Learning to Love and Protect Yourself

Every few years, my husband and I go to Mexico on vacation, just the two of us.

No kids allowed.

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

Our solo vacations are filled with activities we 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.

Over the course of six days, we can only muster the energy to participate in one excursion outside the resort. This year, we picked whale watching.  

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 was Lisa. Lisa is a marine biologist who dedicated her life to traveling around the world (Iceland, Mexico, Australia, Costa Rica), so she could document whale migration and educate others about these amazing creatures.

Lisa has a serious love for whales.

You can tell a lot about a person within the first 30 seconds of meeting them. I needed half that time to discern that Lisa was put on this earth to teach people about whales.

We’d clearly picked the right tour.

As we set out to sea, Lisa shared that it’s her life’s work to educate people about whales. She knows this for one clear reason:

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

My heart skipped a beat and I nearly fell off the boat. 

Lisa’s whale theory had just communicated the secret to life, all while floating in the middle of the Sea of Cortez.

And the secret to life looks like this:

Know something. Love something. Protect something

I instantly drew a parallel between what Lisa said and why we mothers don’t love ourselves the way 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.

A decade ago, I could not have articulated what made me happy, what made me sad, what fueled me, and what depleted me. A 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 two years 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.

The 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 only enhances how much you love them. 

But how well do you know…you?

The book that helped me learn the most about myself was Finding Your Own North Star by Martha Beck. Along my journey, I read it cover to cover during one of our solo vacations in Mexico, and it taught me everything I needed to know so I could love and protect myself.

Serendipitously, exactly five years later on that whale-watching trip to Mexico, my husband and I were having a late dinner outside when I looked up and saw the North Star shining brightly down on us.

I thanked my lucky star(s) that I had the courage to love myself enough to change my life. Do you? 

Katherine Wintsch