At the beginning of every flight, airline attendants explain to passengers that if the cabin loses pressure ‘put your mask on first’ before helping others. Wisdom I believe applicable beyond that flight. Whether it is your kids, your spouse, your aging parents or those in need, we often prioritize the needs of others above our own. The pressures of life mount and the stress of selflessly caring for the demands of others can be turbulent. Then much like that flight the attendant warns you about, the pressure overtakes you, and the oxygen masks drop.
It is natural in times of stress to retreat inward and take the time to focus on ourself, isolating from the pressures of our environment. But waiting until the pressure of life can no longer be balanced to get that needed self focus is too late, and can be debilitating if lasting for extended periods of time. Our lengthy ‘time-outs’ in our blanket forts or sofa surfing television binges provide a temporary escape, but inevitably just transfers the stress to those we wanted to protect from it in the first place.
Maintaining that delicate balance of external and internal pressures to keep everyone comfortable is never easy. It requires solid boundaries to prevent the outside from coming in, and maybe more importantly keeping the inside from coming out. It also requires a constant calibration of our time, energy, and efforts, focused on ourself and for others, balanced across activities that serve both the present and future demands, all while releasing the negative pressures from the past.
Don’t let the oxygen masks drop on your life journey. Create the daily discipline to balance the pressures and keep burnout at bay. Carve out a little time for yourself everyday, to read, to write, to exercise, or to focus on the work that energizes you the most. Ask for help when needed, share your feelings and frustrations, change what you can and accept what you can’t. Prioritize the present tasks at hand while not abandoning your purposeful future. Find the positivity and passion everyday to thwart the pessimism and procrastination. A daily decision to ‘be well’ can enable and empower you to ‘serve well’.
If I am not for myself, who is for me? When I am for myself, what am I? If not now, when?
– Rabbi Hillel, Ancient Jewish Philosopher (Pirkei Avot [“Ethics of the Ancestors”])