Like most of us in corporate America…I have spent a lot of time on airplanes over the years. I wouldn’t stake my life on it…but I am pretty sure the flight attendant could pick almost anyone in the first few “business traveler” rows of any aircraft and they could give the pre-flight safety pitch without missing a beat.

Even though you could probably repeat the entire pitch in your sleep (you probably hear it in your sleep if you have Chairman or super top elite status) but….have you ever really connected the dots one of the phrases in that pitch to YOUR leadership journey?

The one that I have used the most is:

“Put YOUR Oxygen Mask on First before Assisting Others”

Why does this come to top of mind? Well…I’m glad you asked! Many of us are running from meeting to meeting…from the office to the grocery store….from the airport directly to the soccer field to catch a few precious minutes of at least one of your kid’s games this season. We are exhausted and most days we can’t think straight or feel we have much left to give. WE try to manage it all…because…as we look around…everyone else seems to be able to do it…why not me??

Well…truth is…everyone has the same…but different struggles. In life…it isn’t a matter of IF we will have these times of craziness when work and our personal lives put more upon us than we knew was possible…it’s a matter of WHEN. It is also in these times of great activity…stress and strain….when there are deadlines at work and high demands at home….that our tempers run short….our flexibility runs low…and we can’t see the forest for the trees. It is also these times when we put ourselves last. We are SO busy helping everyone else and taking care of everyone else’s needs that we just don’t know when it will be OUR turn.

That’s when the phrase from the preflight check should be ringing in YOUR ears. The airlines repeat this script every time you board for a very important reason. Should the cabin pressure change and oxygen run low – YOU need to ensure you help yourself first so YOU can be more effective in helping those around you….in a moment when they really need your help. It seems counter intuitive to our gut reaction…especially if someone we love is sitting next to us struggling to help ourselves first…which is why I think they say it.

So what I am advocating in our leadership journey is to take a few minutes each day and each week to “put our oxygen mask on first”. That doesn’t mean being self-centered and selfish or abandoning work or your family at the most inopportune moment. What I AM advocating is making a conscious effort to give yourself some breathing room so YOU can be better at home and at work. That means making choices that may seem difficult at first like:

  • rather than doing emails all night….you go to bed early and get a full night’s sleep
  • push a meeting out a day – or delegate the meeting to someone on your team so you can leave early and get to the gym for the first time in weeks
  • review your schedule (home and work) early and often. If you see conflicts on the horizon with due dates or travel – try to rearrange and give yourself the ability to be successful rather than ignoring the conflict and fooling yourself into thinking you can do it all
  • after dinner…let the dishes sit in the sink and take your family for a walk….or play a board game together (yes those still exist)
  • on your next plane ride…don’t buy the wifi….read a book that inspires you…entertains you….and helps you to escape for a little while

In this ever connected…fast paced…high demand world we live in…it is more important than ever that we find time to “put our oxygen mask on first” and make time for a few minutes rest…relaxation and renewal. It IS counter intuitive to think that a break will actually make us more effective. 

Over the past five years I have taken more…small pockets of time for ME than I have in my entire life. I have used the time for exercise…reflection…reading & writing (like right now). I am AMAZED at how much happier, effective, driven and energized I am simply by making time to help myself first. It wasn’t just the choices and things I said YES to…it was also the harder choices of things that I said NO to or that I negotiated…moved and changed. My health is better and I feel like I am appreciating more of what I have.

It is the Life I was meant to Live

…but I had to create it….and continue to create it every day….YOU can too!

Leadership Questions of the Week for YOU:

  • Do YOU agree or have a differing point of view on the phrase “Put your oxygen mask first before assisting others?
  • Do YOU have another phrase or way of thinking that reminds you to take time to rest…relax and reflect?
  • Have YOU had a similar experience where taking time for YOU actually made YOU more effective than you thought you could be?
  • What do YOU think of the list of choices above that could help YOU make time for renewal? Can YOU think of others to add to the list?
  • Take a few minutes and reflect on your current quality of life and be honest with yourself…Is this the life YOU were meant to Live? If the answer is NO – think about what it should look like (be realistic…not over the top fame & fortune…not that you can’t have that….but maybe something more near term). What steps can you take to move you…your family…your work in that direction?

Today is all we have…tomorrow is promised to no one. Make TODAY the life you were meant to live! Thanks for reading….and remember…YOU make a difference!

Please continue the conversation by liking…commenting or sharing this article. You can also follow me on twitter @marciedwhite


  • Marcia (Marcie) White

    YOU make a Difference

    Marcie is currently the Hewlett Packard Enterprises, Americas Relationship Director for HP Financial Services (HPEFS). Every day, Marcie strives to bring passion. purpose, high energy and a "get 'er done" attitude to all that she does. A life long learner with 25+ years experience in various industry verticals related to Information Technology and Consulting. Marcie applies her genuine desire to get to know others, her innovative marketing approaches as well as her technical, analytical and engineering qualifications to all aspects of her career.   Marcie holds a Bachelor of Science degree and certificate of Applied Science from Acadia University as well as a Bachelor of Industrial Engineering degree from Dalhousie University in Nova Scotia, Canada. She currently lives in Phoenix, Arizona with her husband Jonathan and two daughters Katie (24) and Emily (20).   In her spare time she enjoys writing a blog sharing stories from her leadership journey with each submission challenging the reader with “Leadership Questions of the Week” and the concept that YOU make a difference! (