How to celebrate your own achievements in lockdown
Because pubs and restaurants are closed again and drinking on your own is just kinda depressing
Earlier this year, sometime between lockdown 1 and lockdown 2, I was sitting in a pub in London. It was a hot afternoon and we were taking a break while we waited for the next model to arrive at the shoot. I can't remember exactly how the conversation went but the essence of it was that we were finally doing what we had wanted to do and worked towards for so long. We were doing our dream jobs. The phrase “dream job” wasn’t mentioned because there’s no way to say it without sounding cringe but that’s what it essentially came down to. Sometimes I wish I could coolly riff that, “I don’t dream of labour”, but the truth is I always have.
This year I've ticked off some big career goals but instead of going out to celebrate, I've been going downstairs to make a cup of tea then moving straight on to the next thing.
That day in the pub my friends were hungover. I was a little tired and a little anxious like I always am on shoots because they involve meeting so many new people with big personalities in one day. All of these feelings made us feel like it wasn’t really that special. We moved on to lamenting over the drawbacks of turning what you love into a job and talking about the career goals we had yet to achieve. I pessimistically suggested we could all be doing a lot better if it wasn’t for the pandemic. Then the next model arrived, we finished the shoot and went for a pint. I didn’t talk much and felt like an imposter. Then we all went our separate ways. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that we should’ve stayed longer to celebrate. I wanted to get drunk and get to know everyone beyond the formality of the prewritten interview questions I’d asked them earlier in the day.
I celebrated most of my achievements in the first lockdown by telling my parents about them over dinner like I was 9 years old and had just got full marks in my spelling test. I tried getting drunk a couple of times but once you’re drunk on your own in your room you quickly realise that the vibe is more depressing than celebratory. At uni – during my BA – I would celebrate by going on a night out, but I’d also go on nights out when there was nothing to celebrate (only when I was celebrating, I’d buy one of those mini bottles of prosecco to take to pres.)
I’ve always felt a really strong desire to celebrate achievements, a trait that I haven't noticed manifesting as fiercely in other people I've met. If I don't celebrate I feel like the thing I'm celebrating didn't even happen. It’s led to bad decisions and behaviours that are more destructive than celebratory. I was starting to find less damaging ways to celebrate my achievements before lockdown but they still weren’t that great – a cigarette when I finished an article, or one pint with a friend.
Then lockdown happened and I couldn’t do those things either (I don’t smoke around my parents’ house) so I kind of just stopped celebrating things altogether. There have been so many times this year where it’s felt inappropriate to celebrate. Sure, not celebrating is better than going crazy but I’m trying to find some middle ground.
Because celebration and alcohol have always gone hand in hand for me I decided to speak to my sober friends about what they do to recognise that they've reached a goal. One said that "celebrations are so heavily built around alcohol consumption and it's probably one of the comparatively flattest experiences when you go sober. I still 'cheers' but with water. I guess those alcohol-fuelled rituals still feel celebratory without alcohol." She said she usually celebrates with a nice meal which she's kept up in lockdown by cooking something indulgent and eating with her flatmates instead of watching TV. Another sober friend said she celebrates by going for dinner with friends, having dinner with housemates, spending time alone doing what she loves like going for a walk, reading a book in the park or going to a cafe.
Reaching goals makes me happy. So much so that my 'favourite' activities are working towards them. It's become an addictive pattern that I'm trying to break. I want to find things that I enjoy for the sake of being in the moment instead of thinking ahead. Traditional self-care activities rarely feel like a celebration because they're usually what I reach for when I'm burnt out or depressed. Most of the time, putting on a face mask or going for a run are things I need to do rather than want to. They are also working towards a future goal, a goal to feel refreshed and mentally healthy. I've had to step back and reassess to find ways to celebrate that are mindful without being heavy-handedly positive or feel-good. I'm trying to reach brief moments of childlike joy with no ulterior motives.
Here are some things I’ve started doing:
Putting on a record and dancing around my room, watching a favourite film with popcorn, creating monthly goals then ticking them off, making a list of things I'm proud of, buying books, taking a mindful moment to reflect before moving on to the next thing, doing yoga, rereading writing I’m proud of, journalling, going for a walk with a friend, turning off my phone, making a Spotify playlist, binging Netflix without feeling guilty.
Honestly, I don't think I'll ever figure out the best way to celebrate. I have two degrees but I missed both graduation ceremonies (BA: I was in hospital with a kidney infection, MA: because of the pandemic) and the thought of having a wedding day makes me feel a bit sick. Already when I look back at my life and the things I've achieved and failed at I feel like I have vertigo because there's so much life behind me and even more ahead of me. So sometimes I just celebrate by having a total existential crisis but I'm trying to be more mindful. Then there are the longterm rewards, like wealth, happiness, love that can sometimes come but aren't always linear. I'm going to end this post with a quote that I wrote down in my journal in August last year. I can't remember who said it. I think it might be a Buddhist quote, but I know I got it from a Rowena Tsai video:
"Work and sweat, then love will come."