Put Your Mask On, First

Put Your Mask On, First

Phoenix Normand 16/10/2019 7

I travel a lot. And now that I'm no longer an Executive Assistant I make a concerted effort to really work on my situational awareness. It's one of my superpowers that took me to the top of the game as an EA and something I never want to dull or get dusty.

I'm the weirdo who actually listens to (and judges) the pre-flight safety demonstration. I watch the flight attendants like a hawk to see if they're phoning it in or if they've created their own choreography. Do they engage passengers to hand them the safety items? Do they put them on that nasty floor and pick up the vest and put it over their head onto their pristine uniforms? Do they take care wrapping everything back up intentionally or do they simply wad it up, toss it in the bag, and allow the next attendant on another flight to FITFO for themselves?

As I'm writing my new book (Volume 2: LIFE) mostly on airplanes these days, I had a bit of an epiphany during my recent flight to Toronto. When during the safety demonstration the attendants show how the oxygen masks deploy from the overhead panels in an emergency and how you are to affix that little yellow cup to your big, fat, face, they say something that almost seems antithetical to someone like me. A professional giver. A career EA. A Cancerian.

"Place the mask over YOUR nose and mouth, pull the bands to tighten, and breathe normally. Please secure YOUR mask before offering assistance to a child or another passenger."

First of all, if that shit drops from the panel above you can rest assured my breathing will not be normal by any stretch. I know me. I will have already figured out where my nearest exit is. I've already figured out which flight attendant I'll team up with to get all these fools off the plane safely. And will likely be doling out generous, unsolicited slaps to the face of anyone completely losing their shit and jacking up MY and the flight attendants' evacuation process.

However, that phrase really hit home because it perfectly sums up what I consider to be what's wrong with many in the business world right now. We're not taking the time to put our masks on, first. We're so busy helping others put their masks on and thrive that we're missing out on the fact that without the oxygen flowing from our own we are dying.

I'm Bringing SELFish Back

I'm sure I'll get shit for this, but pack a lunch because I defend it wholeheartedly. SELFish is no longer a bad word. It's now a battle cry. We've now reached a tipping point where we're drowning in obligation and expectation. A majority of us are living lives that were prescribed to us by our parents or situations that manifested from the decisions, good and bad, that we made...likely using paternal and societal expectations as a benchmark for a good life. What we found is that our realities aren't really what we want or what actually makes us happy. In other words, we affixed everyone else's masks before securing our own and are gasping for air while barely maintaining consciousness.

During my 27 years as a C-suite EA I was 100% complicit with this. My role was to make sure that my executives' and teams' masks were affixed before my own. My value and success in the role were predicated on it. However, what I realized while writing my book was that I had grown so accustomed to securing everyone else's mask first, that I'd actually forgotten how to secure my own. Worse, I'd lost the desire to do so. My "success" was so dependent on the needs and whims of others that I'd completely lost the concept of selfishness (read: self-preservation) and fallen victim to this unqualified narrative of selflessness and service that every do-gooder and EA advocate was forcing down my throat. My recent 50th birthday revealed all the collateral damage caused by me thinking I was being an altruist (in business) by taking the passenger seat for almost 3 decades in the role. I was fat. Unhappy. STILL single. Undersocialized. Borderline suicidal. But very well paid. #winning #not

Put Your Mask On, First.

The reason why you're supposed to put your mask on first is to enable YOU to be okay so that you can then assist others. If you are passed out in the next seat because of your valiant efforts helping others get their masks on, failing to secure yours, what good are you? In fact, you've now become a liability to those you've helped who will either help drag your barely breathing ass off the plane or wish you well as they exit the plane to save their own lives.

We need to realize that the narrative is false. As much as we'd like to believe the ages-old narrative that affixing others' masks first is the right thing to do it's actually not. Sure, helping others is wonderful and a really good karmic move. But, if you're doing it without helping yourself first and making sure that you're whole and breathing, you're a sucka, not a saint. Especially in business.

I teach being "the CEO of your own small business" when you work for someone else not to rock the buzzphrase du jour, but to get you to think and put yourself at the helm in your own life vs. the driver's seat. My success has been because I've mastered the concept of SELFishness. I secure my own mask before I affix others'. I know exactly what I need to be whole and supported and energized to then help others succeed. I've been disappointed that one-too-many-times to figure out that the people whom I've put before myself really had no desire to affix my mask before theirs. And I actually applaud them for it. They've provided the best lesson for the back half of my life that I could ever have imagined. I've learned that without my owning and embracing my own SELFishness I would never truly succeed professionally or in life.

