“Ladies and gentlemen, I’d like to direct your attention to the oxygen masks and emergency exits”​

And please …. you must put your own mask on first

Life as we know it has changed beyond belief in the last 8 weeks, we’re all learning a new way of life and having conversations we couldn’t have even conceived of just a couple of months ago. There’s been a lot about putting masks on, the lack of masks, where to find masks, their effectiveness and it’s all underpinned by a sense of emergency and just how important it is to protect others; our loved ones, our NHS, our economy, our whole nation.

And it is, it’s vital.

But, there’s another crucial point in all this too, we need to protect ourselves. Not because we are selfish or uncaring, it’s the exact opposite, it’s being selfless. If we have our mask on first, it means we can be the best version of ourselves and that puts us in the strongest position possible to help others.

This isn’t a new concept. Remember the days when we used to get on aeroplanes?! Seems like a long time ago doesn’t it? But the message from the flight attendants is the same every flight:

“Should the cabin lose pressure, oxygen masks will drop from the overhead area. Please place the mask over your own mouth and nose before assisting others, including small children.”

Let’s be honest here, we aren’t really listening are we? We all know we should, it’s important, but actually we are looking at what drink we are going to have — what film is on — are the kids going to sleep — are they going to be good and we’re thinking …. I can’t wait to relax around the pool — ski down the mountain — explore the city — relax chill out . So we don’t listen, and as the flight attendant goes on to tell us where the emergency exits are, we’ve already forgotten about it, because there won’t be an emergency, not today, not on my flight.

Hang on though….

Anyone felt like we’ve been in free fall over the last few weeks because we have entered that ‘in case of emergency’ procedure?

Covid-19 really has highlighted the importance of putting your own oxygen mask on first. It couldn’t be any clearer.

It’s why our front-line workers, our NHS doctors and nurses are fighting so hard to get enough masks and why so many campaigns are happening to raise money, to help make masks and why manufacturing industries and many small businesses have utilised their skills and production lines to produce more …. because without them the front-line workers can’t do their jobs, they can’t save lives and the NHS won’t be OK. If these key workers aren’t in a position to work to the best of their ability, the NHS will buckle, those in need of care won’t get it and in some cases they inadvertently end up becoming the patients themselves and leaning on the very system they are trained to help run smoothly and protect.

Sobering thoughts and utterly heart-breaking, but we have to find the positives. And we really do have to learn to put our own mask on first.

It’s not selfish … it’s selfless.

You can’t help anyone else (and yes that includes children ) if you are not OK yourself.

You can’t help anyone else if you are struggling.

Making sure you are OK first, means you can help others. As leaders, at home, in our community, in our teams, in our business.

It’s about being well enough to help others, looking after your own needs first. Basic needs; food, water, shelter, sleep and oxygen…. but what else do you need ? Where are your emergency exits? Is it a walk,? A run? Yoga? Time on your own? Time away from your screen …. switched off from zoom calls and Teams meetings? Away the news ?

You need to be able to breathe, you need to be able to stop, look after yourself, put your mask on, get oxygen to the brain so you can think. So you can be calm, so you can cope with the situation, so you can look around and see who needs help first and THEN you start to put others masks on, then you can help others.

And make sure you know where those emergency exits are too.

If you need help with your oxygen mask, if you need to find the escape routes please reach out and ask. Because you won’t be able to find the card with the pictures on, in the case of an emergency otherwise.

There are so many ways you can secure your mask and get the best supply of oxygen, I’ll save them for another blog though. For today, just remind yourself that if you’ve got your mask on, you really are at your very best, for yourself and for everyone else too.

And if you need help with your own mask or where to find the emergency exits then ask…..

Written with Kate Smith, helping me with my oxygen mask and keeping the emergency exits clear.

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