Does the oxygen mask analogy actually work?

We have been conditioned to believe it's selfish to take care of ourselves.

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We often hear that age old adage, ‘put your own oxygen mask on before helping others’. It seems logical right? Otherwise you’ll run out of air and won’t be able to help anybody.

For years I ignored this advice and did anything I could to keep the oxygen flowing to everybody else. I even recall a conversation with a friend who was brutally adamant that the act of taking care of yourself first was completely selfish. You can guess what came next – I felt guilty if I put any care into myself.

Lately, I’m seeing things very differently. I am taking care of myself and I’m so thankful I was pushed over the edge by the pandemic.

The way I see it, there are three choices:

1 – Take care of others and ignore yourself

2 – Take care of yourself and ignore others

3 – Take care of yourself and also help others

When you look at it like that, it makes perfect sense, and of course number 3 is the standout. But we often burn out helping others because we’ve been brainwashed to believe it’s selfish to put ourselves first.

I’ve spent many years volunteering, developing programs that empower others, pouring hours into my Not For Profit, One Planet Classrooms, among many other things, without any return for myself. Specifically lets take a moment to look at the One Planet Classrooms scenario.

One Planet Classrooms supports schools and communities in Africa; mostly Uganda. People are truly suffering and often starving. Women are being brutally assaulted and young girls abused. Girls who have barely reached their teenage years are being married off to men in their 30s and 40s, and the abuse continues. They are merely worth a few weeks of alcohol the father can buy with the money the husband-to-be paid for her. So anybody in their right mind would put these people first in an attempt to provide any support possible.

But that’s where I was wrong.

Always putting them first meant that my health took a dive and I was no good to anybody, and everything fell behind. That was last year and I still haven’t caught up. Had I taken care of myself first and paced myself, everything would still be running smoothly.

On last week’s Get Off The Bench podcast I chat with the incredible Hacia Atherton about taking care of yourself. What does Hacia know about this? She was crushed by her horse and spent many months in hospital not knowing if she would ever walk again. So far she has endured 13 surgeries and there are more to come. Hacia fell into a deep depression but finally decided she was worth more and fought back, even completing her CPA from her hospital bed.

Essentially she put herself first and recovered to be the best version of herself. She now helps others by sharing her inspiring story to give hope to others. But not just that. She recently founded ‘Empowering Women in Trades’ to help bring opportunities to women so they can have a great career in a trade. She is now helping so many others simply because she put herself first.

This is not a selfish act, and if done well, it is in fact a selfless act.

There’s a difference between being nice and being kind. Being nice perpetuates people pleasing, and being kind creates healthy boundaries and sustainable actions whereby everybody can enjoy a win.

So, does the oxygen mask analogy actually work? It most certainly does!

I have two questions for you…

Are you a 1,2 or 3?

How much do you believe you are worth it?

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