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Taking Care of You

Put your oxygen mask on first before helping others who need assistance.” How many times have you heard these words on an airplane? Every time you flew, right?

Did the passengers rebel and say, “We can’t do that! It’s way too selfish!” No? Why?

Because it’s common sense. If you don’t put your own oxygen mask on first, you’ll pass out and be of absolutely no good to yourself or others.

Yet why doesn’t this same logic apply to other areas of our life?

Consider the thoroughbred horse. They are bred, trained, and nurtured for one purpose: to win on the racetrack.

Do these horses get proper rest? You bet! They have the warmest, softest blankets and bedding around. Do these horses get nutritious, balanced meals at regular intervals? Absolutely. Exercise? Health Care? Daily.

Are thoroughbreds asked to pull plows and milk trucks and then win on the track too? No, they are respected and appreciated for doing what they do best.

We expect thoroughbred performance from ourselves at home and at work. Yet we often deny ourselves even the most basic self care any human needs to function. Is it any wonder our bodies hit “TILT”?

I had lunch yesterday with a friend who had resigned from her job a few weeks ago. Although she technically worked “only” three days per week, she traveled out of state most of that time and was on call the other two (or actually four, counting weekends) days of the week. On the rare occasions when she was in town, she had a one-hour commute to her office each way, and her company frowned on working remotely—even though her clients were all out of state.

Still, we both know many women who would kill for the “luxury” of even this degree of flexibility. The sad part is that her former company really is among the most family friendly out there.

First of all, she was permitted to work “part time”. On top of one of the most generous maternity leave policies in the country, she was also permitted to stockpile vacation and personal days before giving birth. The net result was she took an unheard-of twenty-four-week maternity leave with each child. Yet now, with two sons ages four and seven, she finally had to call it quits.

What drove her to this point? Unmistakable signs from her body that all was not right with this picture. To get out of bed in the morning, she’d have to do a minimum fifteen minutes of stretching first. Her back was in such spasm from the stress, she literally couldn’t move otherwise. In the past twelve months, she has had pneumonia, two double ear infections that twice resulted in ruptured ear drums, and more colds and infections than she could even count. Talk about a body sending a message to the brain!

Even with all these physical challenges, she’d probably still be gutting it out were it not for the proverbial final straw.

What finally prompted her to type up that resignation letter is that her youngest is having some speech delays. She quit for him, to ensure he gets the extra attention he needs to catch up.

As we talked, she realized that over the past few years, she’s given up anything in her life that was for her. Her family and work responsibilities are regularly fulfilled, but not one more thing could fit in her life.

My friend is an exceptional businesswoman and an exemplary mother. I can only imagine what she could have achieved, personally and professionally, if she had given herself permission to stop and breathe occasionally.

What’s your “oxygen mask”? How do you make time to take care of you?

By Eline Cafasso forWork Her Way