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I love you. And there is nothing you can do about it.

I am where I usually am when I write – jammed in an uncomfortable airplane seat, crossing the middle of the North American continent. I am heading home from a few days at a Real Estate conference, and my heart is feeling full to the brim.

Real Estate conferences have become my home away from home over the past 10 or so years. They are often where I feel most comfortable, surrounded by my closest friends. This week was no different. I was absolutely surrounded by some of the most passionate folks I have yet to meet in this industry, and I was made to feel like I was one of the family.

I had the opportunity at this conference to pour my heart out on the stage, in front of several hundred strangers. Every time this happens, I am beyond thankful to the conference organizers for trusting me with their stage and their people. It’s a responsibility I don’t take lightly. I believe that those who have the privilege of having an audience have a weighty responsibility to use it for good – to encourage and uplift and bring words of help, not shame. And while the opportunity for me to speak never stops being an incredible honour, I almost always feel like I end up gaining more from the event than I gave.

This week was no exception. I was just one of a long line of amazing speakers, and to have the chance to sit and absorb their stories was inspiring. I was in the presence of Leslie Appleton-Young, who is one of the wisest and kindest women in this industry, not to mention smarter than I can ever hope to be. As a woman in this industry, which is still incredibly male at the leadership level, the opportunity to spend time observing someone like Leslie is a real gift.

I also had the opportunity to see Terry Watson take the stage, with a force that would roll back the tide. Not only an incredible mentor offstage, Terry brings an onstage joy that I haven’t often seen. I was wiping away the tears from laughing so hard I could barely breathe, and at the same time, realizing that his “not my monkey” lesson was one of the most profound I have heard in a long while.

But the biggest takeaway for me was John O’Leary. (Read his story here.) John opened his heart and just covered the audience in a story of love in the most unimaginable of circumstances. To see someone who has chosen to live with such hope and joy, regardless of his past – it’s extremely humbling and confronting. Every word of his session was impactful, but there was one line in particular that stood out to me in all caps bold-faced letters. I LOVE YOU, AND THERE IS NOTHING YOU CAN DO ABOUT IT.

John spoke about the power of love, and loving even when the other person doesn’t feel worthy of love. But more importantly, the power of looking in the mirror and loving the person you see there. (Yeah. Ouch. That one is way harder.)

Up until a few years ago, I didn’t really tell people that I love them. Sure, I told my spouse and my parents and my Grams. But other than that, I wasn’t very vocal about love. It almost felt weird telling a friend that I loved them. I wasn’t really “a hugger” and I would occasionally use the “<3” emoticon, but the word love wasn’t really something I used.

But life has a way of teaching us the lessons we need to learn. And when I found myself in a deep, dark hole of sadness, with no real plan for climbing out, it was love that pulled me out. A group of very determined friends taught me day in and day out what love really is, and they are still teaching me.

I have learned that love is showing up, even when it hurts. Love is checking in every day, even when it can start to feel tedious. Love is forgiving, even when something seems unforgivable. And love is not allowing someone to stay in the dark hole, even when it would be easier to leave them there. Love is looking someone in the eye and saying, “I love you, and there is nothing you can do about it.”

I sat and listened to John O’Leary share this message with tears in my eyes, because I realized that having the kind of love given to me over the past couple of years has taught me to give that kind of love right back. It has changed me. These days, I love my people hard. I hug them and I tell them how I feel and that I am thankful for them. I don’t hold back when I feel the feels – I share them. I am not embarrassed to tell someone that I love them anymore. Love is truly the greatest gift we can give.

Life is short and fragile, friends. Don’t be afraid to love hard. Don’t be afraid to offer that same grace to the person in the mirror, either. That person matters so much.

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