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Don’t forget how to be happy!

Celebrating success in the age of COVID

When I was 11 years old, my father took us to get fireworks for the Fourth of July celebrations. Buying and setting off fireworks on the Fourth a quintessentially American tradition. If you are not American, here is how it works in much of the US: vendors erect large, temporary buildings topped by a massive sign that reads “FIREWORKS” alongside highways in June. Every stand looks almost the same: when you walk up, you can see their entire selection. It consists of smaller individual fireworks like firecrackers, rockets, sparklers, and Roman candles. A general rule of thumb: the more expensive something is, the more dangerous it is. And there is always a big, pre-packaged box called something like “The Freedom Box” that contains all of the above, as well as a massive “mortar” that shoots off the type of fireworks you see at shows. When we walked up, my dad immediately pointed at the biggest pre-packaged box and said “I always wanted one of those when I was your age. We are getting it.” Naturally, I was overjoyed. My siblings and I had a blast shooting off all the fireworks that Fourth, but what is burned in my memory is my dad’s voice at that moment. He seemed like an excited little kid.

Don’t stop to smell the roses, but be sure to buy some bouquets

Even in the best of times, I have to remind my clients to celebrate their successes. High achievers tend to keep their feet on the gas. They want to keep pushing forward as fast as they can, of course: success is addicting. Closing deals is a rush, and in the case of a business owner, it is all the more rewarding when you can see that you are building something special. This is because SME owners and managers usually live in a “eat what you kill” world; they do not have the protections built into most multinational systems, but in exchange, they reap much more rewards from each triumph. But if you do not take the time to remember the feasts, you will not survive the famine.

When I tell a client to take a breath and take time to celebrate, they almost always misinterpret this as “slow down”. That is not the case at all. Success breeds success, and it would be foolish to break someone’s momentum. On the contrary, my advice is centred around making sure that they do not break their own momentum. Even though they can feel that they are building something special, they need objective markers in their life that show how special they have become. These markers, however, are different for each person. Each client has a distinct personality, and each personality likes to celebrate differently. Moreover, each client has a different personal history. Some grew up rich, and some grew up quite poor. Because of this, I do not make any specific recommendations, but I do ask questions to get the wheels turning. “What is something that you have always wanted to do?” Here are some real answers I have heard:

  • I have always wanted to take my wife to the Bahamas.
  • I have always wanted to drive a sports car.
  • Do you know that fancy supermarket? I want to shop there without looking at any of the prices.

Big wins justify big celebrations, and smaller successes still justify smaller celebrations. But how exactly one celebrates does not matter; what is critical is that they find a way to celebrate at all.

The profound awkwardness of COVID

You might be wondering who can even justify a celebration right now. Aren’t businesses suffering across the board? That is definitely not the case: some of my clients are having their best years in history. Maybe it is counterintuitive, but COVID has made celebrating all the more urgent. I get it: it is hard to celebrate when so many people are suffering. Some might even call it irresponsible or insensitive. Naturally, I do not advise any clients to do things that will alienate their employees. You do not want to be like Kim Kardashian, who was lambasted for tweeting, “After 2 weeks of multiple health screens and asking everyone to quarantine, I surprised my closest inner circle with a trip to a private island where we could pretend things were normal just for a brief moment in time.”

That said, I know from direct experience that when employees see their company owner thriving during a downturn, it can be extremely motivating. As long as it is communicated intelligently, a celebration of success during a downturn can give employees the peace of mind that is in such short supply right now. Many people fear that even if their employer has not started layoffs yet, they will soon. If the employer is celebrating, it provides a sense of job security that no words could possibly convey. There is one caveat: this only works if the celebration is justified!

Explosions in the Sky

My father had a successful career, especially in recent years. Looking back, the year we bought The Freedom Box was the year that he started doing better financially. He always knew how to celebrate, but in his own way. To this day, he has never bought a fancy car (he drives a Subaru) because these types of things have never interested him. But when it comes to his passion, cycling, he spares no expense. As the pandemic stretches into the holiday season, piling on additional stress to an already stressful time, it is important to remind ourselves what keeps us going in the first place. No matter what, you cannot allow yourself to get sucked into COVID’s doom and gloom. If you do, there is no way that your momentum can last. Figure out what makes you and your family happy, then do it. Celebrate!