If I were to describe my public “brand”, it’d be something to do with donuts.
Many people know that I enjoy donuts. So much so that when I give a talk at a company about web performance, often there’s a platter of donuts waiting, or audience members bring me a beautifully-wrapped donut afterward. People send me donut-themed gifts (though I am at a point where I have enough donut notepads and cards; thanks anyway! Please send actual donuts). My book release party had stacks of delicious mini donuts, and sometimes coworkers deliver donuts to my desk. So why the theme?
In 2013, I began celebrating career achievements by eating a donut. I had found that whenever something awesome happened in my career—maybe I got published, or promoted, or launched a project—I wouldn’t take the time to celebrate the achievement. I’m an achiever by nature, the kind who feels like every day starts at zero. Not deliberately marking these moments left me feeling like I wasn’t actually accomplishing anything. “Oh cool, that A List Apart article went up,” I would think, then move on with my day.
Once I realized that this was happening, I decided to be deliberate about marking achievements by eating one donut. Well, sometimes more than one, if it’s a really big deal. The act of donut-eating has actually helped me feel like I’m accomplishing my career goals. As I started to share this idea with more people, I found that it resonated with others, especially career-driven women who are routinely achieving goals and furthering their career but don't take the time to note their own success.
I decided to start celebrating in a public way so that more people may be inspired to find their own ways of marking their career achievements. These are those donuts. And now they’re what I’m known for.
So why have these achievement donuts resonated so deeply?
As women, we’re socialized to not publicly celebrate our achievements. I toe this line with the donuts. By pointing at a donut I can say, “hey, I did a thing” — without necessarily naming that thing or potentially coming off too braggy. It’s an incredibly fine line to walk, and there has been some private fallout about the published donuts. I’ve heard from men that they “don’t like” that I document and share these posts. I’ve heard tales of women, behind closed doors, who will say it’s too much, too public, too show-off-y.
Even in this section, I’m struggling to find the “right” way to explain that I have some substantial career achievements and am well-known within a section of the tech industry — without rewriting this sentence dozens of times to avoid sounding like I think I’m a big deal. Given that I have a non-trivial (there I go again) audience, and as a female figure in tech, what do I do with the self-imposed responsibility of showcasing a healthy way to champion oneself? How do I strike that balance between rubbing people the wrong way and being out there with bells on?
It’s ingrained in our society to coach women to not talk about their achievements, and yet we desperately want women to do so. I’ve seen many a celebratory GIF retweeted, electronically applauding for a woman who has done something awesome. I see so many women right now raising others up and praising them, too, and it's so great.
I think that’s why the donuts have resonated. When I tell women about it, often their first reaction is to think about what they should be celebrating right now, or what their version of a donut could be. I think that women need more models of achievement celebration. Julie Ann Horvath is a great example; I love seeing her tweets of accomplishments.
It’s true that this behavior is triggering to others — men and women alike. We all have unconscious biases buried in our brains. But I’m asking you: please do not let this prevent you from publicly celebrating your achievements. For me, sitting down with purpose and intention to inhale a donut means that I’m spending that moment celebrating a win. It means that I will feel like I’m really achieving something, and that I deserve a moment to enjoy it. We all deserve that, and we all deserve to see more models of it from other women. Find your donut.