When I was in Boy Scouts one of the merit badges I earned was Lifesaving. The most important lesson I took from that experience was that if a person is drowning you should never jump in to try to save them. Instead, look for an object to throw to them to help them float or something that can help to pull them in from tumultuous water. If you jump in after them, their distress will sink you – literally.
This can be better explained by what I call the Oxygen Mask Theory. Should the oxygen masks on an airplane drop you should always put yours on first before you help someone else.
These situations prove that it is not selfish to put yourself first. It’s safer and smarter to do so. In our lives situations may not arise that are as threatening as a plane crash or a drowning, but the message is still important for us to hear – especially those that tend to do things to please others, all the while putting their own needs, ambitions and passions to the side. Putting yourself first isn’t selfish. It’s allowing you to reach your fullest potential and realize your best and truest self. To me, that isn’t putting yourself before others, it’s allowing a better version of you for others. Wherever you are and whoever you are with, why not be your best self?
I wouldn’t say I am abundantly selfish or selfless, but what I can say is that sometimes I struggle with self care. I don’t always speak the words or take the actions that are best in line for my own growth. As a young person navigating the start of their “real-world” life and the first big chapter that isn’t affiliated with school, self-care can too often take a back seat.
But as I began to feel the heaviness of burnout weighing me down, I felt I was pushed to the breaking point of finally putting myself first. I booked a trip to Maine, to physically remove myself from my environment. There was no reminders of work projects, family obligations, or my to-do list. All that was in Maine was time for myself, and my best friend Erin.
In the few days I spent in Maine there was hiking trips to a secluded beach with sparkly white sand and the clearest ocean water. There was an adventure to Monhegan Island to view breathtaking cliffs, intense trails and a panorama of the majestic Atlantic Ocean. There was trying out yoga for the first time a day spent touring coffee shops and bookstores, journaling, reading and writing this blog. There was car rides and conversations. There was time to give back to myself and to do what I love and what fulfills me.
We won’t be able to escape the pressures in life. There will always be work, conflict and problems to solve. But this trip away, this time for myself, allowed me to feel refreshed. It gave me time away to care for myself. Granted we don’t need to take a trip hundreds of miles away to feel this way. But it served as a great reminder that making more time for the things I love, the people that lift me up and even having an adventure or trying something new. As a young person trying to start building his life, career and future, self care is even more crucial to reaching success and happiness.
So don’t forget to put on your oxygen mask. Instead of suffocating through life, try breathing easily.