Make It Happen Monday – Put Your Mask On First


Help other people“, they say.

Give of yourself“, they say.

If you help other people be better, you’ll be better“, they say.

There’s lots of that type of advice out there from “they”. I’ve even said some of these things myself.

Pretty much every major religion espouses a similar ideal of being a person who lives in service to others. Charity organizations, whether genuine or tax shelters, abound in our society. We even have a “Golden Rule” which states that we should “do unto others as we’d have do unto us“. It all sounds great and most of it revolves around you subjugating your own needs and desires for those of other people.

This idea of serving others is not just about raking some grass, dropping off a donation, slinging food at a soup kitchen, or performing service work, though. It can be any manner of helping others. Everyone knows the “busybody” who can’t help but jump into everyone else’s life with (generally) well-meaning advice. Hell, to some degree we all do this.

Sometimes this is done to honestly help someone else. Sometimes it’s done to garner a little good will or karma. Sometimes it’s just done to make yourself feel better or in control of something.

I’m not here to debate “why” you would help others. That’s between you and you. What I am here to say is that most people are doing a really inefficient job of it, and hopefully you’re not one of them.

You see, many of the same people who spend most of their time trying to help others are walking around with huge messes in their own life. Observationally, I’d say that often the bigger the mess one has, the more energy one spends trying to help others so as to avoid confronting their own demons.

I should know, I did it for years.

As you know, I work in a service industry (personal training). I gave (and continue to give) my life to helping other people improve theirs. I helped them achieve better health, improve their looks, set records, focus their minds on achievement, and other qualities. My goal was and is to help my clients become the most amazing, happy people they can be. I became known as a “great listener” and someone who really cared and was great at helping clients. In a lot of ways I guess it made me a “Nice Guy” in my business.

It wasn’t just training clients. I was known as being an ear to listen and shoulder to cry on from my friends and acquaintances. Even in business matters I was VERY giving with my time and expertise. I helped launch four six-figure per year training businesses for friends of mine through very in-depth consultation and business planning… all while literally having just enough money myself to eat, and sometimes not that.

All these guys are still good friends of mine and I don’t begrudge them one iota of success. However, let’s be serious: That’s some dumb shit.

Why would I do things like that? Because I was running away from my own problems. Rather than face what was going on in my own life, where I felt powerless and out of control, I instead focused on helping others to make myself feel better.

And while I didn’t do an awful job at it, I gave some really shitty advice and dropped the ball a lot, too.

Because I didn’t have my own life figured out.

The business group I’m in has a great saying:

“Put your own mask on first”

This is from the safety training on airplanes where, in the case of cabin depressurization, the oxygen masks will drop down in front of you from the overhead panels. The first instinct for most people is to help their friend/family member sitting next to them get their mask on. While that’s very noble, it’s also stupid. As you lose your oxygen, you’ll be less and less helpful. Pretty soon you’ll be inefficient at best and in the way at worst. So now chances are good that there might be two dead people. However, if you’d focused on getting your mask on you’d be breathing fine. Fine enough to devote focused energy to helping your seatmate if they needed it. Chances are better that both of you will be ok.

You’ll have not just provided help… you’ll have provided useful help.

A while back I changed my focus. I stopped running from my problems and faced them instead of someone else’s. It sucked. But I was able to get them under control and put myself back in the driver’s seat of my life. I stopped grasping blindly for the hands that were trying to pull me down and instead grabbed my mask to put it on. In doing so something amazing happened. Once I had put myself on dry land, so to speak, and could breathe, I was able to help ten times as much as before. I was helping from a position of strength. If you haven’t put yourself in a position of strength, then you have no business trying to help someone else.

I’m not talking about doing little good deeds like donating a Thanksgiving turkey, covering a co-worker’s shift so she can see her kid’s school play, or helping a tired old lady across the street. Those are just good things to do, assuming you don’t get maced or tazed by Grandma. No, I’m talking about the constantly putting yourself in a position to prop up others without being on secure footing yourself. That just makes no sense.

It’s Make It Happen Monday. How’re you going to handle your own business today before you get into someone else’s?

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Comments on Make It Happen Monday – Put Your Mask On First Leave a Comment

March 17, 2013

I Should Have Used My Name @ 10:01 pm #

Awesome post. Good old Mondays!

April 19, 2013

Brett Sanders @ 9:13 pm #

This post is right on the money! I’m always telling my clients who are burning themselves out doing so much for others that if they want to give to others then they have to fill themselves up by giving to themselves first. Great post.

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