Birthday Aloha, ‘Imi ola Style

One of the very best things about growing up in Hawai‘i is that we like making a big deal out of people’s birthdays. We party hearty. This starts with a child’s very first birthday, for parents will throw the biggest Baby’s First Lū‘au (feast) they can afford as a way of saying MAHALO for their child’s healthy survival.

Hawai‘i workplaces do birthdays with true Hawaiian style flair and celebration too. There are lei, long lunches, shakas and smiles, and of course cake laden with candles. We have ice cream of every tropical flavor imaginable (the combo of Kona Coffee Ice Cream and Lilikoi Sorbet is the best! With Coconut Haupia cake…mmm). Most of all, we have laughter and tons of hugs.

We’re getting older, we know, but who cares? Age has its advantages.

Where does our “Eh, no shame!” attitude about birthdays come from?

It’s got to be the ALOHA

We in Hawai‘i revere HA‘AHA‘A, the value of humility, and we talk about it often so we can practice it well, however the spirit-spilling of ALOHA helps us keep from being humility-sabotaged. We can completely bypass any feigned humility and go straight to our Aloha Spirit and the value of MAHALO, living our lives in a manner of thankfulness for all who have made us who we are, and who have helped shaped the life we celebrate on the yearly anniversary of our birth.

There are so many people to say “thank you!” to! How can we possibly be shy about that?

A day off for my birthday? Oh no.

“It takes a village” is something I believe heart and soul. At my age, the benefits of family and friends, community and Sense of Place just cannot be denied.

I was never one to take my birthday off when I was in corporate life, even when I could. I loved being around the people who were so much a part of who I was, and what I did. I didn’t worry that my being there added some pressure to others to celebrate with me, for it seemed far worse to deny that celebration, and pretend my birthday didn’t matter. In my beliefs about ‘IMI OLA, birthdays are annual reckoning points with how well I’m doing with crafting the course of my life, and with appreciating those who were such a big part of it. To deny my own birthday and not recognize others within my own awareness and gratitude actually seems ego-ridden, narrow-minded and disrespectful.

When I became a manager, it didn’t take long for me to better understand that acknowledging the birthdays of my staff was very, very important to them too: They needed their day to loom large in my recognition of how vital they were to every single effort we would think about and then labor on. Did I appreciate them, and the immensity of what life had bestowed within their Aloha Spirit? You bet I did.

Great managers celebrate their people, and if you are the steward of any workplace culture – in fact, any gathering culture of our community at all, not just workplaces – I encourage you to make a big, big deal out of the birthdays you know about. Don’t leave this to chance: Make sure you know about all of them. Birthdays will significantly contribute to the ‘OHANA and KĀKOU health of workplace culture, for we all have a birthday: It is a life event which connects us in our shared humanity.

The Birthday Brigade

Birthdays make recognition so easy for everyone to participate with and join in on: The scheming with surprises and celebrations is half the fun of it. At one hotel I’d been with, we had an official Birthday Brigade. They took care of organizing a monthly birthday potluck which we all looked forward to; they took over our cafeteria for the day and even our Executive Chef would admit he could never duplicate such a onolicious spread all on his own. Actual birthday days were celebrated with lei, a special parking spot, banners and balloons, but each month they were newly original, for membership on the Birthday Brigade rotated throughout our staff: Last month’s honorees became next month’s brigade. You can imagine the joyful competitiveness of it all, yet everyone loved it. To be off on your birthday was to miss out big time, and be a spoil sport!

The first year I was self-employed I hadn’t built my business to any notable size yet, and after a working life in the corporate world I felt a bit out of sorts when my birthday approached. Luckily for me, I had friends and family who knew that ‘Imi ola Style birthdays didn’t need workplaces, and I’ve never felt that apprehension again.

Hau‘oli lā hānau – happy birthday to me!

If you haven’t guessed by now, today, April 23rd is my birthday. I love that it’s in April, and always have.

This year, I was determined to have a newly designed be the birthday gift I gave myself as a gift we could share in, and let me tell you, April could not come soon enough once I’d made that decision. It feels so great to write this here! Today my message to you is simply this: You can learn to love your birthday just as I do – and love it a lot. You can learn to celebrate it “out loud” just like I do. Know it is ‘IMI OLA; creating your best possible life, and that the people who care about you want to share in your joy.

What will you want for your next birthday?

I know that my suggesting you be Grand Marshal of your own Birthday Aloha Parade can take some getting used to. So here’s a tip: Make it easy for people to celebrate with you.

Get your brave on, and tell everyone what you want as your birthday gift within their wishes for you. Tell them what you are hoping they’ll say, or ask for specific help.  Wishing people a “happy birthday” in a cheery but more original way is not that easy. If it were, we’d all have jobs penning pithy phrases for Hallmark or some other greeting card company. And come on, you know you can do better than a 140-character tweet or those dutiful quickies on Facebook walls.

So today, I’ll be the April “no shame!” birthday girl you can practice on. If you would like to wish me a happy birthday, do this for me as your birthday Wish Gift in the comments of this post, or any of the others now on the site:

Tell me: Which of the 19 Values of Aloha is your favorite one? Why does it appeal to you?
Your value choice will be a huge help to me in shaping my editorial calendar to come, and in celebrating Managing with Aloha with me, as the incredible gift it has been.

Mahalo for being part of my life. You too are in the design of my ‘IMI OLA and I am so grateful for the opportunity to share my mana‘o with you.

About Rosa Say

Rosa is the author of Managing with Aloha. She’s a writer and photo-taker, a workplace culture coach, and a zealous advocate of managers everywhere. She’s a wife and mom, sister and daughter, manager, leader and worker bee, living the best life she can, just like you. Learn more about Rosa at


  1. Anne says:

    Birthday Aloha to you today, Rosa!!

    My top two favorite MWA values are Aloha (living loved) and Mahalo (living thankfully)… To feel loved and sharing that love and being thankful and sharing that gratefulness just makes life so much more amazingly beautiful…

    Wishing you a Hau’oli la hanau day! Anne from California

    • Rosa Say says:

      Mahalo Anne.
      I love the way you describe Aloha and Mahalo in your mana’o; it’s so beautiful.

  2. Rosa Say says:

    The wonderful Loren Lasher sent me this poem this morning, and I must share it with all of you as well, for it conveys that adventurous and joyous spirit of ‘IMI OLA.

    (A Birthday Poem)
    by Don Blanding — who was sometimes described as the “poet laureate of Hawai‘i”

    The little blue roadster and I go speeding,
    Following road-maps luringly drawn.
    Northward and Southward, endlessly leading,
    Into the sunset or into the dawn.
    We come to the line where two states border,
    One behind us and one ahead.
    I fold the road-map in neatest order
    Marked to show where my whims have led.

    I open the next one, eagerly peeking,
    Where do the roads of the new state go?
    What do they promise my restless seeking?
    I can never guess, I can never know
    Until I travel their tangled winding,
    The road-map shows me the roads and places,
    It can not tell what I might be finding,
    The high adventures, the friendly faces.

    It can mark the spots of beauty and wonder.
    It can not tell me my heart’s delight.
    It can not tell of the laugh or blunder.
    The night of rapture, the tear or fright.
    That’s the way I feel about birthdays;
    The finished year is a map to fold
    Marked with days that were sad or mirth-days,
    What will the new year’s road-map hold?