There are lessons to be learned everywhere, sometimes found in arbitrary, seemingly unrelated situations.

If you’ve flown on a commercial airline, you’ve heard (or ignored) a flight attendant giving the run down on what to do in an emergency situation.

An important part of those instructions include what to do in case the cabin of the airplane loses pressure. When the oxygen masks descend from the ceiling above your seat, passengers with children are to make sure THEIR masks are on and secure BEFORE they begin to assist their children.

This, on a knee jerk reaction, seems completely counter intuitive to a parent. Your parental instinct says protect children at any cost, first.

The truth is, you won’t be ANY help to ANYONE if you aren’t physically equipped to do so. AKA, if you’re dead or unconscious, NOBODY gets help.

This is true in everyday life.

I’ve personally fallen victim to this.

I’ve missed workouts, personal study and development time, time with my wife and friends, and alone time in the name of giving every last second and ounce of energy to my children and work.

When this happens, feelings of suffocation start to creep in. Anxiety and a lack of personal fulfillment can begin to choke you. Your ability to help others and to be productive in work endeavors diminish.

Here’s how it goes:

Your “airplane” has been compromised, it has taken on way too much weight.

The seconds start to tick, 5…

You make sure that email you’ve forgotten to get to during the day gets written and sent, 4…

You promised your kids you’d help them with homework, 3…

The garage has been unacceptably cluttered for a week, 2…

The dog hasn’t gone on her walk because you were busy doing other chores this morning, 1…

0. Game over.

Nobody wants to be around you in game over mode, and you are in no condition to help, anyway.

Take the advice from the flight attendant, make sure YOUR mask is secure, first.

It is really tough to break this cycle.

I’ve had the narrative in my head (that many people do) that I don’t deserve to be comfortable until all the other external responsibilities I have are taken care of.

This doesn’t work. There is NEVER enough time. Your needs will never be met unless they are prioritized in the name of personal fulfillment and for the benefit of all of those in your life. When your needs are met, you are much better equipped to help others.

This isn’t a call for selfishness. Actually its quite the opposite.

When you prioritize the things you need, the really important needs, everyone around you wins.

Take care of the inner circles before you reach too far.

So, grab your mask first.

Take some time to make sure it fits and you’re receiving oxygen.

Then enjoy being your best you for your family, work and friends.

It’s your turn. Emerge.

Matt Pirtle MA CSCS