How to Make Life a Celebration

by Sarah on April 2, 2012

in Celebrations, Thinky Things

(I was asked to answer the question “What do I need to celebrate?” for The Celebration Series blog crawl project put together by Annika Martins. I’m one of the 10 writers Annika asked to blog about making space in our lives for celebrating. See what the other bloggers had to say and get info on how you can join in at The Celebration Series.)

A while back, I wrote about how we don’t celebrate often enough. And I talked about how we need to celebrate the small achievements in addition to the large ones, because if we’re not celebrating along the journey, we are much less likely to ever reach the final goal or to know how to enjoy it when we do.

But what if we didn’t need a reason to celebrate at all? What if we let the qualities of [+celebration][+fun][+play][+joyfulness] inform our days, rather than the other way around?

Yes, what if?

And so the extended dance metaphor begins…

This past weekend, I was at a techno contra dance, and one of the things I love most about contra is that it always feels like a party, or a celebration, if you will. However, there is absolutely nothing to celebrate except that we’re all there, together, with bodies that function and some good music. Styles of dance and styles of dress both vary widely, but nobody cares. We have fun and we move; that’s all that matters.

I’m not proposing that we should all contra dance 24/7… for one, my legs couldn’t handle it, and for two, that might not be your thing… but there is something to be said for celebrating existence.

The extended dance metaphor continues, courtesy of Alan Watts

Take a few minutes to watch this video (which I have been watching repeatedly since Therese posted it in her blog) and then let’s reconvene.

Aaaaaaand, we’re back.

Let’s recap.

From the beginning, we’re lead through life with a carrot dangled in front of our noses, and by the time we finally start to wonder why the heck we’ve been following this carrot around for our whole lives, we’re so deeply invested in the system that we don’t know how to begin to change our patterns. If only we had realized the whole time that the carrot was… well… just a carrot… we could have been dancing through life or baking a carrot cake or something and having a grand old time.

Achievement Vs. Existence

As I can see it, there are two possible paradigms. There are probably actually 37 million, but right now I’m simplifying this down to two to make a point.

We live in a world built around achievement.

Get somewhere. And once you get there, get somewhere else.

But I think we secretly want to live in a world of existence… if we weren’t completely terrified.

The Existence-Monster Under the Bed

Terrified? Yes. I think we’re all terrified that if we didn’t have something we were striving for, we would just become couch potatoes and sit around all day watching television.

I have a friend who retired early from her career to find out if she is a woman of substance. I think it’s brave that she even was willing to ask herself that question; many of us are too afraid of what we might find.

I know I used to have a similar fear. I started working with a life coach because I couldn’t answer the question of what I would do if I won the lottery. I thought I wouldn’t know what to do with myself. I worried that I would be left living a life with no real meaning, sitting on a beach drinking piña coladas forever.

Okay, that piña colada thing actually sounds really good right now.

But the point is that the vacation would get boring after a while. And without the milestones we are so used to, most of which are built around career, money, and family, I wasn’t sure what kind of substance I would find.

And yes, I may be the only person in the world who has ever “worried” about winning the lotto.

Learning how to dance

Lucky for me, I got a good taste of carrot at 27 years old – early enough to realize that it wasn’t all it was cracked up to be.

For five years after graduating college, I worked in theatre as a Stage Manager and Lighting Designer. By 2008, that career was really taking a toll on me, so I decided that it was time to get a “real job” and “settle down.” I went from, “I want to live around the world,” to “Eh, Stamford, CT is good enough for me.”

And I did settle down. I got my own apartment in Stamford and got a real job with a good salary, health insurance, some level of “security”. I started watching TV shows almost every evening because… that’s what you do, right? I was becoming a normal person. I went out drinking with my friends on the weekends and occasionally during the week too. I even went on a few dates. Totally normal life of a 20-something.

And then, through a long a complicated soul-searching process, I realize that the thing everyone is so excited about and literally waiting their whole lives for?

It kind of sucked.

It was just a carrot.

Seekers vs. Settlers

Let me stop here and share a theory told to me by my holistic health practitioner (An older version of me is rolling her eyes and gagging right now because I just admitted on the internet that I’m working with a holistic practitioner. But really, she’s amazing, and all versions of me like not having allergy symptoms. But I digress…)

Anyway, the theory is that there are two kinds of people in the world. Seekers and settlers….fairly self-explanatory, right? The settlers are happy settling and the seekers need to be seeking. I don’t necessary believe people are as clear cut as that, but let’s run with it for now.

Settling brings up a whole lot of bad connotations for me, such as Not doing your best work in the world, accepting something less than what you want, or making do with something that’s just “okay” because you’re scared to go farther. That’s a lot of stuff tangled up in one word.

And yet, I think I am truly a seeking settler. Or a settling seeker. I want a life filled with big things. I want to see the world, write books, working on meaningful projects, meet amazing people, jump out of planes, and do many of the achievement-oriented things. But yet I don’t want to always be seeking. Along the way, I want to stop and smell the flowers, and I want to dance to the music.

