Learning To love yourself

Each year in January, my husband and I go to Mexico on vacation – just the two of us.

No kids allowed.

When we first started this tradition eight years ago, our children hated that we went without them, and they were good at letting us know it. These days, they care less about the fact that we’re going away and more about what we’re bringing them back.

Fine. I can work with that.

Our solo vacations are filled with activities that you can’t do with kids around. While I would love to say those activities include rock climbing, ATV racing or scuba diving, that would be a lie.

We’re two full-time working, full-time participating parents, so when the kids aren’t around, our vacations include a lot of resting, relaxing, sleeping and floating.

floatingIt’s all very glamorous.

Over the course of six days, we can usually only muster the energy to participate in one single excursion outside of the resort. This year we picked whale watching.  Apparently, it was mating season, so we figured why not?

When in Rome…

Upon boarding the boat, we were greeted by what appeared to be the most educated, charming and passionate tour guide on the planet. Her name is Lisa. Lisa is a marine biologist who has dedicated her life to traveling around the world (Iceland, Mexico, Australia, Costa Rica) to document whale migration and educate others about these amazing creatures.

Lisa has a serious love of whales.

You can tell a lot about a person within the first thirty seconds of meeting them. I needed less than half that time to discern that Lisa was put on this earth to teach people about whales.

IMG_1977Good, we picked the right tour.

As we set out to sea, Lisa shared with the fourteen passengers on board that she sees it as her life’s work to educate people about whales. She has come to this conclusion for one very simple reason:

“I believe that what you know…you love.  And what you love…you protect.”

Holy shit.

My heart skips a beat and the world suddenly makes sense to me.

Lisa’s whale watching ways just communicated the secret to life while floating out in the middle of the Sea of Cortez.

And the secret to life looks like this:

  1. Know something
  2. Love something
  3. Protect something

I immediately drew a parallel between what Lisa said and why as mothers we don’t love ourselves as much as we should.

We can’t love ourselves if we don’t know ourselves.

We keep skipping the first step in the secret to life.

This was true in my own life for many years. I never knew myself; I only knew what other people thought of me. #notthesamething. And because I didn’t know anything about myself, I couldn’t love or protect myself.

So, I worked 80 hours a week trying to prove myself.

As recently as five years ago, I could not have articulated what made me happy, what made me sad, what fueled me or what depleted me. The perfect example of this is when my life coach asked me to write down my definition of success in life (not at work) and I stared at a blank page for two full weeks before finding the courage and the voice to speak my mind.

Thankfully, times have changed.

I spent an entire year reading self-help books, drinking red wine, watching Oprah episodes and working with a life coach, and guess what?

My high school’s motto finally made sense to me: Knowledge is Power.

knowledge is powerThe more I learned about myself, the more I loved myself. And the more I loved myself, the more I started to protect myself.

In. That. Order.

Lisa is right about the order. When it comes to loving ourselves, we’ve got to stop skipping the first step.

I bet you know your children inside and out – their highs, lows, strengths, weaknesses, good moments and bad – and your knowledge of them only enhances how much you love them.

And I bet you know very little about yourself.

You made the equation about everybody else except you, which is why you love everyone else more than you love yourself.

Take a lesson from Lisa.

If you’re working too hard, if your days are too long, if you’re doing too much for too many other people, then stop making life about other people.

To know is to love and to love is to protect.

The self-help book that helped me learn the most about myself was Finding Your Own North Star by Martha Beck. Five years ago, I read it cover to cover during one of our solo vacations in Mexico and it taught me everything I needed to know about myself in order to start loving and protecting myself.

ReadingAnd I changed my life accordingly, immediately after reading it.

And ironically, or perhaps purposefully, exactly five years later on this very trip to Mexico, my husband and I were having dinner at an outside restaurant and I looked up to see the North Star shining brightly down upon us.

Perfect timing.

A self-help journey helped me learn about myself. And then, and only then, did I start to love and protect myself.

And during a dinner in Mexico, I thanked my lucky star(s) that I had the courage to do so.

It does not take courage to love other people, but it does take courage to love yourself.

Just remember that you cannot love what you do not know.