When is the last time you flew in an airplane? Did you listen to the flight attendant give their safety talk?
I hope so. Turns out that speech contains a very important life lesson.
Every time you fly, you’ll hear the attendant remind you that in case of an emergency, you should always put your oxygen mask on before assisting others. That may sound selfish, but it’s a very practical consideration - who will help those around you if you become unconscious due to lack of oxygen?
I don’t mean to worry you by talking about airplane emergencies. But over and over again I’ve seen my clients, especially women, struggle with the concept of prioritizing caring for themselves.
When we think of self-care, we mean trying to schedule regular time for fitness and to eat nutritious foods. I’m not saying these aren’t wonderful ways to care for yourself and reduce stress in our lives. They are.
Unfortunately, the ways in which small business owners ignore self-care and burn themselves out are far more subtle.
How many times have you taken a client call on your lunch break? Responded to “one quick email” during a family event? Agreed to move up a deadline suddenly because a client was “in a bind”?
We make those choices because we genuinely want to help and please people. That’s what makes us so good at what we do - we help our clients!
How about your friends or family? Have you ever dropped work in the middle of a project to fix a non-emergency problem for your child? Put off your own plans because a friend called to vent?
Our impulse is to help others immediately, no matter what the cost to ourselves. And as tempting as that is, we need to change that.
Carmela* is a client of mine who works as a freelance translator. Her teenage daughter has multiple disabilities, and although she loves her very much, taking care of her daughter takes up a lot of time.
For years, she would jump into action whenever her child had any need, whether or not the need was immediate. When the school called, she would never consider saying “I’ll call you back in 10 minutes.” She would drop everything and prepare for an extended intervention.
It got to the point where Carmela was so frazzled she couldn’t give her daughter or her business the focus they deserved. After we started working together, she learned to carve out time to care for herself and reset. Eventually, she was able to set healthy boundaries that made her a happier, calmer person.
You don’t need to go into immediate response mode for every call – some things can and should wait. Not every problem is yours to fix.
The more you practice setting aside time for yourself, the more others around you will respect you and your boundaries. Many of my clients worry that taking care of themselves somehow means being selfish, but the truth is that stress, isolation or lack of exercise can seriously affect your productivity.
And if you’re struggling to set boundaries and control your time, consider investing in private coaching to learn how to navigate the unique challenges you’re facing.
Yes, you can care for others, but you have to care for yourself first. It’s just like the oxygen masks on airplanes - take the time to help yourself first and you’ll be able to help others later.
Ready to start feeling in control of your schedule again? Schedule a FREE 30-minute coaching information session now.
*Names have been changed for confidentiality