23 August 2017

Hafiz Adewuyi

Happy Birthday: It's your turn to put the people in your life in their true place

Back when I worked at the bank, it was customary for a birthday celebrant to share cakes, small chops, drinks and sometimes, full meals (rice and chicken) to colleagues on their birthday. However, because it happens to be a bank head office, which has hundreds of staff in one location, except you fell into the generous manager's category, it was unlikely that your 'birthday bounty' would reach everyone in the office, even if the news of it definitely would.

Creative happy birthday design elements vector art Source

Of course, as a celebrant, this scarcity of resources puts you in a place where you have to choose which subset of staff would be recipients of your birthday bounty. The average celebrant's approach was to put their immediate team members (average of about 20 people) at the top of the beneficiaries list. Also, the celebrant's favourite managers and the less-favourite ones who happen to be the celebrant's direct/indirect managers usually have an automatic place on the list.

Outside these satisfy-them-or-die demographics, of course, lies everyone else. From this group, it is now clear that only the celebrant's favourites will get a taste of the bounty. Celebrants would typically write a (VIP) list and appoint a colleague as mercenary to dispatch the birthday bounty to this special group of people who are usually across different teams and sometimes, in another building entirely.

Everyone else, who of course cannot easily be shielded from the news that the birthday celebrant has skipped over them in their generosity spree is left to grapple with their new found knowledge of their importance (or lack thereof) to the celebrant.

Of course, inevitably (since I was no manager), most of the time, I was in the category of unimportant masses whom, if they were lucky, would get a tiny piece of sponge cake which has more icing than actual cake. Left with no choice but to look with envy at those special beings who happen to fall into today's celebrant's VIP list.

The worst of these times for me was when I actually felt betrayed by not having been put on the celebrant's VIP list. You know, those people who you think you actually have a good relationship with and if there were to be any such categorization as this, then you would definitely fall into their good books.

One example which happened earlier this year (2017) was particularly painful, so much so as to ruin most of my productivity for the rest of the day with surging emotions of anger. In my team of three or four developers, each member except me got a pack of small chops and a can of soft drink. The celebrant happened to be a member of the product management team with whom I used to work closely until recently when a change in my duties meant that we had very little work in common.

All that my lizard brain could interpret from this exclusion was that she didn't consider me as having contributed any noteworthy part to her achieving her career goals in the organization. My more reasonable side tried to convince me that this was probably just an innocent oversight. But no, this lizard was not having any of that palliative bullshit.

I got really mad because I felt that I deserved some of this birthday love for all the past times we had worked together to achieve some organizational goal. In fact, the only reason I didn't confront the celebrant that day was that I felt it was distasteful to question someone's intentions on their special day. After all, it's not like they actually owe me anything.


Being fully aware of how bad it makes me feel when I'm skipped over to receive a birthday bounty (especially when I think I deserve it), my stance was to just not share anything at all on my own birthday. For me, it's better that no one feels special and that everyone considers me a stingy mofo than to make some feel special and then alienate the rest of the unimportant masses.

As you can imagine, I had to argue this stance with my immediate team members severally.

My colleagues' argument You partake in the bounty of other (immediate) team members. Why then would you decide to go missing when it's your turn to pay it forward? How would you feel if, on a team member's birthday, you do not receive a bounty while every other team member does? This is what we're going to do to you if you refuse to declare a bounty on your own birthday.

My counter-argument You realize that at no point did I move to convince any other team member to declare a bounty? They did it of their own free will and I'm only happy to share out of their generosity. However, I think the magnanimity of it is eliminated if it becomes mandatory.

Like, what is the freaking point of buying food for everyone in the team if, in the ideal scenario, you would still get the favour back when other people pay it forward by sharing their bounties within the same team on their own birthday? We could as well just keep our monies to ourselves and buy ourselves a special meal every once in a while.

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