Saturday, June 19, 2010

Secure Your Own Mask First Before Helping Others

Hate commercial air travel? Despite your aversion, the airlines do teach an important life lesson on every flight. What's that? "Secure your own mask first before helping others." This is extraordinary advice that applies to an amazing number of life's challenges -- things that regularly come up in meetings of Chief Executive Boards International. No, it's not "selfish" or lacking in charity or volunteerism. It's not "don't help others", but rather "Secure your own mask first."

What are some of those situations? I can think of several:
  • Problems with kids -- Addiction, acting out, self-destructive behavior, eating disorders, learning disabilities, chronic or life-threatening health issues. The list is endless, and most experts' first recommendation is that the parents themselves get into counseling.

    Changing the kid's behavior is challenging, stressful, and full of disappointments beyond the parents' control. What they can control are their own responses and developing the coping skills necessary to deal with a card life dealt them beyond their control. Kid issues can tear a couple apart if they don't find some support beyond themselves.
  • Addiction of a loved one, significant other, etc. I learned The #1 Thing to Know About Addiction in a CEBI meeting. You can't help the addict at all -- in fact, most anything you try will make the problem worse. What you can do is get to an Al-Anon chapter to help yourself understand, accept and cope with the situation. Secure your own mask first.
  • Retirement savings vs. college funding -- If you have to make a choice between the two, most experts advise saving for retirement. The kids can figure something out -- many of us had to. They can borrow money to go to college and pay it back after they get a job. Don't try that plan for your retirement -- it's probably a non-starter.
  • Problem employees -- There's generally a lot of collateral damage around a problem employee. Rather than getting entangled with trying to "fix" the problem employee, worry about yourself, the company and the rest of the employees. Do what's better for them, which is addressing the problem head-on with the problem employee, resulting in either a behavior change or a termination as quickly as possible. The survival of yourself and the company are not worth jeopardizing for any problem child on your payroll.  See "When Do You Decide to Do Something About a Problem Employee?"
  • Business Failure -- If you even suspect that your business is in trouble, be sure to secure your own mask before helping others.  You need to conserve energy, attitude and cash to fight another day. That means making sure you have financial assets outside the business that are protected from creditors, the bank, etc. Others may have to take a back seat to your own financial survival. After all, you'll never make them whole if you don't conserve some seed corn for your next career adventure, whatever that turns out to be.
This article isn't about being unwilling to help others. It's about keeping yourself in a position to do that. When adversity strikes, the important thing is to be sure you're in the best shape possible to help those affected. In many cases, "Secure your own mask first before helping others" is the best way to do that.

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Terry Weaver

Chief Executive Boards International

Chief Executive Boards International: Freedom for business owners & CEOs -- Less Work, More Money, More Freedom to enjoy it

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