Milestone Birthdays

This week I hit the half-a-century mark. I remember thinking that 50 was pretty old when my parents celebrated this milestone. But, I don’t feel “old” and I’m sure they didn’t either. With a brood of seven, they were still too busy shuttling kids to hockey practice and school activities, and wondering if their college-age kids were staying out of trouble.

I’ve always enjoyed birthdays in a pleasantly haphazard way. I share mild sadness with the rest of the female population over changes in the mirror over time, but mostly I think having birthdays is great! Earlier in life, I would have thought it was inappropriate to plan my own party. My staff has always done a wonderful job of making me feel special on my birthday. My parents and siblings never forgot to call and send me a card. My dear husband is great. He makes wonderful soup and grills a nice steak. Yet gifts and party planning are not on his list of strengths.

This year I had two parties: one planned by a friend, and the other planned by me. It feels strange, all this party business, but I crave connection with my friends and extended family, and I want to celebrate the passage of time with laughter, stories, good food and a nice glass of wine.

Dr. John Sharp, a physician at Beth Israel birthday cakeDeaconess Medical Center in Boston feels that birthdays are important emotional hotspots, and managing them well goes a long way toward health and happiness. He shares, “While birthdays hold deferred angst about aging and death…They more than anything else, are a tribute to life. Birthdays make you reflect on how your life is adding up. We remember how we started out in life, what we wished for, what happened unexpectedly, where we wound up, who we held dear, what happened next.”

A colleague mentioned Pastor Rick Warren, author of The Purpose Driven Life, and his teaching about the phases in life: Survival, Success and Significance. Especially at the half-a-century milestone, and with daily reminders of life’s fragility, I wonder about significance. What happens next? I’ve long thought about doing something significant to mark 50.

A few years ago, I joined a group of women on a trip to Italy to celebrate one of our member’s 50th birthday. I also enjoyed reading in the Fargo Forum about the 25 random acts of kindness that Chantel Sampson did for her 25th. Some people climb a mountain, others run a marathon. Some prefer a spa day, another might go for a picnic. One woman made a bucket list of 50 things that she really wanted to do over the course of her birthday-year.

I read about a woman who filmed herself for the day on her birthday, thinking it would preserve fun memories that her children and grandchildren might enjoy. I found this really interesting because so many of us are reluctant to be filmed or photographed. We feel invisible, and want to remain invisible if we don’t feel perfect.

Newswoman and cancer-fighter Robin Roberts celebrated her 50th at a house party thrown by her sister, and topped it off by giving a $50,000 check to a local charity. Author Seth Godin raised $50,000 for to celebrate his birthday, and I was then inspired by a woman who raised $50,000 on Indiegogo in 50 days prior to her 50th birthday. She vowed to shave her head. Impressive until I read about an Australian man who raised $50,000 and did 50 skydives on his special day. Wow…. A bit overwhelming! Skydiving is definitely not one of my to-do’s.

I’ve added some items to my bucket list of experiences I hope to have in my 50th year. But I decided it didn’t have to be a grand gesture to feel significant. I want to make memories and take pictures and enjoy my son, husband, family and friends. Perhaps I’ve encouraged a few of them enough, and maybe even you, to give $50 to a deserving charity on Giving Hearts Day (Thursday, February 14th) at

I think we all strive for significance, and birthdays make us think about the legacy we will leave. But it doesn’t have to come after success, or even survival. Everyday actions, big and small, usually add up to a life sum greater than its parts.