Why I was terrified of having a 40th birthday party

I was pretty freaked out at the prospect of turning 30, but honestly 40 didn’t seem that big of a deal. I’m pretty proud of what I’ve achieved in my life thus far and with the years has come an increased level of self knowledge and self confidence. So why was I so terrified at the idea of having a party to celebrate such a milestone?

I really did want to have a party and to celebrate with the people I love. And since about this time last year I had been planning, dreaming, and spending way too much time on Pinterest, to come up with killer ideas to make my 40th birthday memorable. But every time I settled on an idea I would change my mind. Maybe a weekend away would be better? Or maybe a yacht on the harbour would be cool? Why don’t I do one of those perfectly styled lunches under a tree with fairy lights and co-ordinated tableware (ok, step AWAY from the Pinterest board). Any of these ideas would have been great, totally possible and probably great fun, but to do it I would actually need to invite people – and that was my major stumbling block.

The truth was that I was totally shit-scared of rejection. I really didn’t want to find out that I wasn’t important to the people who were important to me. And so the easiest option was to just do nothing and that is what I did: nothing. The actual day of my birthday was really great, hubby made a huge deal of it and made me feel totally special. I got some awesome presents, we hung out on the beach (kid-free!), went out for a beautiful lunch at Jonah’s and spent some family time together in the evening. But the party I had so wanted was not in the mix, nor on the horizon.

Thankfully, I have a good friend who is definitely not scared of a party. I think it’s true that sometimes you need a little encouragement to get yourself out of your comfort zone, and on that day she was there to metaphorically push me out of the plane door. One minute we were lazing on the beach, chatting away (“Yeah, Nah, I don’t think I’ll have a party after all…) and the next minute she had created a Facebook event for lunch the following Saturday. It’s fair to say that what started as a very relaxing Sunday morning, quickly turned into an anxiety-filled day. Multiple days, actually.

Firstly I stressed about who to invite, “will they think I’m weird for inviting them?” And then I stressed about who I didn’t invite, “will they be offended if they find out I didn’t invite them?” And then I stressed out about who would actually come, “do they even care; am I important enough?” At this point you are either thinking that I am a neurotic lunatic… or you are nodding your head in agreement. Since talking about my fear of rejection (AKA Fear of Hosting a Party) I have spoken to many people who have the same fear. Isn’t it funny how we sometimes think we are the only person who feels a certain way – that is almost never the case.

Wanting to belong is a very human trait. Scientists believe that we are neuro-biologically hardwired for connection and belonging, it’s integral to our survival as a species. It’s not something weird and it most certainly isn’t anything to be ashamed of. But the irony is that our need for connection, and the fear of rejection that accompanies it, is often what keeps us the most disconnected. It is what keeps us from talking to a new person at a party, or speaking up in a meeting, or even holding a party with all your friends for your freaking 40th birthday!

And so, I am happy to report that the world did not end when that Facebook event was created. Despite the initial anxiety that I felt around the potential rejection, the reality was nowhere near as terrifying. And despite giving people less than a week’s notice, many of my close friends made a huge effort to come along. I even had some old friends and some new ones who totally surprised me and came too. But the most surprising thing was that the ‘rejections’ weren’t nearly as painful as I had built them up to be in my mind. I didn’t let my anxiety override my rational brain when some people already had plans, new babies, or were unable to make it from interstate. It didn’t make me feel less loved or less important, it was just the way it was.

In the end we were a modest group of 12 people, but even if not everyone important to me was there, everyone who was there was important to me. We had some great conversation, we laughed, I got to try an Aperol Spritz (slightly late to the party, apparently they’re so 2015) and I got to celebrate being alive for 40 amazing years.

If I hadn’t pushed through the anxiety, and yes ok, been slightly nudged to take the leap, I wouldn’t have had the chance to experience the fun and felt the love from that day. Sometimes I feel like despite all my musings around getting outside of my comfort zone, it’s the most unexpected places that I discover my resistance. But recognising that resistance and stepping into the feelings of discomfort always provides me with an opportunity for reflection, growth and a huge amount of satisfaction. Happy birthday to me!



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