And furthermore, I want to believe that we can have it both ways.

So why don’t we just dance?

The other day I was stuck in stopped traffic, and I checked in on Foursquare at the traffic jam (yeah, seriously) and I used the hashtag #firstworldproblems. We joke about that all the time (or at least, I do) but if you think about it, what are first world problems other than constructs? All this, “stuck in traffic” and “don’t have health insurance” and whatever else… they’re all things we invented. They’re not naturally occurring problems. Two hundred years ago, there was no health insurance and no traffic. You got on your horse and went to get the doctor from the nearest village. And yet we have allowed them to become the things that stop us from dancing to the music.

I’m not saying I want to go live in the woods with no health insurance and never deal with this stuff again – I like my western medicine just fine – but at the same time, our society has created all these things for us to want and to strive for. Once you have the health insurance, you need the nicer car, the bigger salary, the larger home or the newest iPhone.

In other words, we’re constantly moving the carrot further and further away. Yeah, we’re living longer, but we’re not enjoying any of it because dammit, there’s that carrot waiting for us at 65 or 75 or 85 years old when we finally get to retire. And then we can spend time playing with our grandchildren or golfing in Florida and… well, that sounds rather carrot-y to me, truth be told.

Becoming a dancer…

So I guess what I’m saying is I want to learn to celebrate being here.

Rather than focusing on the things I want to do, I want to shift my focus to how I am living and what energy I am bringing to each moment while I am in it.

I almost wrote that I just want to enjoy the journey, but after that Alan Watts video, I don’t think I can talk about life as a journey anymore. It’s just what is.

It’s quite possibly all there is.

And we’re here.

What better reason is there to celebrate?

…care to dance?

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{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Shanna Mann April 2, 2012 at 9:49 am

I like the seeker/settler dichotomy. However, mebbe as an east coast girl you don’t have the same connotations of “settler” as I do. (I laugh and laugh and laugh when people say “the West” and mean…Ohio. lolz!)

Settlers braved new territory in search of a place to call home. From my perspective, seekers are nomads who carry the concept of ‘home’ on their back. But settlers break new ground and look for a really good place to put down roots. They don’t “settle” for just anything!

Interesting spin? y/n?


Gemma Thompson (@GemLThompson) April 2, 2012 at 9:54 am

Love this post (and that video!)
I know I really should spend a while thinking up a long and profound comment but I think the best thing I can do to honour your post is to shut the computer down and go and make something lovely with my daughter … because you are quite right, life is here and now wherever you are!


Dave Huffman April 2, 2012 at 11:39 am

This lil’ nugget stuck right to me immediately:

“If only we had realized the whole time that the carrot was… well… just a carrot… we could have been dancing through life or baking a carrot cake or something and having a grand old time.”


This past year, after a few really rough years of chasing dreams/what we thought we should be chasing, my wife and I have decided to take a step back and recalibrate.

Through that, we’ve decided that we were indeed just chasing carrots.

We’re only a few months in to our new way of life, but things have really seemed more fulfilling lately. So much more than before.


Annika April 2, 2012 at 5:47 pm

You’ll prob appreciate The Art of Possibility by Benjamin+Roz Sander. They talk a lot about how limited our possibilities become when we constantly seek the status of achievement in our highly measurement-oriented culture. It’s a really great read.

Great job on the post! Thrilled to have you in the blog crawl :)


Tom Treanor April 3, 2012 at 2:15 am

Hi Sarah,

I really enjoyed the post and I agree that the carrot keeps moving farther and farther ahead. I’m learning to enjoy the moment. Sometimes I find myself thinking about what happens next. So I’m consciously learning to celebrate being in the now.

Thanks for the post!


Jackie April 3, 2012 at 2:35 am

Hi Sarah

Can really identify with your thoughts in this post, seeing I have them frequently myself. lol

Someone wise once told me; It’s how you manage yourself in the moment that matters. As a constant seeker myself, I know how it feels to keep following that carrot, after all I’m the one who keeps moving it.
It leaves me to wonder if “seekers” as you call them are ever satisfied?


Sarah Goshman April 3, 2012 at 8:12 am

@Shanna – very interesting! I need to think more about that definition of “settlers”. I didn’t have the historical context in mind when I wrote that.
@Gemma – as I said on twitter… that is the best response I could have asked for! Hope you had a beautiful day with your daughter.
@Dave – that’s amazing! Would love to hear more about your journey/process… I think you hit on the key though, which is make conscious choices about what we pursue so we don’t end up with a carrot? I mean… unless you really like carrots. :-)
@Annika – that sounds phenomenal! You always have such great resources – thanks! And thanks for having me!
@Tom – I love how many people are on a similar journey – thanks for sharing. Come back and let me know how it’s going?
@Jackie – I’m not saying it’s bad to strive for things or to “seek” necessarily… I’ve definitely got too much seeking in me to fully commit to that… but as cliche as it sounds, I guess the trick is figuring out how to enjoy being in the moment even in the process of seeking? Recognizing that something external is never going to be the answer? I don’t know… clearly I struggle with all this as well, but I love talking about it!

