If you’ve ever flown on a commercial plane, you’ve heard the safety speech regarding life jackets and emergency exits. You’ve also heard and seen the demonstration about putting on your oxygen mask. At the end, they make mention that you must put on your own mask before assisting others.
It’s interesting that they have to point this out. Shouldn’t it be pretty obvious that if you die or pass out due to lack of oxygen while trying to help others, that you won’t be able to help anyone at all? It probably should be, but I’d bet that nine times out of 10, most people are going to make sure their loved ones are OK before taking care of themselves.
How often are you guilty of this in your everyday life? If you’re like most people I work with, the vast majority of your life revolves around the needs of others before you take on the needs of yourself. In principle, this sounds all altruistic and warm and fuzzy. I mean, if we all just devoted our lives to helping others, wouldn’t we live in an incredible place? I’m not so sure.
Think about it. If you’re absolutely elated with your life, are you better or worse in your relationships and interactions with others? I’ll answer for you. You’re better. Everyone is. But isn’t taking care of yourself first selfish? Nope.
Notice I said, “Take care of yourself first,” not “Ignore everyone else and only serve yourself.” Those are two totally different practices.
“But by serving myself first, I’m going to make my spouse and/or family mad at me. I can’t just devote time to getting what I need, then them. I need to continue running at full speed to provide for their needs, then in that last 20 minutes before I go to sleep, I’ll focus on me.”
Hmmm. Read that again and tell me if it doesn’t sound a little crazy. Yet, I hear it all the time. “I really want to do this, but this person will be mad, jealous or resentful.”
Imagine that you just did what you wanted, ignoring them for just a little bit. Would you be happier when you returned? Probably.
At this point, one of two things will probably happen. One, the person you are worried about will be so supportive and happy for you that you’ll wonder why you didn’t do this sooner. Or two, they’ll be jealous and resentful.
If it’s path two, they’re really toxic to your life, and you need to do everything you can to cleanse that relationship. That could be working through the issue through therapy or counseling. Or you could just do your best to cut them out of your life and never look back. By the way, if you’re not doing this on social media, you should be. Unfollow the people who make your blood boil.
I can understand that this all sounds great in principle, but execution is much harder. That’s normal. The underlying histories and complications make everything a lot more challenging. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try.
The best course of action that you can take from here is to get to a place where you are mentally comfortable with taking care of yourself first. Consider all of your choices and actions from the perspective of, “I’ll be better at helping everyone else if I just do this for me first.” Just thinking that way will make you feel a lot better about things.
Then start taking small actions toward making those self-care and self-interested things a reality. The underlying bonus here is that when you can do those things without guilt, you will become better at all of the things you were afraid of losing track of or feeling guilty about not fulfilling. You’ll do them with more vigor and energy that all of the people in your life will be much better off than they were when you were seemingly unselfish.
By Kenny Markwardt, CSCS