Now that we’re a couple of weeks into the New Year, I wanted to write to you about getting your relationships off to a good start in the New Year–your relationship with yourself, that is, as well as your relationships with your loved ones. Because what I’ve learned while writing this blog is that they’re deeply intertwined.
Let’s start off with something I recently learned in Brene Brown’s new parenting course:
You can’t love someone more than you love yourself.
That one hit me viscerally. Because as much as I advocate for saving our marriages, the deep work of loving someone else starts with loving ourselves.
I truly believe that this is why so many marriages go south—because we can’t give someone else the love that we don’t have for ourselves. And when we don’t know ourselves—when we’re running from the truth of who we are, say—things tend to get wacky, fast.
That’s why I spend so much of this blog advocating for self-knowledge and self-growth. That said, it’s important to make sure we don’t spend all our time working on ourselves, because that’s another recipe for trouble.
According to the Dalai Lama (from The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World, by the Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu and Douglas Abrams):
Too much self-centered thinking is the source of suffering. A compassionate concern for others’ well-being is the source of happiness.
But there’s a bit of a paradox here:
We have to take care of ourselves without selfishly taking are of ourselves. If we don’t take care of ourselves, we cannot survive. We need to do that. We should have wise selfishness rather than foolish selfishness. Foolish selfishness means you just think only of yourself, don’t care about others, bully others, exploit others. In fact, taking care of others, helping others, ultimately is the way to discover your own joy and to have a happy life. So that is what I call wise selfishness.
So what does that mean, really, on a day-to-day basis? What does wise selfishness and what is foolish selfishness look like in these mere mortal lives?
Well, I’ll speak for myself here, but I can tell you that for me, wise selfishness is making sure I’ve exercised and written, because those are the things that keep me sane. When I don’t do them, I get grumpy and am not very fun to be around.
So: filling my tank first. Because we cannot give what we don’t have.
Foolish selfishness, it seems to me, is expecting your life to stay exactly the same once you have kids instead of acknowledging that your life has irrevocably changed and your habits, much less your lifestyle, might need a bit of reconfiguration.
As far as I can tell, the trick is figuring out a) what you need and b) what fills your tank. To get there, you really do have to do the work and spend some time with yourself. Only then can you really, deeply give of yourself to someone else.
And there ain’t no quick fix to that one, friend, as much as those New Year’s programs want us to believe there are.
Mostly because none of us are perfect, and we never will be. We’re all flawed, imperfect human beings doing the best we can.
And the sooner we can accept that, the sooner we can get on with our lives. Because
Self-acceptance frees us, while self-rejection freezes us.
Man, have I been working on learning this one! Over and over and over again. Here’s what this saying has taught me: when I can accept all the messy, imperfect parts of myself, it’s much easier to start moving forward—and by that, I mean living with more joy and presence on a daily basis, following my dreams, being more present with my loved ones.
But when I get stuck in that critical thinking loop that tells me how much I suck (the critical voice in our heads that Anne Lamott calls radio station KFKD, or K-Fucked), I just shut down. I can’t do anything, much less connect with my loved one or crank out any decent work.
Much better to accept the beautiful, flawed, imperfect human beings we are, because that’s really the only true path to freedom. Once we can accept our own hearts and souls, we’ll be able to accept another’s.
Happy New Year, friends. Hope your year is off to a messy, beautiful and imperfect start!
P.S.: Know someone who would benefit from my new book, The Secret Life of Grief: A Memoir? Click here to send them a copy. January and February are some of the hardest months for folks who’ve suffered a loss. Let’s all keep an eye out for each other, ‘K?