Oxygen Mask Theory

I've flown more this year than any year before.  The miles, the airports, and single serving friends have been racking up as my tolerance for the pre-flight safety demonstration has been diminishing. But, one line said every time reminds me of one of the best advice I’ve received in life: “Place your oxygen mask on first and then assist others.” My senior year in college, I was a cocky kid with a job lined up and an expectation that the workforce of the world would be happy to have me, perhaps even better off.  I have loved working and making money ever since my lemonade stand in 1988 and now I was finally making it to the big time.  One of the best classes I took that year was an executive lecture course that met once a week. Every other week we had an alumnus come back and speak to our class about life after Texas A&M and the advice that they wish someone had given them.  Every week I did my best to glean some kernel of wisdom from their talk and always volunteered to be a part of the group that went to lunch with the executive after class.  The advice ranged from how to manage your money to how to hustle for a new job.

One week, the speaker wasn’t a high powered executive, but an elementary school teacher.  I didn’t really know what to expect, but told myself I was going to find at least one thing to take with me. As she began to talk, I found her stories insightful, but not necessarily applicable to the direction I saw my career going.  But then she said something that I wrote down and that frankly I have remembered more clearly than any of the other speakers that semester.  She taught us the Oxygen Mask Theory.

When the flight attendants say, “Place your oxygen mask on first and then assist others” they are sharing some wisdom that I often forget.  The reason you need to put your mask on first is so that you are still alive to help others.  If instead you are busy helping others first and die from lack of oxygen, you efforts to be helpful will be worthless and your death will be in vain.  But, if you take the time to make sure that you are going to be alright, then you can go on and assist others for a much longer time.

As the holidays and the end of the year come, I am going to take some time to make sure that my oxygen mask is on for the new year.  I am no good to anyone in my life if I am moments away from professional or personal asphyxiation.

So here’s to you, your oxygen mask, and a wonderful year ahead.