Bold Journey: Meet Celia Milton, December 1, 2023

We recently connected with CELIA MILTON and have shared our conversation below.

Hi CELIA, thank you for being such a positive, uplifting person. We’ve noticed that so many of the successful folks we’ve had the good fortune of connecting with have high levels of optimism and so we’d love to hear about your optimism and where you think it comes from.

Clean living and good habits?

Oh wait, that’s not me!

I think optimism can be a pretty simple practice. What’s helpful? Acknowledge the real possibility that something interesting is going to happen every day. Great, surprising things happen all the time, and they’re stand alone, joy producing events. But truly crappy, terrifying or just plain annoying things happen too, and once we do the “cleanup” in aisle six, we can usually take away something useful. And that’s a gift too, though sometimes at first it looks like that ugly sweater we really didn’t want; the sweet kiwi under the scratchy skin.

I’m also very lucky to be in a profession that thrives in hope; sometimes blind foolish optimism; I write and perform weddings. I get to be submerged in that collective enthusiasm and optimism that comes with a couple heading into a new phase of their relationship!

After all, what is more optimistic than that decision to get married; to promise to live your life in unison with another person no matter what twists and turns unfurl on the road in front of you?

I have the singular opportunity to spend most of my work life writing stories about couples who are full of hope. Sometimes it’s ‘educated hope”. They’ve been through challenges; some of them completely unimaginable: emotionally devastating, professionally turbulent, and financially disastrous. Through it all (well, if they’re standing in front of me) their trust in the future remains solid as a guiding force in their partnership and their lives.

And sometimes I borrow theirs when my own fails. I’m inspired by the stories of their successes, their trials, and the humor they bring to their lives.

A completely different way of finding the break in the clouds is to get a grip on the very reality that most things, either good or bad, are not permanent!

Thanks for sharing that. So, before we get any further into our conversation, can you tell our readers a bit about yourself and what you’re working on?

The right to marry the person you love is a basic human right, and a foundational pillar of society. I started my practice with the passionate belief that every couple, regardless of race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, age, or religious affiliation (or lack thereof) should be able to celebrate their union in a joyous, funny, inspiring way. Without judgement or side-eye!

And now that I’ve bored every reader, the short story!

There are four of us working together in this group, all different but all intent on building unique, lighthearted ceremonies that express our couples’ personalities and give them the opportunity to celebrate exactly the way they want! Ideally, it’s captivating, lighthearted and just plain fun for everyone!

We’ve launched a podcast, ‘New jersey wedding podcast” (available everywhere!), which is usually two full time, processional wedding officiants carrying on about their recent weddings and guest vendors talking about theirs. It’s “fly on the wall” stuff, and usually we don’t swear, but no promises there. (Did you know that studies show that people who swear are more creative? I believe it, but never in a ceremony, lol!)

If you had to pick three qualities that are most important to develop, which three would you say matter most?

Three qualities? Hmmmm….personality, tenacity, lots of Sharpies. Don’t be afraid to write “it” (whatever “it” is…) in indelible black ink; say what you think, do what you say. No erasers allowed.

Advice? Forge ahead. Don’t be afraid to be your authentic self, which is easy to say, but a little less easy to actually do. Don’t be afraid of …anything, really. Fear is a paralysis. Failure is just fine; you learn from it. If you try to be like everyone else, you’ll be….like everyone else. Not a route to success, whatever that means to you.

Don’t mistake being liked with being respected (or visa versa) and don’t give too much credence to either if your own vision (how I hate that word) is being compromised. That being said, play nicely with others, cooperate and network in a genuine way, with everyone’s benefit at the forefront.

That should do it!

As we end our chat, is there a book you can leave people with that’s been meaningful to you and your development?

Every book Seth Godin has ever written, for solid and often unexpected business advice.

Every book by David Rakoff, a brutally hilarious, dizzyingly eloquent writer who makes me want to write better.

This interview was originally published at Bold Journey, December 1, 2023.

Canvas Rebel: Meet Celia Milton, May 25, 2023

We caught up with the brilliant and insightful CELIA MILTON a few weeks ago and have shared our conversation below.

Alright, CELIA thanks for taking the time to share your stories and insights with us today. What do you think it takes to be successful?

Wouldn’t it be great if that “how do you succeed” question could be answered the same way for all potential entrepreneurs? Sorry, it can’t, but I think there are some universal truths that hold true for all of us, no matter what realm we inhabit!

I am a wedding officiant, so my point of view is colored by years of finding and marrying couples in unique and personal ways, but you can absolutely use this advice whether you’re pouring sage and lavender candles, making the biggest cookies in town or creating birdhouses that look like historic landmarks.

