Ever wonder what would happen if you worked as hard at home as you do at…work?
I don’t hang on to surprises for very long. Whether it’s giving gifts early or revealing the destination before we get in the car, I’m not great at building anticipation. But, this time my wife turned 30 and absolutely begged me to surprise her…somehow.
Complicating the matter is that I threw my business partner a surprise party last June and it turned out great. I wouldn’t say I shot myself in the foot but the bar was definitely higher than normal. To execute a meaningful, memorable birthday for the love of my life I needed to bring my A-game, the same level of focus I take to work every day at Bush Smarts.
I attacked the birthday with three prongs of surprises: a bar night #1, a bakery party #2 and an overnight getaway without our little tyke #3. It felt just like a marketing campaign; her birthday would be “everywhere.” The result was absolutely spectacular, and we reaped the benefits for weeks after (wink, wink).
Timing is Everything
If you plan too early you increase the chance that she’s going to find out. We have lots of friends in our neighborhood that we see all the time. Someone would talk. I did my research, picked my locations and sent invites about 1.5 weeks out via Facebook and Paperless Post.
There’s No I in Team
My wife knows that I’m a creature of habit and if I deviate from the norm then something is up. I employed her friends to help execute the plan. One friend acted as the invitation to the bakery (#2) and another as the overnight babysitting for our son (#3). Other friends bought the cakes and smaller distractions to keep her on her toes.
War is a Game of Deception
The bar night (#1) was a red herring. She knew that she would have some kind of surprise, so I gave her that one early. On the night that we usually hang out with neighborhood friends she arrived to find a note saying everyone migrated to a bar. That was a giveaway, but that’s fine – it was supposed to be that way.
In the spirit of secrecy, I made sure to log out of social media accounts (notifications), didn’t let her see my phone and even skirted around booking the getaway with AirBnB – because we share that account. The easy alibi for “why can’t I see your phone?” is “some of your friends may have a surprise, and you don’t want to ruin it.”
Don’t Punish the Market
My wife is a stay-at-home Mom, so many of her friends can’t go out at night very easily. The solution was simple: the second surprise party for her and all of the other Moms at her favorite pie shop. Friends who couldn’t make the bar night were also invited.
Overall I wanted #2 to be an acknowledgement that I understand how socially isolating it can be to work an odd schedule and it was also a way for our son to celebrate with his Mom. It’s essential to listen to your market, right?
Be Willing to Sacrifice
Because I had three tricks up my sleeve (plan for the worst) I knew that if she discovered one of the surprises it could work to my benefit, because she would let her guard down about the others.
I almost had to spoil the bakery surprise, because she was running extremely late getting there. My son was throwing a fit that morning and that delayed meeting the decoy friend. I was waiting around the block so that I could dash in and grab my son’s overnight things. It took forever for her to leave!
Dictate the Tempo
Control when and how the experience unveils .
On the day of her birthday my wife thought that I went to work, per usual. When I knew she was on the way to Surprise #2, I texted her saying to be in a certain place at a certain time, in certain attire–also that someone would be at our house to watch our son. That was another red herring; she expected us to go somewhere that night.
Her friends texted me at the end of the party and I arrived behind her out of nowhere with a bag packed for the coup de grâce…
Paint the Picture
The main event was an overnight in Montauk, NY without our little guy. Because I’m a small business owner and the family breadwinner, we don’t get a lot of time alone together.
I wanted the trip to be reminiscent of our honeymoon (3+ years ago) where we drove across the Spanish countryside eating ham and cheese sandwiches on baguettes, enjoying carefree time.
Weeks prior I booked a small cottage a short walk from the beach. It had a BBQ on the deck and a wood stove inside. As strange as it sounds to non-Brooklynites, having a BBQ is an incredible feature for us. Earlier in the morning I picked up steaks, directly from the butcher and luckily had just collected our CSA the day prior for some potatoes and vegetables. Shoutout to Tim Ferriss / The Four Hour Chef for the recipe on Cooking the Perfect Steak.
Normally you would think cooking dinner and doing the dishes would be arduous for a birthday, but again it was a glimpse of our romance before we had our son and like most parents by the end of the trip we were missing the little guy. Variety is the spice of life.
Needless to say the triple-threat of surprises led my wife to call this her best birthday ever. I enjoyed telling her how things were planned along the way and it was an underhanded encouragement for her to be on-time in the future (so she doesn’t miss surprise parties)!
Going into the plan, I had the same anxiousness as a product launch, but as it unfolded the same joy and sense of accomplishment.
My high-performance business mind transferred perfectly into the ideal surprise planner for my wife, but that’s the problem.
It was sobering to realize how “on point” my thinking is when I’m working but how relaxed I can be (mentally) when going home to my wife and son.
They deserve my best too, so my takeaway is to save a bit more of myself for not just birthdays but the everyday joys that make marriage and kids so rewarding.
If you’re interested in more stories of performance strategy mixed with family life, I invite you to subscribe to my book updates. It outlines great advice in the “big steps” of adulthood and how to keep smiling when you fall down (again and again).