How One Simple Practice Can Enhance Your Career Growth

Nov 01, 2021

By Sunday Tollefson MBA, PMP®

The act of celebrating, according to Merriam-Webster, means to perform a ceremony publicly and with appropriate rites, by refraining from ordinary business, marking with festivities or deviation from routine." We certainly celebrate in our lives, but do we celebrate enough? (No.) And can we use celebration to drive our career?  (Yes.) If the answer is yes, who should we celebrate and, specific to professional women, why is it so important?

In this article, you'll learn nine reasons why we should spend more time celebrating and 15 simple ways to celebrate others, along with several real-world examples of celebrations and their outcomes.  

Why should we celebrate achievements? 

  1. When it comes to leadership, role modeling both team and individual celebrations improves team morale and develops a positive culture. This is a great way to inspire your team and community. As a bonus, someone might choose to celebrate you and your achievement. 
  2. When we allow others to celebrate us, we allow visibility into our magnificence without having to endure the societal penalty levied upon us for celebrating our own accomplishments. Women are less likely to boast, brag, disclose, mention, or celebrate achievements for two reasons: (1) we are trained from an early age to not “toot our own horn” (and if we do, we must preface it with an apology), and (2) there is a societal penalty for speaking about our achievements. That societal bind is difficult to escape, and when someone else makes a big deal out of our achievement, that relieves us of the bind. In this case, we don’t have to apologize, we don’t have to speak it, we don’t have to brace ourselves for the blowback. We just have to enjoy the celebration and graciously accept the congratulations.
  3. Celebrations can transcend pay grade levels at work. Imagine a respected, accomplished person – say, a level or two above you in your organization – invited you to coffee, to celebrate your job, project, publication, birthday, new car, new home, you name it.  How would you feel about it? What would you expect? What would you hope for? 
  4. Now let's flip the script. Imagine that same colleague has nailed a preferred project or accepted a great promotion. What if you were to invite them to coffee to celebrate?  They might accept your offer to celebrate them. Even if they weren't able to accept your offer, they benefit from the reminder that they are worth celebrating
  5. Celebrating people reminds us to take time out to acknowledge our positive traits and characteristics, not to mention our positive relationships with one another. That break is often an opportunity to reset our emotional or psychological state. 
  6. Celebrating creates a sense unity among team members, invests in community, and builds camaraderie. These are all great aspects of team development, and by default, team leadership. 
  7. Celebrations lift everyone involved and have ripple effects out into our communities. The positive energy of a celebration is highly contagious. Consider that many of us can't help but sing "happy birthday" for a stranger when the restaurant staff launches into the song.
  8. By celebrating together, we build trust in one another. When we are celebrated, we feel that our positive traits are recognized, which fulfills a deep psychological need for acceptance. 
  9. Celebrating relieves stress. We are all adapting to constant stress, which hinders our productivity, creativity, and restorative rest. Celebrations move us into a better head space. Stress reduction heightens innovative thinking.
  10. When we celebrate our hard work, good choices, or accomplishments, we are motivated to dig deep and do it again. 
  11. Leaning into someone else's milestone often gives them permission to let down their guard and savor the moment.
  12. Fundamentally, it feels good to be a part of a culture that celebrates. Recognition makes a difference. When accomplishments and hard work are not recognized, it results in diminished morale and higher team attrition. 

When others celebrate us, we celebrate others, and vice versa. A person-to-person celebration may be a direct reciprocal relationship or it may be a pay-it-forward situation. In any case, the more we celebrate in ways small and large, the more we create a positive culture. How can we sprinkle more celebration into our personal and professional lives?

For ourselves, we might celebrate: 

  • achieving a health goal such as doing yoga 60 times in 60 days. 
  • being strong during a difficult time when in the past, we might have been weak. 
  • completing a professional license, specific certificate, or academic credential. 
  • selling a big idea to the leadership team.
  • being asked to speak on our expertise topic.
  • paying off a student loan.
  • earning a good performance review.
  • negotiating a job offer.

 For others, we might celebrate: 

  • a friend for getting the keys to her first property. 
  • a colleague for getting a promotion. 
  • a former classmate for getting published in a major media outlet. 
  • an anniversary marking a special event, like a number of years in a job. 
  • completing a professional license, specific certificate, or academic credential. 
  • handling a difficult situation with grace.
  • being nominated for an award.
  • finally hiring a housekeeper.

Let's look at three real-life examples of celebrations and their affects.  

  • Recently my friend Laurie accepted my dinner invitation to celebrate job offer, her acceptance, and her upcoming start date. I had noted "Celebrating Laurie's new job" when completing the online reservation. The restaurant staff made a custom menu of their own accord, which read, "Congratulations, Laurie" across the top. She was delighted and, as she told me later, it inspired her to celebrate others more often as well. More on that in a bit.
  • A colleague discovered it was my birthday and insisted on buying me a glass of wine to celebrate. I was flattered, although I really didn't know what to do with that gesture. Should I buy her a glass of wine back? Write a thank you note? Gush over how wonderful she was? As it turns out, I didn't need to do any of those. We met at the appointed time and place. We sat and talked for more than an hour together. That gesture reminded me that I was worth celebrating. The experience was also a great template for how to celebrate someone else, simply, without fanfare.  Above that, it gave me a boost, a lift, an assurance that I was accepted, included, worthy, valuable, and that she saw my potential. 
  • My former colleague Natalie resisted celebrating the closing of her house refinance. This refinance was effectively the "financial independence" finish line she had been seeking for so long. Decades, really. Well worth celebrating. When she received a "housewarming" gift of stemless wine glasses from me, it tipped the scales for her. She finally started acknowledging and celebrating her own milestone.

Here is an example of the impact a celebration had on Laurie. She posted to her social media timeline about her reaction.

And here's how Natalie responded to getting a surprise celebration gift of the glasses:

In fact, weeks after that gift arrived, Natalie was still celebrating - and sending me pics of her stemless glasses at work. 

Celebrating our professional colleagues is an overlooked practice. But we need more of it. Celebration reduces stress, builds trust, increases creativity, motivates us, and bonds us. 

Conscious, intentional celebration of others is a career hack you can use to grow your confidence, career, and community. It doesn’t have to be a grand or expensive gesture – a celebratory cup of coffee or even a simple email will do the trick.

Further, when we celebrate women, we accelerate the collective rise of girls and women, moving the needle on advancing women to higher levels of influence.

A rising tide lifts all boats. Get that ripple started by celebrating someone today. 

© Sunday Tollefson

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What do you think? What is a recent celebration you have experienced? Something you did to celebrate your own accomplishment? Something you did to celebrate someone else? Comment on the LinkedIn article. 



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