You have to find a niche that no one else is serving (or is serving badly) and then surround that ‘product” with exceptional customer service, a personality driven culture and the desire to work 90 hours a week for yourself instead of 40 for someone else. (No, I did not make that up, but it’s completely true; if anyone can provide a citation, please do!)

You have to be able to communicate, by everything you say and do, why your potential clients should be come ‘raving fans” (now, THAT I have a citation for; it’s from Ken Blanchard and Sheldon Bowles, in their marvelous book by the same name). You should have a product or service so singular, so spectacular, so fun that your clients cannot wait to tell everyone they know about you. Your sales process should be so amazing, so unique that they are thrilled when they sign your contract.

Because “it” doesn’t start on the day of their event or the day they get your custom birdfeeder. It starts from the first minute they encounter you; the way you answer your phone. The speed at which you respond to them. Their contract package or your invoice. (If you’re just sending out a boring contract in a white envelope? A printed invoice that looks like every other invoice they get? Guess what? You’ve blown an opportunity to create a ‘raving fan’.)

And ideally, they’ll be so surprised by the process, even before the “product”, they’ll post reviews, which are golden currency is any overcrowded marketplace.

So take a minute to think about how everyone else in your market works. What do they say? How do they shepherd their clients through the sales process and beyond? Are they order takers or are they partners on the path?

And then do something else differently. Don’t ask the same questions. Don’t have the conversations. Don’t behave the way everyone else does.

Don’t be afraid to be authentic.

There is a wonderful quote from Robert Fulgham that I use quite often in my wedding scripts;

“We’re all a little weird. And life is a little weird. And when we find someone whose weirdness is compatible with ours, we join up with them and fall into mutually satisfying weirdness—and call it love—true love.”

It’s absolutely the sentiment that will guide your clients to you and keep them there. Because we all think we’re unique, but sometimes out of fear, desperation or the misplaced desire to book every client that comes to us, good fit or not, we try to be something for everyone, instead of everything to some.

Good luck!

Great, appreciate you sharing that with us. Before we ask you to share more of your insights, can you take a moment to introduce yourself and how you got to where you are today to our readers.

I owned a very upscale catering business for years. At some point, I began to doubt my enthusiasm for digging quacamole out of the delivery van’s dashboard and looked for an alternative to that “lifestyle”.

I went to seminary with the idea of becoming a minister in a church but I soon realized that this wasn’t my path. Ironically, that was very much like owning a catering business, lol!

One of the reasons I started my business was that I felt that there were many couples who weren’t served by the traditional avenues that could legalize their marriage. (Boy, that sounds dull, doesn’t it!) I started this practice before same sex couples could even get married, but we COULD do civil unions). And we are very proud to create meaningful, significant ceremonies for couple of all types, of all combinations.

Have you ever had to pivot?

Clearly, Covid presented an opportunity (no, a necessity) to pivot. I remember the exact moment too. It was the second weekend of March, 2020. I was officiating for four couples that weekend. LIstening to the radio on the drive back, I heard some more alarming news about Covid.

On Monday morning, our phone started to ring. Couples moving, couples canceling…”How long can this last”….

It lasted a long time. We had couples calling us to do small weddings, we had couples who wanted to elope. We shifted our focus to include those couples.

Learning and unlearning are both critical parts of growth – can you share a story of a time when you had to unlearn a lesson?
I’ve learned that we can’t be everything to everyone. We need to be fiercely authentic in our offerings and find our ideal couples who will walk out on that ledge with us to create a singular event for them and their familes.

This interview was originally published at Canvas Rebel on May 25, 2023 

NJ.com: Can’t stop us. N.J. wedding officiant finds commitment inspirational during age of coronavirus, December 31, 2020

A nurse. A science teacher. A gym owner. The head of a non-profit. A volunteer EMT. A wedding officiant. Six people. All linked by what has connected us all in 2020 – the coronavirus pandemic. Whatever we thought 2020 was going to be, COVID-19 changed everything.

As we come to the close of the year, NJ Advance Media asked New Jerseyans to reflect on the past 12 months, and share their thoughts and their hopes for the future. This series of essays, videos and interviews, called Can’t stop us | How Jerseyans adapted, came together and persevered in 2020, continues below.

Celia Milton is a wedding officiant, based in North Haledon, who performs ceremonies in New Jersey and New York. Here, she reflects on her experience working with couples planning and moving their weddings amid the pandemic.

“How long can this possibly last? We should be back to ‘normal’ by July.” Famous last words with the timestamp of March, 2020.

As almost every engaged couple we had on our books moved their dates and moved and moved again, we started to realize that “normal,” in the wedding (and any other) sense of the word, was far, far in the distance. If it even existed at all.

