The Discipline of Celebration

(With apologies to Richard Foster and his spiritual classic book A Celebration of Discipline). In conversation after conversation with leaders I am recognizing that one of our great weaknesses is the inability to appreciate and enjoy success properly. It seems we treat achievements as something to promote to some staff and certainly all donors, but our tendency is to immediately move past the moment of attainment and into the next problem or challenge. This is unhealthy for us and damaging to our organizations. It is also neurologically predictable. In their very insightful book Switch, Chip and Dan Heath explain how humans are hard wired to give our attention to potential threats, which is a survival advantage, but a community killer. It may get us through a season of opportunity or difficulty, but it cannot sustain the motivation needed to maintain discretionary effort. Almost every leader I talk to admits they have a hard time celebrating when things go well. That always rubs off on our team eventually, sapping the entire organization of energy and optimism. Even acclaimed football coach Urban Meyer found out that players won’t attend a celebration dinner after a big win if the coach never shows up. Being attentive to threats is a necessary biological function, but I believe celebration is a necessary emotional one. It provides the “why” that sustains when the “what” and “how” are faltering. More than that, it is truly a spiritual exercise. One of the discernable themes of the Christian New Testament is a call to give attention to the best of things rather than the worst, and in the Torah the Jews were required to use 10% of their annual earnings in a lavish festival. I challenge charity leaders to become skilled at celebrating. This requires intent and commitment. So, I’d love to hear some celebration stories. Not the kinds of promotional progress reports found on your website or donor letters. I’d like to see a picture of you and your Canadian nonprofit holding some kind of sincere celebration for something good that is happening with a brief description of the reason for the party and of how you went about it. I’ll post some of the best responses that are emailed to me, and I’m going to come up with some way to add to the celebration for my favourite one. Who’s in?