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Fit your own oxygen mask first

Jennifer Kenworthy
Candle and red pillow placed by a white window

Before COVID-19, the idea of self-care and time out was more centred around holidays and massages. As COVID throws us the most unusual of circumstances, self-care has pivoted – perhaps it’s now about treating yourself to a day free of news or social media, a walk in the sunshine or simply switching off your computer when the workday ends.

‘Fit your own oxygen mask first’. I recently heard this statement for the first time in a while, out of its normal context and it really resonated with me... Not just because I desperately want to hear an airline safety demo as I head off on holiday, but as a phrase we hear all the time, it’s never felt truer than for leaders of teams as we navigate our way through the changes COVID throws our way.
 
The last few months have thrown many of us professional and personal challenges we have never before navigated. There is no guidebook, the path keeps changing and the uncertainty looms. As leaders, we are looked to for support, answers and guidance and are expected to know all the answers. Don’t get me wrong – vulnerability is key to social connection and we must show our human side but if we are taking on the task to lead people through such significant adversity, we have to ensure we equip ourselves effectively.

I heard this statement recently during a discussion forum with sales leaders that I respect most in the industry. Fit your own mask first. But why? To be able to help others, you must first help yourself to ensure you are in fit state. In order to give your best, you must be at your best.

Now, to be completely honest and vulnerable, lockdown 2.0 has affected me as much as the next person in terms of fatigue, frustration and motivation. I know the recipe to manage this best is getting lots of sleep, exercise and eating well. However, with so much change and uncertainty, the balance is sure to get out of whack occasionally and I’m sure I’m not alone.

Getting oxygen is about taking time to focus on your own self-care and re-gain perspective. Looking after yourself might be about recognising when you are off your game and taking the time to breathe, re-group, and re-set. A good vent at times can help us all.

No one is exempt to the pressure and stresses of constant change and uncertainty, but it takes a strong leader to be comfortably vulnerable and admit when then they just need to take 5. To then come back in equipped and ready to fight another day is energising not just for yourself but for those around you and also sets the example and gives room for others to follow suit. Fix your own oxygen mask first, then you’ll be able to be the best you can to help those around you.

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