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Winston-Salem, NC

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Oxygen Masks


“Put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others.”

It’s such a counter-intuitive statement, especially when I look over to my daughter seated next to me on the plane. As if I could bear to see her gasp even one time as I put my interests ahead of hers! And yet I know that if I reached first to her mask, in my fear and panic, my own breathing would increase as I scrambled to help her and keep her calm. And, of course, if I fall unconscious, I cannot help her at all.

If your job involves serving others (whether in a nonprofit or for-profit setting), people depend on you. At times you may feel like you are being called to give more of yourself – in time or in talent – than you believe you are capable of giving. Occasionally you may feel your heart rate increase as a sense of fear or panic (or even anger) sneak in.

When some serious health issues had me down for the count recently, I realized that I had been trying for quite a while to help others with their oxygen masks while I myself was gasping for air. Something had to change. I had to change. I committed to what I now call “My New 11,” eleven commitments that I made to live more consciously. I laid them out and printed them on a canvas that hangs on the wall above my desk.

Naturally I still falter with all of these from time to time. But these reminders serve as a calibrator for this Type A control freak. Every day I find myself making intentional choices to honor this new way I want to live. I grab the oxygen mask and breathe deeply.

Perhaps you have a New 11 (or 5 or 20) inside you, too. I encourage you to take the time to explore what gives you life and energy; these things contribute to your effectiveness, no matter who you are or what you do. You may even find that they are worth writing down and keeping in the seat pocket in front of you.