One of those cliche truisms that you hear bandied around quite a bit from life coaches and the like is, “put your own oxygen mask first.” As a rule, this makes a lot of sense and is something that I think about a fair bit on a wider scale – if I’m broken, then I’m incapable of helping anyone around me.
From a young age, we’re taught that being selfless is a noble pursuit. It is drilled into us to give up our seat to pregnant women and the elderly on the bus, to hold the door for people and to be generous with sharing what we have with friends.
These are valuable lessons and if you have kids, you’re probably like me and you make sure that you pass these lessons along.
I grew up and did 15 years of Catholic school before University – 10 years of primary school and 5 of high school. From as far back as I can remember, I was taught the Bible at school and there’s one principle that I remember from Matthew, “He who is first shall be last and he who is last shall be first.”
The impact of religion on in modern secular life has waned over the years, but maxims like that are still culturally ingrained into the fabric of Western society – we know that it is important at times to put other people ahead of ourselves because it’s the right thing to do.
But sticking with the religious theme for a second, you don’t have to be a martyr.
I see people doing this all the time in their business – they put themselves second and everyone else first. It could be their customers, their employees, their suppliers, doesn’t matter, everyone else comes first and they come last.
You know what happens then?
They go out of business.
Sure, people might say nice things about them and remember their generosity of spirit fondly for a fleeting moment, but at the end of the day, the business goes away because the owner decided to be selfless to a fault.
Sometimes, you just have to look after yourself first.
We’ll go back to the oxygen mask on the plane analogy. When the plane depressurizes and loses oxygen, if you don’t put your own mask on first and get the oxygen flowing, you simply won’t be able to help the other people around you for very long before you pass out from hypoxia.
In Jordan Peterson’s most recent book, “12 Rules For Life: An Antidote to Chaos”, Peterson devotes a whole rule to taking care of yourself. He points out, rightfully so, that many people are more likely to ensure that their pet takes a full course of medication prescribed by a vet than they are to take a full course of antibiotics for themselves prescribed by their doctor.
And it’s totally true.
There’s something hardwired into almost everyone where they don’t take care of themselves as well as they do other people or even their family pet.
But that’s not good for the pet, right? If you don’t take your medication and end up in hospital, or worse, then who’s going to look at them?
Same goes for business.
I see people doing things in their business that is absolutely not in their own best interest. They put everyone and everything else ahead of the overall health of their business and they justify it in the name of “serving others”.
That sounds lovely until you can’t afford to keep the lights on and you have to make staff redundant and tell customers that you won’t be servicing them anymore.
So use this as a wake-up call and take stock.
Are you putting everyone else’s welfare ahead of the welfare of your business and yourself? If so, you’re not doing them any favours in the long run.
When you identify this behaviour, figure out how to restore some level of balance – I’m not talking about tilting the table the other way exclusively in your favour, just level things out.
Make putting your own mask on first or taking the full course of your medication a priority. I don’t care what analogy you’re most comfortable, just make sure that you spend some time looking out for your business as a priority because honestly, nobody else will do it for you.