“If necessary, an oxygen mask will drop from above your seat..make sure your mask is secure before helping others.”
Ah…the safety instructions we endure at the start of each commercial flight. You would think they don’t have much use to anyone not at cruising altitude, but you’d be wrong. I’m about to share a little nugget of advice that comes should be used even when you have both feet planted firmly on the ground.
Putting Yourself First
That’s right, I’m telling you to put your mask on first. Not your family’s, friend’s, or coworker’s,…your’s comes first. It may seem selfish, but the truth is in order to to help others, we need to take care of ourselves first. That’s right, go ahead and make yourself the priority. You’re life will be less stressful and you will have the emotional availability to nurture others. First, allow me to share a story.
I recently struck up a conversation with an Uber driver, I’ll call her Autumn. Autumn was quite chatty and over the course of the next twenty minutes I received the abridge version of her life. A recently divorced mother of three, she had once been the marketing director for a widely circulated local magazine. She was a model employee and a supermom.
After the divorce, she was granted full-custody of the her children. The responsibilities of raising her children had suddenly doubled. As her divorce grew smaller in the rear view mirror, she sensed a change both inside and out. Her commitment to career and family began to stretch herthin. With so little time on her hands, she had neglected her most important responsibilty…her own well being. She fell into depression and her health began to deteriorate. Her lack of motivation led to very uninspired work and difficulty fulling her roll as a mother. Something had to change. More on Autumn in minute.
Self-Awareness: Putting on the Mask
In The Oxygen Mask Priority, by Dennis Lowery. to explains two ideas contained within the oxygen mask analogy. The first, oxygen andair-pressure are constantly being monitored on the plane. He relates this to self-awareness. We must always be monitoring ourselves, being honest, knowing who we are and what we want. Without self-awareness we would never know when a mask needs to drop and or how to use it. Lowery ‘s second argument – “the most important thing do first is to take care of yourself”.
When your mask drops, you need to come first. He explains that unless we are first able to care for ourselves, we can not care for others. Which brings me back to Autumn.
She tried hard to play the supermom role for a long time, putting her children and work before herself. She struggled…hard. But once she decided to put her mask on first, things began to turn around. She decided she was no longer happy at her job, it had become unfulfilling and she felt like she was sacrificing too much. She wanted to do something for herself, yet she still had to provide for her children.
Prior to her divorce, when she had more “me time”, she was very into pilates. She missed the physical and psychological benefits they brought into her life. So she decided to become a personal pilates instructor. This allowed her to make her own schedule, pay the bills, and be her own boss. At first she wasn’t making much money and at times she questioned if she was being selfish, but it brought her enjoyment, allowed her to have the time for her children, and still provide for them. Autumn’s noticed her health begin to improve and she was no longer depressed, but she wasn’t as stimulated by the pilates gig as she hoped to be. She needed something more. She needed to be challenged.
With some of her newly found free time, she began to construct another business venture. She missed being able to travel, but being a one parent household it was difficult. She decided to network with people she had met through the magazine she preciously worked for and began to set up “adventure retreats”. Short, four-day fully curated trips to foreign countries. She marketed the retreats as a way for other people to put their mask on first and care for themselves. Again, she questioned whether or not she was being selfish, after all she would have to leave her children for days at a time, but she resolved that it was something she needed. She turned to family and friends who were more than happy to help with the children and soon she was on her way to Central America to lead her first retreat. When she returned, not only were her clients rejuvenated, she too felt like a new person. Though she was spending relatively more time on herself and more engaged in her children’s lives. She was able to provide better for them and because she was in love with her new career, she was motivated and the work became effortless.
Self-Management: Leads to Results
Autumn had taken take the time to care for herself physically, emotionally, and spiritually. She was happy, satisfied, and found an even greater appreciation for the time she spent with her children. Making lunches in the morning no longer felt like a chore, but became a bonding experience with her children. Dropping her kids off at practice was no longer a mindless take she performed stuffed between other errands, but now became quality time for her to engage with them. Her adventure retreats gained popularity and soon she was asked to write about them for a well-known travel magazine.