We heard so many stories from our couples: stories that spiraled around quarantines and ailing relatives and changing lifestyles and just plain fear. And we told those stories ourselves.

I’m part of the wedding pro community and we love our trends. One year it’s a donut wall; the next it’s a soft metallic color palette, the next it’s Prosecco bars built into Volkswagen buses. Rustic, Boho; every year has a word and a Pantone color. There are so many possibilities that it’s a dizzying process just to make even the most basic decisions, beyond the singular one to marry the person you love.

This year, in addition to the word “pandemic” of course, the word we have taken to heart is “pivot.” Against a backdrop that has evolved continuously since March, every wedding pro I know has figured out that survival, and even thriving, depends on pivoting. Clearly, everything has changed and we have to figure out how to change too!

I’m a wedding officiant; I marry people. Years ago the “trend” we were all talking about was dubbed “Micro weddings,” and we’ve been creating offerings for those couples for several years. But since March, we’ve seen many of our weddings transform from Big to Little to Tiny to Private.

While a significant number of our couples have experienced the happy stress of wedding planning numerous times in addition to the obvious (unhappy) stress of dealing with a pandemic, surprisingly, many have embraced the new experience of planning a micro wedding or elopement. They say this is what they wanted all along. And many of our venues have designed elegant and stylish ways to host beautiful intimate events with all the protocols in place. Clearly, we are in “all bets are off” territory.

Having to plan two or sometimes three different times for the same celebration? In addition to everything else like managing home schooling, working at home, masks and hand sanitizers and a paper towel shortage? It’s exhausting.

Some of our couples are moving forward with intimate micro-weddings or elopements on their original dates and scheduling their big reception to the indefinite future. Some are deciding that their intimate family celebration is absolutely enough for them and relocating their weddings to their homes, to parks, to historic sites or to small restaurants. The possibilities are really endless; possibilities that weren’t even on the radar when they started to plan.

New Jersey has created a way for couples to get married on Zoom, and many of our couples are finding this to be a safe, convenient and novel way to get married. The bonus is that they can include guests from all over the world (and in many cases, those guests’ dogs and cats too!). It’s been really fun to see how each couple approaches their newly orchestrated wedding day! I’ve married couples in their sweatpants and couples in tuxedos and gowns. I may have a couple getting married on Christmas morning in their PJ’s. (No, I will not be wearing mine!)

I think this wholesale craziness has led our couples to really rethink the choices they have open to them and their personal priorities for their celebration, and that’s always good! It’s a day filled with emotion and dances and promises and, ideally, cake! The elements that couples choose to include sends a clear message to their guests, whether there are two of them or 200, and this backdrop has allowed couples to consider scenarios they never might have considered before. And that is never a bad thing; in life or in wedding planning.

None of us know what is up ahead, which is, ironically, what I say about marriage during my ceremonies.

When we think of marriage, we tend to think of that singular moment when one partner walks down the aisle to make a life changing promise to the person they love. They each walk down the aisle into an uncertain future; neither has any idea of what tomorrow will bring. What they do know, is that today is a celebration of their commitment to stand together, no matter what twists and turns unfurl on the road ahead.

What would I say at this moment? Richer and poorer? You’ve seen that. Sickness and health? Yes, now we can safely say you’ve been there too. And on top of it all, you’ve lived to tell the tale, stronger and happier and more connected for it.

A wedding will always be a milestone for the couple, for their friends and their families. Whether they experience your wedding in two dimensions or three, in person or via Zoom, the lives of your guests are changed forever. Everyone will laugh, everyone will cry, ideally all the pre-wedding craziness fades away and in that moment, love rules. Commitment speaks volumes, and watching two people make that commitment inspires all of us no matter what swirls around us.

And that is really all that matters, isn’t it?

This article was originally published no NJ.com on December 31, 2020.

Be Sage Consulting: Insider to Insider – Celia Milton, Wedding Officiant, July 16, 2010

What do I like best about Celia Milton? She is REALLY funny. And, given that she is a wedding officiant, I think that is the best trait. I can only imagine how comedic, warm and personable her wedding ceremonies must be! So much emphasis is put on the wedding reception in our industry. But, I am still a firm believer that the ceremony is the most important part. This is where the magic happens: a couple makes the simple promise to love each other forever. And, how lucky to be able to guide a couple through this pivotal point in their lives! Celia, you really do have the best job in the world!

Why did you start your business?

I owned an upscale, catering company for almost 18 years (OUCH! THAT HURT!) , and as much as I loved it, I began to doubt my ongoing enthusiasm for digging guacamole out of the delivery van’s dashboard for the rest of my professional life. I needed to figure out what to do next. Having been a business owner and entrepreneur for that long, I was completely unemployable as an underling of any type.

