“Secure Your Mask Before Assisting Others”

Throughout years of business travel, I never fully comprehended what one line in the flight attendant’s safety announcement really meant—until I became a father. “Secure your mask before assisting others” seemed like a selfish act that was counter to everything that society had preached to me for decades. Isn’t it our duty to take care of others before we think of ourselves?

I continued to think that, until about two years into my first son’s life. It was Saturday morning, and I had no energy to be the dad I had always dreamed of being: building tree houses in the moments between 60-80 hour work weeks, carrying him on my shoulders on the tail-end of a family hike, or driving overnight to get off the grid and into father-son adventures. I realized that as a father, I was taking on the role of a spectator more than that of a physically active participant in my son’s life.

It all started the summer before he was born. A sports-related accident had ripped a tendon in my shoulder; surgery was not required, but it was strongly suggested if I wanted to maintain an athletic arm motion. In the exciting anticipation of being the All-Utility Dad (the SUV version), I felt that I could not afford to be out of commission for the first months of his life by going on the “do not lift” list post-surgery. So I put off surgery to “be a better dad.” You see, you don’t wake up one day and decide not to take care of yourself: you just wake up ten years later and realize you haven’t taken care of yourself.

The statement, “secure your mask before assisting others” applies to all types of people at various times of life. I have felt the pull as a dad, entrepreneur, husband, and even as a son. I know moms, grandparents, employees, and kids feel this weight as well. When we choose to take care of our own needs, we run the risk of being labeled  “selfish”—it is what our society preaches.

This Father’s Day, I hope we don’t just take a day to honor the efforts of a dad; I hope we give him—as well as our mom, spouse, and even ourselves—permission to make a change. We are better people when we carve out a little bit of time for the things that physically move us. Outside of a major emergency, the people we love will still be there when we return from a 10-minute meditation, a walk, or, better yet, an outdoor outing.

In the same way that our best work doesn’t mandate we stay seated in a chair for 8 hours a day in front of “the work,” our best self comes to the surface when we momentarily step away from the task at hand and into the open space where our mind-body solves the problems that are not on the “to-do” list. It is in this space that we become the dad we always wanted to be. Being a father is not a spectator sport.  

Take time to move yourself, even if you are not “in the chair” for a couple of moments of their lives. I know my sons, as well as any boss I have had along the way, appreciate me more when I am present with a clear head, open mind, and the energy to be what I have always wanted to be. Happy Father’s Day.

Live, Moved.

– Joel, FluidStance® Founder