My husband, comedian Daniel Lobell, has a great joke in his new one-man show about putting on your oxygen mask before you put on your baby’s. I’m not going to give it to you for free; you’ll need to check him out in the Edinburgh Fringe to see it.
This statement about the oxygen mask really rings true to me. All the time, I see people in relationships putting their partners first, or parents putting their kids’ needs ahead of their own while at the same time neglecting their own self-care. While there are definitely times when you need to put your ego or needs aside and tend to others, you cannot do this 24-7. It’s draining. If you’re not taking care of yourself, you’re not going to be of any use to anybody.
Before I became a workaholic in recovery, I always put my clients’ needs ahead of my own. If they Slacked me while I was on the treadmill, I anxiously messaged them back right away. I’d check my email constantly — and I mean, I’d refresh it over and over again until something came in. If a client called, I would immediately answer, because, G-d forbid it would go to voicemail. I’d answer messages outside of office hours and on the weekends.
I didn’t want my clients to think I was a flake. I wanted them to know I was at their beck and call pretty much 24-6. Living this way was draining, to say the very least. It was highly distracting. I could never get to a place where I was focused on my work or personal life and my nervous system felt balanced. I would not feel calm or peaceful throughout the day.
Now, I’m checking my emails only once per hour, and I hope to get that down to twice a day. I put away messages up on Slack so nobody can bother me when I’m trying to really focus on my work. I don’t answer emails or messages immediately unless it’s an emergency (which it is never is in my line of work). Haven’t you noticed that oftentimes, people can figure out the solution to their problem if you don’t reply to them within a few minutes?
I am now proactive instead of reactive. I’m working on focusing completely on the task at hand and turning off my phone and other forms of communication while I do it. I’m exercising daily, sleeping well, and making sure I do relaxing things like pray, get massages, read books, and walk my dogs. The result? My work has improved immensely.
I’m not perfect; my attention span has become so short thanks to being on a computer/phone for 6-12 hours a day starting when I was 9 years old. I’ve always been a little technology addict. However, it’s slowly improving. I’m learning to breathe, put myself first, and practice self-care above trying to prove myself to clients. I know I’m great at what I do, and that I’ll be fine no matter what. Making sure I have that metaphorical oxygen mask on is what keeps me going, and will only help me lead a more productive and fulfilling professional life now and in the future.