Estrella Rosenberg

Putting On Your Own Oxygen Mask First

In Best Practices, Leadership, Non-Profit, Personal on April 6, 2011 at 11:48 pm

When you get on any airplane, before takeoff a flight attendant goes through safety procedures and tells you that in case of cabin pressure loss oxygen masks will be dropped. They instruct you to put your own mask on before helping others.

I fly a couple times a month on average. I’ve never once seen a passenger raise their hand and object to this idea. Who would? The fact that you need to be breathing in order to help your fellow passengers isn’t a hard piece of logic to digest.

Yet as non-profit leaders we overwhelmingly don’t do this. We think it’s our duty to work 20 hour days without eating. To go on less than 4 hours of sleep for weeks on end, give up going to the gym, the doctor, seeing our family and friends…or any other part of the outside world in the days or weeks leading up to big campaigns.

We are responsible for delivering impact into dozens, hundreds or thousands of lives yet we’re not taking the time to make sure we’re nourished enough to do so.

I’m not writing this from some high horse, urging you to follow my exemplary footsteps. I’ve had a horrible time internalizing this idea in the years I’ve devoted my life to making change.

Last fall I was immobile for almost a month from ignoring my own needs in exchange for my mission’s. I didn’t listen to what my body needed, which certainly wasn’t to stress my injured back by 10,000+ miles of travel and multiple speaking engagements in less than a week.

Did my organization get some great things because I didn’t listen to my body? Sure. But I also had to leave one of our fundraisers because I couldn’t stand I was in so much pain. I was at less than 25% capacity for work output and my days were cut in half to accommodate my physical therapy schedule for an entire month. That doesn’t seem so great for my non-profit or the children I work so hard for.

Being a good leader means not being a martyr. We all know this in our heads – it’s time to internalize it in our hearts.

What do you do to take care of yourself?

*This post also appears inside the #NPZen Sandbox at 501 Mission Place. Want to poke around there? New subscribers to our free newsletter get one month of premium membership free with no-strings attached.

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  1. Great post! I can relate to everything you said – apart from the flying around bit. I am doing a lot better finding a work-life balance than I have done in a long time. I exercise 3 times a week and actually relax over the weekend – reading, catching up on some TV and also not having the computers on at all. I am loving it!

  2. Absolutely true – critical advice. Being a good leader also means not allowing others working for (or with) you to judge each other by who can give up the most for the cause. Not that I’ve ever seen that happen at a nonprofit … ;-)

  3. Nice post! It really is important to balance nonprofit work and personal life/self care, or in the long run, as you say, both things suffer. Around our office, we keep fruit and other healthy snacks in the kitchen to fuel our bodies well. We have “Step Challenges” and fitness benefits that encourage us to walk more and go to the gym. And most of us “unplug” on the weekends, which helps us recharge for the work we love to do! Thanks, @kansashealthorg

  4. Such a simple truth…yet so hard to internalize. It is so hard to turn it off sometimes even when exhausted or in pain because we are doing it for “GOOD”.
    Thanks for sharing.

  5. So true. So important to take time for you and take care of yourself. Also finding the right work/life balance is critical, esp if you have little ones depending on you. I think you have found that balance :)

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