How I went from being lonely to being the life of the party – by being myself

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Seven years ago today, I spent my birthday alone and unhappy. I woke up to a beautiful summer day, put on one of my favorite floral dresses, and went to work at a job that was wasn’t at all fulfilling. It was an uneventful yet emotional day. I came home from work, prepared a light salad, took a rooftop yoga class, and watched the sun set over the Hudson River. Then I cried myself to sleep.

I woke up the next morning to another beautiful summer day, and said out loud, “This will never happen again!” ‘If no one is calling me to get together, then I’ll have to be the one to take action and reach out.’ The irony was painfully obvious. I was an expert at building professional relationships. I networked for a living – both then and now. But I was too afraid of personal rejection to focus on building real friendships. I had to face my fear, and my insecurities, and get over them. I wasn’t popular, or cool, or confident, in high school – but I wasn’t in high school anymore. I had grown up, moved to New York all by myself, started new careers, and eagerly conquered my fear of talking to strangers. I was respected professionally and knew interesting people all over the country. I was becoming the person I was meant to be. And yet, I felt alone and unloved. Then I remembered that I was bright, caring and dynamic – and that I was also a fantastic event planner. I’ve planned networking events, conferences, fundraisers, opening night parties, casino nights, and many other special events for many different causes. I’d planned surprise parties for friends back home, and organized two surprise parties for my mother  – and surprised her both times.

So the day after that depressing birthday, I called a few business acquaintances and organized drinks at a hot new rooftop bar for the next week. If I had to plan my own damn party, it had to be fabulous! Some of the women already know each other casually, and some had never met. I wasn’t particularly close to any of them, but they seemed interesting, personable and eager to connect. As women do, we bonded, shared, and got to know each other better. And I told them my sad birthday story. And I told them about my new attitude, and my quest for new friends. I thanked them for accepting my invitation and joining me that night – regardless of the actual reason or date. They thanked me for introducing them, and surprised me with a cupcake (or was it a mojito?) with a candle in it.

The next summer, I kept my promise to myself and planned my own party. I invited a small group of friends and acquaintances for cocktails on my actual birthday, at another scenic Manhattan rooftop bar. My guests had fun, I had fun, and I wasn’t lonely anymore. The next year, I invited even more people  – and they all showed up. I made it a point to thank each person for coming. What touched me the most was that each person made a point of thanking me – for introducing them to valuable business connections, for bringing interesting people together, and for organizing such a fun networking event. The guest list keeps expanding every year, as even more friends, clients, business buddies – and their friends, co-workers, prospects, partners, (and a few strangers I met on the street) – show up to network, to socialize, to celebrate with me and to celebrate each other.

And that is why, for the past six years, I have planned “Deena’s Annual Networking / Birthday Bash”. And why I also organize Fireball Network’s Annual “not an official ‘holiday party’ party”, my annual New York-Anniversary Party, and “Meet Mamma Fireball” when my mother comes to town. “Now I know you have real friends”, my mother sighed with relief. “And they are wonderful people”, she added with a smile. I am especially proud that most of my clients have become close friends too. When my friends, clients, collaborators – and all the other fireballs in my life – show up, I know it’s because they want to be there. And from every guest, at every party, I hear the exact same statement: “You know such wonderful people. Thank you so much for including me.”

The lessons I’ve learned from this story are simple and true.

  • You’re not a kid anymore – you have to plan your own play-dates.
  • We are all insecure in our own ways; but we all want to be liked, appreciated, and included.
  • If you’re having a pity party, shut it down. Then organize a people party.
  • Bringing other people together is a wonderful way to make new friends of your own.
  • If you wait for others to make the first move, you may wait a lifetime. If you make the first move, you can create opportunities and relationships that will serve you for the rest of your life.
  • Do everything you can to celebrate yourself on your birthday – and every day!

Happy Birthday to me – and to all of you Fireballs out there!

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