the event. He shows up three days beforehand and frets over planning a party with different friendship groups. He sows seeds of doubts that make you wonder if anyone will show up and enjoy themselves. Most of all, he makes you question if you’re even worthy of a celebration.
To his credit, I don’t think Slumpy intends to be such a killjoy. Perhaps he’s even trying to protect us. “Expectation management,” he’ll grumble in his defense.
When I look back over the years, birthdays always felt like a disappointment. A lot of weight tends to get placed on this one day. We pile on the expectations for a better year. We wait for it to change us. We set deadlines and declare that this will be the year all our fantasies come true. We hope the people we love will rally around us, break out the confetti, and acknowledge that we came into the world on this glorious day.
But, most often, the day would end up feeling lacklustre. Events would be planned and people wouldn’t make the effort to show up. If they did, the day revolved around them.
Irreparable mistakes would happen — the type that hit you when you wake up the next morning and make you feel like although you’re a year older, you’re definitely not wiser. The day would end and something would feel off.
A culmination of disappointing birthdays later, and you can’t blame Slumpy for believing that you aren’t worth showing up for and don’t deserve to be celebrated.
Three years ago, Slumpy showed up just before my 21st birthday while I was studying in England.
Like a long-awaited heir to the throne, society places 21 on a pedestal and heralds it as the year of adulthood. If I’d been back home in Australia, I would have celebrated my birthday the way all my friends had — by throwing a grand party complete with a footlong dessert table, an unlimited bar tab, and mandatory 5-minute speeches declaring how loved I was.
Yet, being a whole world away from my community meant I wasn’t going to get the chance to experience this rite of passage. On top of this, my flatmates and I were slammed with last-minute assignments, leaving us with little energy to plan a party. It was clear nothing special was going to happen this year either.
This sentiment was echoed back to me later that week when I accompanied my friend to a party on his birthday. Amongst the cheers and loud music in the background, I asked him how he felt now that he too was turning 21.
“It’s…not exactly what I thought it’d be,” he said hesitantly. “I keep waiting to feel different. Like, I know I should be happy it’s my birthday but it doesn’t feel like a big deal.” The crestfallen expression on his face said it all. Silence hung in the air between us and all I could say was, “I know.”
If you’re anything like me, then you’ve probably spent most of your life waiting on the big things. I used to fantasise about the idea of grand gestures, like surprise parties or fireworks that light up the sky or intense feelings that slam into you to let you know this person’s ‘the one.’ I’m so expectant of the big things that anything smaller makes me question whether it’s right and I wonder why it always feels like there’s something missing.
The problem with always looking up at the sky and waiting for the fireworks is that you miss out on what’s right in front of you. While your head is craned up towards the sky, you miss out on the people that are trying to celebrate you in their own way. You miss out on the magic of a slow burn that promises to keep flickering in the long run.
Fireworks and grand gestures are an impressive spectacle, but once they fizz out you’re left with nothing but a dark sky. At the end of the day, I know I’d rather have something meaningful that lasts for years to come, than something that only looks glamorous in the moment. The intimate memories created between close friends and the small, but intentional, actions are what imprints itself on your heart in the long run. That’s the golden stuff of life.
For my 21st birthday, there was no huge party, no bar tab, and no formal speeches. Instead, my flat pulled together to celebrate me in their own way.
Instead of a decadent dessert table, the guys made an emergency trip to Tesco to buy a cake topped with Maltesers. Instead of sparklers and a ‘21’ candle sitting on the cake, they held up a cigarette lighter for me to blow out during their rendition of the ‘Happy Birthday’ song. While my party back home would’ve had fancy decorations strung up around the room, in England, a single balloon found at the bottom of a show bag was inflated to celebrate me making it through the first year of my 20’s. There were no long speeches. Instead, while dancing the night away, each of my flatmates pulled me aside to tell me how much my friendship meant to them.
That night, I got to see how small, but intentional, actions spoke louder than grand, empty gestures. It wasn’t the grand party I always imagined. But it ended up being more fulfilling than I ever thought possible.
As much as Slumpy and the rest of the dwarfs want to assert themselves and protect us, we can’t hand over the reigns to them. Snow White has to rely on men and her feelings to save her from the Evil Queen. But sometimes we forget that we are the heroes of our own lives and we get to choose what gets the most weight. Truth or Feelings. Fact or fiction.
Someone once told me that I’ll be celebrated when I no longer feel that desire anymore. I don’t think that’s true. I think you should absolutely desire to be celebrated. You deserve the reminder that it’s not an accident you’re here today. You’re allowed to feel sentimental and all up in your feelings like a Drake song.
There are years where it’ll feel eventful and everyone will gather around for the glitz, glam and sparkle. And there’ll be years where you’ll have to be your own sparkle. The smaller, quieter years allow you to be your own cheerleader and learn to celebrate yourself. You’re going to have to figure out how to love on and bust out the confetti for yourself before you can ever invite anyone else to do it for you.
Learn to celebrate the small sparks on the ground instead of worshipping the fireworks. Celebrate the gruelling but golden process it took for you to get here. Celebrate the fact that despite all the hardships that came your way, you made it through to another year.
So if a single shred of you has ever wondered whether you are worthy of being celebrated, hear me when I say you are, you are, you are.
Irrespective of who does or doesn’t show up for you, you’re worth celebrating. Every inch of you is worth breaking out the confetti and silly string for.
Your birthday will undeniably be someone’s favourite day because it’s the day you showed up to the world ready to leave a mark on people’s hearts.
So if no one else has ever made you feel special, know that you are, you are, you are.
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