I was recently on a flight home from Chicago when I chose to listen to the whole safety demonstration spiel conducted by the flight crew - had someone quizzed me prior to hearing it I would have identified the exits and floatation device parts right, but I did not accurately remember the instructions for the oxygen mask. While I recalled the mask would pop down from above my head I did not remember that I should put my own oxygen mask on first before assisting others.
I could have sworn it was the other way round. No so – and I fly regularly so it was a shock to me to get this wrong. Beyond helping me to see that I should be paying more attention to these safety demonstrations when I fly it pointed to another item of concern – why did I not remember this correctly? It’s not like the safety demonstration is a big mental stretch, and when you think about it the instruction to attend to your own needs first is just good common sense. You are no good to someone else when you can’t breathe.
But we don’t tend to look after our needs first, do we? An informal poll of several of my colleagues showed a typical week day had a troubling pattern; a long list of things that needed doing and no list for the things that attended to a persons’ own needs. Sure there was a break or two in the work day to grab a coffee or a snack, but no time to read the back-log of great articles and blog posts that give us professional energy. No time to do more then eat lunch while hunched over a desk working. No time to take a mental break before heading off for the “second shift” of the day – home and family. Even at home there wasn’t much of a break as my co-workers cited the need for meal prep, homework (and not just the kids, often there was work brought home to complete where they could get the time to “think”). No oxygen masks here.
What would happen if we made the other list? The one that feeds our energy levels, gives us time to think up creative ideas and exposes us to interesting people and new information. What would happen if we chose to make that list and pursued it with the same vigor we’ve applied to our work? What if we chose to view this other list as our professional “oxygen mask” already within reach, just waiting for us to pull it on? There is a paradox in play here, just as many of us don’t give the in-flight safety demonstration much thought and take for granted the oxygen mask will always be there (and that we’ll know what to do with it) we tend to put off the things we want to do to accomplish the things we need to do.
There is a cost in all of this. When was the last time you looked forward to going to work? Not in a “Sure, I like my job” kind of way, but in an “I’d love to share with you the cool things I’m doing at work right now!” kind of way. Because the thing is even the coolest work projects become “one more thing to do” when we don’t breathe enough “oxygen” into our day – kind of like the way you might be feeling about reading all those great articles stacking up in your in-box (ugg!). So how long can you go on like this without deeper consequences that could range from perpetual discontent to a health issue?
We are only as valuable to others as we are to ourselves; in other words, go get your oxygen mask. This is important to keep in mind and follow on a regular basis so you give yourself the space and time to pursue the things you want, because (as it turns out) they are the things you need. Putting your own oxygen mask on first is some of the best advice I have heard in a long time. Go ahead, make that other list and pursue it - then take a deep breath of pure, sweet oxygen. You’ll be glad you did.
Carleen will be speaking at the Institute of Professional Management Annual Conference in Ottawa on April 16th On “Women in the Workplace - Failure to Thrive” (http://www.workplace.ca/events/event.php?id=164).
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I believe in giving back to others in many tangible ways. When I learn something new, or see something that might help others, I share it using my blog and website. You can always find my latest blog entries here, on Facebook or Linked In.