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Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Why You Need to Put on Your Own Oxygen Mask First

I took a plane trip with my son earlier this year and had to listen to the steward(ess) spiel like 14,000 times (4) about how we need to put our own oxygen mask on before helping others, even our children.  I’m not the first person to recognize this as profound life advice, even if I don’t always take it.  I, like a lot of people, often find myself rushing about in a literally breathless way; heart pounding, adrenaline coursing through my body…and this is at the grocery store. 

Some days I feel like I have that hour glass from The Wizard of Oz running in my head; like Dorothy, I’m not 100% sure what is going to happen when the sand runs out, but I sure as hell know it’s nothing good.  When I lived in L.A., I started thinking of this internal pressure as “the fake deadline” (L.A., the official home of the fake deadline!)… and I recognized my belief that if I completed everything in accordance with the fake deadline I had myself imposed, people would love and appreciate me for it. 

Only it turned out, not so much.  People can hardly feel appreciation for a standard they were unaware of; and more importantly, people rarely love you because of what you do.  They almost always love you for who you are.

This is why it is so critical that you know who that is…all of it, the beautiful and the mundane, the sacred and the profane.  We are all a crazy mixed up stew of every imaginable thing, and all of it is incredibly important and all of it should be honored.  A true friend is like an oxygen mask for your soul.  The powerful experience of mutual selection—I dig you, you dig me—is alchemy.  We are transformed by the acceptance and support of our friends, and the oxygen flows freely.  But how many circumstances do we allow in our lives that pinch us off from that vital current? 

And how many situations do we create where we are so busy tending to the needs of others that our needs get forgotten entirely?  So often our work, our commitments, even our families keep us from nurturing ourselves, from stopping to take a breath.  We forget to put on our own oxygen mask first; then, we blame our circumstances and relationships for not giving us room to breathe.  It is easy to forget that give and take is the nature of any healthy relationship, personal or professional. When we are so driven by our deadlines, fake and otherwise, that we deprive others of their opportunity to express themselves generously to us, we are pinching off oxygen to that connection.  We are disallowing the flow.
In great relationships, we meet others exactly where they are and that favor is returned.  We meet in despair, joy, silliness, anger; we bring our gifts to the table and accept and allow others to do the same.  We need not sacrifice our morals or beliefs or eccentricities or sense of humor or insecurities or vulnerability because they are met with understanding and compassion.   Whenever I am in a situation with true connection, my heart stops racing, the adrenaline stops coursing, my breathing is regular; I am allowed to just be myself. 

Unfortunately, most of us are taught from an early age that obedience is more important than self-expression, and this becomes our way of life.  Whenever I have a friend who describes one of their children as “willful” or “sassy” or “headstrong” I say GOOD.  I don’t consider “compliant” to be much of a compliment.  Too many of us were squashed for being outspoken, “inappropriately” curious, even for being creative.  We forget who we are and only remember who we are "supposed" to be.  Our friends provide us with the gentle and continual reminder that we are okay AS IS.  Our friends remind us to breathe.

Now the challenge I face (and I have a sneaking suspicion I am not the only one) is can I cultivate daily this same kind of relationship with myself?  There is a famous quote that reminds us “Well-behaved women seldom make history”; it makes me wonder if we can successfully learn to live without our “shoulds”?  Can we live unapologetically and without regrets?  When we find ourselves in a situation or relationship that pinches us off from our flow, will we be brave enough to take a stand, make a change, risk disapproval for our “disobedience”? 

One thing I have come to understand quite plainly is that NO MATTER WHAT I DO, there are always going to be some people who love me, some people who hate me, some people who simply feel irritated by me and some people who DO NOT EVEN NOTICE ME.  I love that!  I am the burr under one guy’s saddle and as invisible as a ghost to the next.  I don’t get to pick and choose; I just express myself and let the chips fall.  I have learned to trust rejection, even though it rarely feels good; as AndrĂ© Gide wrote, “It is better to be hated for what you are than to be loved for what you are not.” 

When we choose to be true to ourselves, life never ceases to be interesting; it never ceases to be vibrant.  Make sure your own needs are met so you can fully attend to the people you care about without gasping for breath.  Always remember to put on your own oxygen mask first; it can save your life.



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