In a recent New Yorker article, highlighting how HGTV is planning on reinventing itself to better appeal to our stay-at-home, DIY-while-you-stream aspirations, Loren Ruch, the network’s executive of development and production, pointed out a significant human insight:
“I love doing this, because ninety-five per cent of the people who are participating are celebrating one of the best days of their life. They find a new house! Or they’re fixing up an existing house. They’re selling a house, moving on. You’re proud to have your name in the credits.”
Ian Parker, the writer of the feature, rightfully pointed out that “unlike much reality television, HGTV shows tell stories about people having a happy experience that is an actual milestone in life.”
This is exactly the reason why we find this type of content comforting. It’s aspirational enough to keep us engaged (If they could do it, I can, too), but it also celebrates our shared humanity. Our mirror neurons get activated, and for those 45 minutes, we can share in the euphoria of those milestone moments unfolding on the screen under the hopeful hue of studio lights.
Milestone moments are the type of experiences that engage all our senses and etch themselves in our memory forever. They are the episodes in our life that we can remember, in detail, years later on our deathbed. Weddings, births, and graduations are easy examples. Other, more veiled examples, could include the first time we initiated a difficult conversation or the first time someone needed us and we came through. We might not consider these latter examples milestones per se, but I’m sure we could recall them with just as much vivid ease.
I will explore this topic from both a personal and professional lens, as I think they each could uncover valuable insights about not only living more meaningfully but also using our professional platforms to make others’ celebrations magical. This, in turn, will create brand loyalty and exceptional service cultures. The two spheres are actually somewhat beautifully interconnected.
I can still provide a pretty accurate play-by-play of many of my life’s ‘firsts’. Some early highlights include asking on my first day of elementary school when nap time was, and to my great horror, hearing the teacher respond there will be no more naps from now on. I still have clear flashbacks of my first international trip when I was seven. We were still living in Romania at the time and went to visit family friends in Cyprus for a few weeks. It marked the first time I ever flew. I remember obscure details, such as what I was wearing (a green Harry Potter t-shirt and shorts), what Alitalia served on the short hop between Rome and Larnaca (two ham, cheese, and cucumber sandwiches, which I found delicious), and I’ll never forget sighting a palm tree for the very first time (and with it, smelling the salty Mediterranean air, which I remember feeling humid and heavy). Of course, I won’t ever forget walking in on my dad kissing my mother’s belly one evening and realizing (for the very first time) that I’ll be having a sibling.
How would our life be different if we engaged with our days the same way we experience milestone moments? If we’d embrace mundane events with the same vitality and presence, our recollection powers would probably place us in the same rank as those with highly superior autobiographical memories. We’d remember nearly everything!
We don’t, however, given that ‘milestone moments’ represent a milestone for a reason: they are unique, significant and bespoke in a way. They mark a turning point in our life, a development in our unique personal dramas.
There is something to be said, however, about bringing a bit of this presence to our daily lives. If we look closely enough, we experience a lot of ‘firsts,’ but not all call our attention; they often only later sneak up on us during quiet contemplation.
For example, just the other day I walked in to pick up a latte from Honolulu Coffee, a Hawaiian-inspired coffee shop next door, and tried ube bread for the very first time. It’s a purple yam loaf that reminded me of banana bread if baked for a funfair, with a few drops of magenta colouring and some pistachio flavouring plopped in the mix.
The barista sold me on it, offered to heat it up, and even stepped out on the patio later to ask for my verdict. We could easily discount the chit-chat as good service (which it was), but I’ll forever connect ube bread to Honolulu Coffee now.
I’m not arguing having a funky-coloured baked treat is as monumental as our first day of school or the birth of our first child, but the sentiment holds true: the more we count something as special and focus on the details that make it so, the more we’ll cherish mundane moments and turn them into ones to remember. The more senses we engage with, the more likely we are to remember the experience.
Ask yourself: What is your relationship with celebrating milestones? Growing up, how significant were those celebrations? What was even celebrated in your culture? How do you record the day-to-day? Is there anything you can do to improve the safekeeping of quotidian moments?
This brings me to my next point: there’s always an opportunity in our professional life to sprinkle a bit of this celebratory spirit to make others’ moments special.
Successful brands understand this. The hospitality industry, for example, does this exceptionally well. We celebrate our anniversaries over gourmet meals and our honeymoons in private cabanas at nice resorts. We save up for these experiences because we know they come with a lifetime guarantee of memories.
When my brother was 12, he opened his first account at my local TD branch. On that chilly spring afternoon, he walked in with his stuffed piggy bank and ran towards the coin counter machine. He was still a tad short so the staff had to place a step for him to reach. When he started pouring all the change in the machine, everyone joined in a clap. My mom took photos. The branch manager gave him a brand new (branded) money box so he could keep saving. Overwhelmed by happiness, and newfound adult-like responsibilities, he turned around and asked my mom: “If I save $1,000 a year, could I have enough for university?”
Service sector businesses know that creating meaningful experiences builds brand loyalty. The customer chooses to share an intimate life moment with your company. The stakes are just as high as the rewards.
I want to stretch our thinking even further. It’s not just the hospitality or service industry that can benefit from this level of attention to detail and service excellence. Any professional serving other stakeholders — which is pretty much all of us — can identify opportunities to make others’ experiences memorable. It can be as simple as sending a congratulatory note when a colleague delivers an excellent first presentation for a new project or taking a moment to offer some words of encouragement on the new hire’s successful completion of the first day on the job.
Ask yourself: How can you think about your company’s branding and service delivery in the context of celebrating milestones? Are there any opportunities to establish processes that make it easier for your staff to celebrate customers? When was the last time you celebrated a coworker on a professional milestone? Who is in your area of influence and what can you do today to celebrate their successes?
There are millions of ‘firsts’ all around us. The adage, in helping others you help yourself, holds true: celebrating those around us not only feels good, but it also nudges us to be mindful of the many important milestone moments in our own lives worth celebrating, however big or small. To quote back Loren Ruch, a milestone celebrated imprints the event in the credits forever, and when it’s time to take stock of our lives, we’ll love seeing all those moments roll on the screen of our memories.