Secure Your Own Mask First

If you’ve ever traveled on an airplane, you’ve heard the advice to “secure your own mask before attempting to help another passenger.” That’s a simple reminder we should take with ourselves more often.

Helping others and having a giving spirit is wonderful. But, while we should all become expert “givers” – of our love, attention, expertise, and value – it’s important to remember we are entitled to receive it once in a while. I was reminded that recently when I came upon a post by the wonderful Stephanie Calahan on the importance of flexing our “receiving” muscles. It took me back to an experience in my own life that I’d like to share today…

Like all truly happy stories, this one starts with a nearly-terminal bout of cancer. I can distinctly remember my doctors handing my family and myself a pamphlet, and advising that I get my will in order. What can I say? Sometimes you just hold on to the little things.

But (spoiler alert), I didn’t succumb to the illness and write this post from the other side. Instead, I listened to the little voice inside of my head that literally screamed “I haven’t accomplished enough yet!” and made it through. I truly believe it was that extra sense of determination that made all the difference for me when it came to beating cancer.

But while my determination was strong, in order to regain my strength and get my life back to normal, however, I had to learn to accept the strength of others. I just didn’t have the fuel to get through the day-to-day grind. I needed help with small daily tasks, and more than that, their visits and encouragement.

Learning to Give – and Get – the Help We Need

It was during this time, roughly five months after my physicians had advised me of my imminent mortality, that a good friend came by with her enormous, loving hugs. I still smile at the memory of them today. Her hugs were (and remain) that good.

On this particular afternoon, we settled in and chatted for hours over tea. During our talk, I noticed something I hadn’t ever paid much attention to before: my friend was a single mom who was caring for her aging mother (who happened to suffer from dementia). She was also helping to care for her adult daughter, who was an under-employed single mother herself.

My friend was essentially the caregiver to everyone in her home… and doing it all while bouncing between a number of poor-paying jobs. Her burden was enormous, and yet she never complained. All day long, she devoted the sum of her strength and love to her family and took nothing in return. It was a one-way street of care and affection.

However, at one point during our visit that day, I saw the tiniest crack in her mask of smiles and hugs. In that moment, I understood how much she was suffering from those burdens. My heart ached.

Abruptly, I asked her what she did to “refuel.” She looked at me blankly for a moment, the smile on her face dropping for a split second, before clenching her fists and turning her best and brightest expression back on. It was too late, though, I had seen it. I knew the pain she bore.

Secure Your Own Mask First

After our talk, I gave my friend the best hug I could manage. Mine were a little weak at the time, compared to hers, but I figured it was the thought that counts.

In the following weeks, however, I was determined to help her find a way to recharge. As it happened, she came across an opportunity to attend a conference in the US on behalf of her employer. I practically begged her to take the chance she had, already being away from home and her normal day-to-day responsibilities, to get some time for herself. After a bit of cajoling, she decided to take a couple extra days to herself and make a short detour to Mount Rushmore.

Naturally, she returned with a mug for me embossed with the four famous faces (there she was again, thinking of someone else). When she handed it to me, she was beaming. She expressed her gratitude for the encouragement, as it had turned out to be just what she needed to find a bit of peace and energy. She had just needed a chance to refuel and reset her mind.

Let’s not forget that it’s hard to be of use to anyone else if we are suffering, drowning with anxiety, or too burnt out to be fully present.

The more you give, the more you get. That’s true in business, relationships, and (probably) karma. And it’s usually better to give than receive. But, when it comes to managing stress and emotions, don’t forget that it’s okay to be on the other end of kindness, appreciation, and self-care once in a while, no matter how daunting those marketing deadlines can be.

Volunteer to Recharge

On a related note, I'd like to share with you that the team at KAYAK has found that volunteering for a worthy cause is an excellent way to recharge. One such project we've been supporting for many years is the Duke of Edinburg Awards, a federally registered charity for the development of young people ages 14-24.

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