Happy Birthday!

Happy Birthday!

By Alan Hancock

With Grow Exeter celebrating its first birthday this month after a storming first year in business, I’ve been reflecting on the concept of milestones; their significance and value in relation to the personal growth and development of the people involved and the benefits of celebration.

Until now, I’d never really taken the time to fully appreciate why we celebrate milestones. I simply accepted that it’s just some arbitrary thing that we do as a society; whilst taking full advantage of the free cake that usually accompanies them. Indeed, at work, the recent forty-year service celebrations of a stalwart colleague was greeted, in my customary fashion, as I announced that you got less time for murder. A tongue in cheek comment on the environment in which we work rather than the commitment and dedication of the individual himself which is, of course, beyond reproach.

It wasn’t apparently obvious to me, but the point of celebrating isn’t just about the fun and enjoyment that comes with a party. Psychologically, taking the time to celebrate or creating a feeling of celebration in the work environment can have a huge impact on the physical and emotional wellbeing of a colleague or a team.

Judith E Glaser is an author, CEO and self-described Organisational Anthropologist who applies neuroscience to business challenges in order to positively affect engagement, collaboration and innovation. She suggests that

“Celebration Conversations elevate the levels of such “feel good” chemicals as oxytocin and the endorphins—neuropeptides produced in the central nervous system. Their release into our system gives us a sense of well-being, creating a safety space that enables us to experiment, take risks, learn and handle the challenges of growing the business.” (Psychology Today)

In a professional sense, it’s about bringing people together to recognise the efforts of everyone who played a part; to increase motivation and to enable them to have the confidence to contribute their ideas and solutions. Having a positive view of what we have achieved and what our capabilities are, is hugely influential on our future productivity and personal development. It strengthens the bonds between friends and family; colleagues and teams and provides the opportunity to reaffirm a collective or individual resolution to the tasks ahead.

The petty cynic within me just itches to scoff at that idea but having truly felt invested in the success of this publication through my own contributions; it’s something to which my eyes have been opened.

Something else to consider is that we live in an age where success is increasingly measured and defined by the various types of milestones we’ve reached. It can be easy to get bogged down in the process of life, where striving towards and reaching these targets becomes a mundane ‘box ticking’ exercise. With the influence of social media comes a pressure to get that house, get that promotion or travel the world as quickly as you can, as proof that you’re keeping up with socially agreed norms; as fluid and changeable as they are, these days. Indeed, they’re almost celebrated with as much vigour as birthdays and anniversaries, but I don’t believe it should be that way.

As a way of signposting our achievements or checking off the goals we’ve set for ourselves,  milestones are important but arguably, what’s more important and more valuable to our development, is the meaning that we attribute to them and the emotions they engender when we acknowledge them. Often, when you’ve got your head down, working hard towards that goal, there’s a tendency to lose track of the why behind your actions. By way of introspection, these milestones provide the marker points between your past self and your present self; they allow us the opportunity to evaluate and understand the nature of the change that’s taken place over the course of time and to use that knowledge to prepare for the next step.

I’ve since learned that there is as much to be gained in terms of personal wellbeing in cherishing and celebrating the little things life has to offer just as much as the truly momentous occasions. We each face our own unique challenges; what is easy for one, could be difficult for another and so downplaying a seemingly insignificant achievement because you don’t believe it measures up to the standards of someone else, is simply a way of feeding your own self-doubt. Celebrate every genuine, meaningful milestone, big or small.

I relate this to my own journey with Grow Exeter which began in November 2017, a month after the launch of their inaugural issue, fittingly entitled ‘Embrace the Journey’. As a retail worker with ideas above his station, flicking through that first issue and getting an initial sense of the style and tone they wanted to set, as well as the subject matter they were looking to cover; what struck me, was how much my mindset differed from theirs and how daunted I was by the prospect of providing content for them. They were (and still are) positive, upbeat and enthusiastic about supporting and celebrating the successes of the people in this city and are willing to work hard to realise their dreams and ambitions. It was something different to what I was used to and a hugely inspirational and pivotal moment in my life.

When presented with the opportunity, I was filled with a mixture of emotions ranging from overwhelming self-doubt to barely contained excitement. Having only written as a pastime to amuse my friends; I was now writing for a brand-new magazine with an innovative, refreshing outlook and I realised that, if I was to succeed and repay the faith shown in me, it was time to take myself seriously. I had to explore whatever talent I thought I had because, ultimately, I felt I owed it to myself to at least try. Even though I hadn’t actually accomplished anything up until then, taking that first step, strengthening my resolve and committing to the challenge, was a huge turning point for me. That, in itself, was a milestone; it’s something I look back on with immense pride and I’m determined to build upon it. Each issue since has acted as a marker along that road, as my own outlook slowly changes and evolves for the better, influenced by the Grow ethos and by the truly inspirational people they feature.

It’s fair to say that Grow Exeter is in the business of celebrating milestones daily. Mine, yours, everyone’s. Their commitment to cheerleading the success stories of both businesses and individuals as well as highlighting innovative, alternative approaches and challenging the status quo, is all part of their vision and it’s incredibly beneficial and rewarding to those involved. Whether that be the incredible work they did to showcase Exeter’s 100 Most Influential Women, featured throughout February and March this year, or their most recent initiative, Grow Green, a scheme aimed at encouraging businesses in the area to pledge to reduce plastic waste, limit energy consumption and explore the use of renewable alternatives, amongst others.

In my view, Exeter is fortunate to have that “relentlessly positive” voice right in the heart of the city, looking to spotlight and champion the people working hard to contribute to its continuing growth. From the smallest, quirkiest startup to the big, established names. I’m incredibly grateful and proud to have played even a minuscule part in that success and wish to congratulate them on a fantastically successful first year.

Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

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