Get SELFish. Bounce back.

There's nothing wrong with admitting that you've kinda fucked life up. You've made choices you were low-key forced into and have created a perfect print of your ass in the co-pilot seat of your own life. So here's a question: What are you gonna do about it?

I recently spent time with someone I respect tremendously. Outwardly, he had everything going on. Wealthy. In demand. Perfect family. But he admitted to me he was "so fucking lost" and not even sure whose life he was living. He never really wanted to be a CEO. He liked the product he created and got roped into all of the responsibility and accountability because that's just what you do. Right? He and his wife were in completely different worlds. His company was going okay, but not as well as he'd hoped. His friends were other CEOs with whom he had little in common aside from wealth and similar levels of ambition. His real friends had abandoned him long ago. His kids liked their mother more because she's whom they saw most. And his life had become this weird nebulous of surviving vs. thriving.

I asked him a simple question: "When was the last time you did something completely SELFish, where the decision had absolutely nothing to do with anyone else but YOU?" He thought about it for quite a while and couldn't really think of anything. For months back. He quickly realized that much of the silent anguish he was going through was self-imposed. He had been running through the plane affixing everyone else's masks and completely starved himself and his life of much-needed oxygen. That conversation, I came to find out, completely changed his perspective and intention in his own life. He's now preparing to sell his company, seeking marriage counseling to save his marriage, creating time in his calendar to be "Dad," and reading every self-empowerment book he can get his hands on. Even more importantly, he's reaching out to each of his real friends, apologizing for his absence in their lives, and reconnecting with each of them individually to start new, intentional, hyper present relationships.

If You're Not Whole, You're a Phony. Officially.

I can spot this shit a mile away, now. People running around gloating about their service to others while their personal lives are completely falling apart, finances are a mess, and relationships are hanging by a thread. I'm sorry, but there's nothing sexy about altruism if you're not even truthful, gracious, kind, and attentive to YOURSELF. In fact, steer completely clear of me because I don't want the energy in my space.

It's time to get whole and truly seek and reclaim our personal power. Sure, you can be in service of others, but don't "service" others. That makes you a prostitute. #fightme Being in service of others means that you are clear on who you are, what you bring to the table, and to what degree you can give without being taken advantage of. Your personal power comes from being able to dispense your unique gifts in increments that help others succeed but not to the detriment of self. If you're not breathing oxygen while you help others do so you're a liability, not a help. And you give others the permission to use you up, maybe even steal your oxygen mask when they run out of oxygen in their own.

In Conclusion

Put your mask on first. Make sure you are filling your lungs with the oxygen YOU need to breathe normally and be okay. THEN you can help others do the same. When you live with the expectation of reciprocity, especially in today's society, you are making a fool's bet. Even if you're in the business of being of service, you still have to make sure that you're serving yourself and your needs first so that you can be of service to others authentically. As antithetical as it may sound, it's Survival 101 in today's social media-driven, what's-in-it-for-me society. Get hip. Or get a really good therapist. And if you still don't believe me make sure you have insane health and life insurance coverage. You'll need it. 

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  • Nicholas Graham

    Wow wow wow. Your words are pure wisdom.

  • Chris Vowels

    Heal yourself first.

  • Jamie O'Loughlin

    I seriously need to make some changes in my life.

  • Shane Kolbohm

    So true

  • Alex Seddon

    Powerful wisdom!!

  • James Brown

    I come first. I’m so grateful for myself.

  • Zoriada Morales

    I am about to celebrate my 1st Divorce Anniversary and I've been putting my mask on first for the last few years; grinding and growing. Your article resonated with me as I am on the journey. Working for a C Suite, acclimating high school senior to college life, assisting high school freshman to urban lifestyle in NYC while working and attending Rutgers University Certification of Project Management. and on chemo while in remission. Thank you for reminding me that I come first. I think I will gift myself you as my xmas gift to see you in NYC this February. We're connected on LinkedIn. I hope to meet you at your 2/29 event. You talk like a New Yorker. HAha

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Phoenix Normand

Society Expert

Phoenix is coaching and supporting American billionaires, CEOs and executive teams in tech, retail and banking for over 25 years. He also founded and created MEGA Assistant University, a revolutionary skills and mindset “boot camp” for top Executive and Personal Assistants who want to level up quickly and begin forging a mutually successful business partnership with their executives and teams. Phoenix holds a Bachelors of Arts in European Studies/Civilisation from Trinity College Dublin.

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