desk with filofax flowers laptop

Lately I’ve been listening to, and participating in, plenty of conversations about celebration. The consensus seems to be that we don’t tend to celebrate our victories, instead saving the night out and the long-awaited purchase for extra-large triumphs: turning 40, signing a book deal, hitting that first six-figure year. And so I’ve been conscious of noting my accomplishments, including the small ones, in my journal. I bring mini-celebrations into my life when appropriate.

But this practice of writing out the day’s “wins” felt unusually troubling a few nights ago. At first, I couldn’t pinpoint why — what was wrong with marking down, and therefore celebrating, the fact that I’d found a new and exciting client to work with? What was wrong with giving myself a pat on the back because a given publication had accepted my pitch?

It took a bit, but I figured it out: the wins that I felt uncomfortable celebrating ultimately placed power with another person. I didn’t want to be celebrating that someone else, with her own preferences and decision-making process, had chosen me to work with; I wanted to celebrate that I’d put myself out there in the first place. And though it’s certainly nice to have a publication say yes to me, their decisions ultimately have more to do with their editorial calendar and subjective preference than with my ability as a writer, and so I’m proud of myself for having decided on a topic and crafted a pitch to begin with.

This may seem like a minuscule tweak, on par with quibbles about semantics. Yet shifting my accomplishments to reflect myself, rather than to reflect the choices of others, is on par with taking responsibility for my own wrongdoings. Yes, Daphne vomited all over one of my favorite dresses, but it’s my fault, and not hers, that it was lying on the floor in the first place. And so if I ever do end up winning a Pulitzer Prize, I am going to celebrate having written a damn good book — and not that the fickle, all-too-human committee of that year chose me.

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