So, I went to seminary in NYC, and graduated with my Masters’, but soon realized that I wasn’t really cut out to be a parish minister with an unruly ‘flock’, never-ending administrative tasks and the politics inherent in any corporate situation.

I took a long hard look at my limited array of saleable skills; I love to write; I love to talk, I love to make people laugh in situations that are not typically thought of as funny. What else would I do except become a wedding officiant? It’s the perfect job, and I get to wear black, which is very slimming.

All kidding aside, I felt that ‘non-traditional” couples (gay and lesbian couples, couples with mixed religious traditions or no spiritual traditions) had no one to turn to for ceremonies that were important, joyous, and welcoming. The public declaration of a union is always a significant cultural, social and often political act, and should be treated with great care and creativity. Every wedding should be a gift from the couple to each other, but also to their larger community. And I get to wear black, which is very slimming….I believe I mentioned that.

What book (business or soul-searching) do you recommend to new business owners? Why?

Purple Cow and Free Prize Inside, both by Seth Godin, who is a marketing genius. (Actually, anything by Seth.) He suggests audacity, authenticity and uniqueness as the biggest factors for business success. To paraphrase his philosophy; don’t offer something for everyone; offer the ultimate “everything” to someone. Stand out. Be different. Be unique; your potential clients are craving a singular experience that validates their style, taste, and personality. They will pay for that experience. We’re not all driving Kia’s are we? Nope…some of us are driving Jaguars.

I also love Raving Fans, by Ken Blanchard; same basic philosophy…..our potential clients are so used to getting mediocre service from lackluster vendors that it is almost embarrassingly easy to stand out. All it takes is a singular commitment to impeccable, startling, and sometimes wacky customer service.

The Four Hour Workweek by Tim Ferris, which isn’t exactly what you might think, but a great read with some totally inspiring messages for anyone looking to become an entrepreneur. One of his exercises involves literally writing down every expense you have in a month. Add it up. Get rid of the stuff you really don’t need, (like 100.00 , monthly cable bill to watch reruns of Gilligan’s Island and Die Hard II). When you really see what it costs you to live, (which is less than you think, in most cases…) your entrepreneurial dreams won’t seem so impossible to fulfill.

Soul searching? Hmmm……Frankly, I think we are compelled to search our souls by inspirations we might never expect, though Anne Lamott (Bird by Bird, Traveling Mercies, Plan B, Grace Eventually ) is a pretty reliable source of inspiration, both spiritually and for the craft of writing.

Do you have any cool goal-setting tips to share with us?

You know, I’m really not a fastidious goal-setter; I think that sometimes, being too focused on what number, how many dollars, what measurable progress we’ve made can stifle our openness to the next big surprise the universe has in store for us. This is not to say that we should set the bar comfortably low for ourselves; “To Do” lists that include “Get Up” , “Take Shower”, “Feed Sparky”… those list probably won’t get us anywhere except fully dressed with a happy dog. But, at the risk of being very, very corny; life IS about the journey, not just the destination. And every interesting person, every successful professional I know has walked a crooked path full of delightful detours.

Okay, a tip. Do something every day. Do something that will get you closer to where you want to be, even if it’s a really little something. And do the ugliest something first, before you answer your email, go to the gym, any of the things you do to procrastinate. Make the unpleasant phone call or the cold call; do the icky task. Call the people who you think will tell you ‘no’; then that anxiety is over….the worst that can happen, the saying of “no” has happened: you can move on to the person who will say ‘yes’.

What do you find to be the biggest challenge as a business owner?

HA HA HA…. That would be actually “being a business owner”! Almost every single wedding pro I know got into the “wedding business” (an unfortunate and vaguely mercenary term), because they love doing makeup, they love baking cupcakes, they love making balloon animals, whatever. The problem is that someone has to be the adult and send out the invoices, return the calls, and pay the phone bill, or we don’t have the opportunity to do what we love. My solution to that is to make all the ‘business’ stuff as fun as possible, from the little stuff, (like colored staples and confetti printed email stationery) to the big stuff. (My contract is the funniest contract that my couples will sign in the process of planning their wedding. The details are highly confidential, but I do have a “Dunk Tank” clause. It’s a wedding, not a memorial service. It should be fun all along the way.)

If you were starting your business all over again, what would you have done differently?

Not a thing, honestly. I think we’d all like to have more capital and more clients from day one, but running lean is a good thing. It teaches us what we really need; it makes us depend on our creativity, and it keeps us from getting lazy.

This interview was originally published at Be Sage Consulting, July 16, 2010.