With finances squared away and more free time for herself, she cut back on her pilates instructing and choice to enjoy the activity for herself rather than a financial means. So why exactly is she driving for Uber? The downtime between riders gives her the chance to write her articles, while still adding money to the bank. As I watched her tell her story through the rearview mirror, I could not only see an emotion that evades so many peoples, but I could hear it in her voice…utter and pure happiness. When the air-pressure fell and life dropped a mask, she followed the instructions and put it on first.
Realistic, Not Selfishness
self·ish – selfiSHadjectiveconcerned excessively or exclusively with oneself : seeking or concentrating on one’s own advantage, pleasure, or well-being without regard for otherssynonyms: self-absorbed, self-obsessed, inconsiderate
There were times Autumn questioned if her decisions to put herself first were selfish, I’m sure that thought has crossed at least a few of your minds. “Well, she’s just being selfish”, “how can she be happy? She’s neglecting her children”, “what a terrible mom, putting herself before her children”. In all honesty, similar thoughts ran through my mind, but it makes practical sense. It’s not selfish, it’s necessary.
“If you do not take care of yourself—if you do not focus on yourself first —then it is impossible for you to be of value to anyone else. That’s not being selfish… that’s being realistic. For people to appreciate us we must first appreciate ourselves (yes, with all our flaws and blemishes both figuratively and literally we must feel good deep inside about ourselves). And that practical viewpoint does not mean respecting yourself requires demeaning or devaluing others.”
– Dennis Lowery
Well said sir…well said.
Emotional Intelligence – The Capability of EQ
Take a moment to consider whether or not you are making sure your mask is secure before helping others. When we care for ourselves, we tend to our feelings. We ask ourselves “What do I feel?”, “Why do I feel it?”, and “If I want to change it, how so?” First we identify our feelings as either a physical sensation, such as hunger and fatigue, or a conscious experience, such as sadness and joy. If the the physical sensation we are feeling is hunger, we know our body needs substance and nutrition, and we care for this by eating a meal. Similarly, with fatigue we know if we are tired, we need rest. Seems simple, right? It becomes more difficult to care for ourselves though when our feelings are of a conscious experience.
Ok…here comes the “emotions as an iceberg” cliché. Emotions such as anger, sadness, grief, anxiety, desperation, and fear are just the tip of the iceberg. Just as an icebergs sits mostly unseen, so do our emotions. When it comes to complex emotions, it takes time and self-awareness to not only understand what were are feeling, but why. “Why am I unmotivated?”, “What is frightening me?”, “Where is this anger coming from?” The answers are not always as straightforward as hunger or thirst, but when we are truly honest with ourselves, it is only then that we can understand the emotions we feel and attempt to change them. Practicing self-management means to take responsibility for one’s own behavior and well-being. Just as with self-awareness, it takes effort, patience, and practice.
So what does’s all have to do with helping others? Self-awareness and self-management are two of the components of emotional intelligence. As we exercise and sharpen these skills, our Emotional Quotient, or EQ, expands. As this growth takes place, we are better able to improve on other aspects of emotional intelligence, including empathy. Is the picture getting any
clearer? Empathy is absolutely necessary in order to care for other people. When we need to confide in someone, who do we turn to? Is it the friend or family member with the highest IQ? Perhaps,but more importantly it is the the person with the greatest EQ. The person who can empathize best with us. When the masks drop, panic ensues and fear sets in. By taking care of ourself first, we calm and center ourselves, which allows us to become more emotionally available to others. This is why we must make sure our mask is secure before helping others. We better understand and share the feelings of others when we do. It starts with self-awareness and ends with empathy.
If you enjoyed this post, please like it, share it, and repost it. It would help me continue to grow this blog and provide more great content for you to enjoy. Keep an eye out for up coming posts as well. I’ll be diving further into the central elements of emotional intelligence, how to raise your EQ, and their importance in leading ourselves and others, both in personal life and business.
There are many articles and blogs that deal with this concept. Be sure to check out Dennis Lowery’s website for the original article that helped Autumn secure her mask. Another good
read can be found on Vincent Nuguyen’s post Help Yourself Before You Help Others. Also, pop in to The Huffington Post and take a look at Why You’re Instructed to Put Oxygen Masks on Yourself First. If you’re up for a longer read, bounce over to Amazon or local library and pick up Your Oxygen Mask First: 17 Habits to Help High Achievers Survive & Thrive in Leadership & Life by Kevin Lawrence.