A thing called the “Cupcake Theory”

Almost every ending in my adult life has included cupcakes. It started in 2016 when I quit my first post-grad job after almost three years of a toxic work environment and horrid manager. I left the office on a miserably hot August day in Portland, Oregon, unsure about how to feel about quitting my “successful” agency job in the big city to move back to my hometown and work for a local nonprofit. 

On the drive home, I wavered between overwhelming relief and self-crucifying thoughts of failure. I started sobbing at the stoplight. It was probably emotions and hormones that steered me into the parking lot of a little bakery several blocks up. But looking back, I’d like to think it was the Universe guiding me into an essential life lesson. 

The bakery’s glass case was nearly empty at 4:30 on that hot summer afternoon. I picked out the last two cupcakes they had and swiped my debit card. It was a plain vanilla cupcake with a buttercream frosting that might have sat out a few hours too long. But that first stale, sugary bite tasted like change. The second tasted like freedom.

It was a tradition that would evolve into an important practice in my life in the next decade. Every day job I quit, every major client project I finished, and every chapter I closed, meant a trip to get cupcakes. The Cupcake Theory was born.

And it’s a pretty darn simple concept: The end of an experience is worth celebrating. 

No matter how positive or horrific the thing was, the experience was worthwhile. And more importantly, it’s worth celebrating. I left that office a much different person than the earnest college graduate who had started the job three years before. And my carb obsession and emotional eating somehow made a cupcake symbolic of that growth. 

Here’s the thing. In each experience, you can find something. From the jobs we work and the businesses we start to the relationships we build and projects we take on, there is something to glean. There is a lesson or reminder you only could have learned through doing.

This isn’t a self-righteous speech about optimism. But I think the Cupcake Theory can even be true about the hardest things in our lives.

Fuck, while it took me years of intense therapy and benzodiazepines, I can even find small glimmers of growth in the 10 years I spent in an abusive relationship. That relationship definitely didn’t end with a cupcake. But maybe I owe myself one for it now because, in retrospect, I found something—even if it was simply my capacity to survive.

The Cupcake Theory reminds us that every ending comes with learning, and those learnings add up to a stronger version of the person you are. The growth might not be obvious at first. It might take you years to finally recognize it. But I promise you. It’s there even in the smallest way. And it’s worth celebrating.

Go get yourself a damn cupcake, girl.

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I'm Callie.

Pour yourself a cup and take a seat! Coffee and Cardigans is a personal blog documenting my crazy adventures in a new decade of life—and, of course, the many cups of coffee in between. I live in the beautiful state of Oregon with my wonderful and far-too-patient-with-me boyfriend and two tenacious corgis named Renney and Booker. Thanks for reading along, friend!

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