Thanks all for the awesome comments… this is really making me think even more deeply about the subject. :-)


Jeanne Pi April 3, 2012 at 9:06 am

I’m a “seeking settler” myself. Growing up, we have a romanticized notion of the nomadic life. Now that I’ve done many of the “achievement-oriented things” (including jumping out of a plane!), I think it’s a bit over-rated.

I rather like the idea of having a home base to come back to. It’s comforting. But it doesn’t mean I’ve settled. I’m constantly seeking new challenges because that’s what makes me feel alive. But at the same time, I need to ground myself in order to truly appreciate the new heights I’ve reached.

Here’s a different metaphor: “Music is the space between the notes.” (Claude Debussy) In other words, the spaces between the notes is just as, if not more important, than the notes themselves. The “spaces” are just as worthy of our attention as the notes for the spaces are what give the rest of the composition meaning.

We need both the notes (achievement) and the spaces (existence) to feel whole.

Love your post, Sarah!


Sarah April 5, 2012 at 7:47 am

Very thought-provoking! I have been focusing a lot on trying to cultivate slowness and spaciousness – I love the metaphor of the space between the notes. And I think “seeking” doesn’t necessarily have to mean moving around all the time – I like having a home base (at times) too! :-)


Jason "J-Ryze" Fonceca April 3, 2012 at 11:12 pm

Love it, Sarah!

(Did I see you on Jeanne’s blog?)

I really love the dance metaphor you used here, and how you touched on achievement vs. existence (it’s interesting because I absolutely LOVE achievement, but I blend both, because I find I *achieve* the most when I focus on existence :P)

Anyway, life IS a dance, whether we want to label it something else or not. :)

Sure, you can resist the dance, or trying and suck all the fun out of it, but that doesn’t change the dance, that just makes you a s**tty dancer.


Sarah April 5, 2012 at 7:46 am

Yes you did! Jeanne and I were both part of the series. :-) It’s just amazing to me how many people resist the dance.. nicely said!


Jason "J-Ryze" Fonceca April 3, 2012 at 11:13 pm

Oh and props to the Alan Watts reference ;)


Sarah April 5, 2012 at 7:47 am

I just found out about him through this video! Really excited to read/listen to more of his stuff.


Ryan Hanley April 5, 2012 at 8:40 am


Very nice… Right now I’d say I don’t celebrate enough. I don’t take time to enjoy the moment. I think because for most part, this moment is not the moment I want to enjoy.

There are definitely small successes throughout the day or week that are nice… But I don’t really feel like I deserve to celebrate the small successes, not yet at least. I’m still too young in the game.

Very good thoughts

Ryan H.


Eric T. Wagner April 5, 2012 at 3:55 pm

Howdy Sarah.

LOVE that video. Usually don’t take the time….. but something said “watch me”.

So I did. Love your post too.

The key for me to this challenge of creating a legacy mixed with “dancing on the way” is — balance. As I am building my company so it can help even more people; I stop randomly in the middle of the day; grab my wife and go get some ice cream with her.

As I work on the strategic business plan one week; we grab our kids out of school for a 3 day trip to the coast the next week.

So yes Sarah. Our family will dance with you… :-) Eric


Therese April 5, 2012 at 5:13 pm

Congrats on becoming less carrot-y!

YEAHHHH, now THAT is something to celebrate! (LIFE is something to celebrate, no?!)

You know what else I love?

Your ability to “live in the paradox.”

“I want a life filled with big things. I want to see the world, write books, working on meaningful projects, meet amazing people, jump out of planes, and do many of the achievement-oriented things. But yet I don’t want to always be seeking. Along the way, I want to stop and smell the flowers, and I want to dance to the music.

And furthermore, I want to believe that we can have it both ways.”


Just, YES.


Sarah Goshman April 6, 2012 at 9:52 pm

Cheers, Eric! Glad you stopped to watch the video… I so rarely do that either, but I had the same reaction when Therese posted it.

And Ms. Therese!!! Thanks for coming by. :-) And yes, less carrot-y is awesome. And I kind of like living in paradoxes… true and also true…


Jason "J-Ryze" Fonceca April 7, 2012 at 1:08 pm

@Ryan : Duuuuude! Great to see you here, Annika’s celebration series is hot.

You can celebrate any time, any moment! Do it — you’re doing big things and connecting with awesome people. Keep rockin’ it!


Alan Smith April 9, 2012 at 8:19 pm

That seemed rather personal. Thanks for sharing.

I think we Americans get caught up on things or “keeping up with the Joneses” that we forget to “Keep the Main thing the Main thing!”

As I used to tell the players on a team I used to coach, Chase down your dreams and tackle them!


Sarah April 11, 2012 at 3:40 pm

Thanks, Alan! Personal is my middle name…


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