Secure your own mask before assisting others

Sage CohenProductive writing, The life poetic2 Comments

The flight attendant came to our aisle to make sure we were paying attention. She signaled to Jonny–the sweet, 20-something man whose girlfriend was also gluten intolerant, whose parents are too busy to travel to see him–seated beside my son, and let him know that he should secure his own mask before assisting his child.

The flight attendant who had made us a family with this single, swift misunderstanding got me thinking. I turned over the metaphor as I do every time I’m on an airplane: Secure your own mask before assisting others. If I had to name a single principle to live and work by for helper-types like myself, it would be this. So many of us writers are working two, full-time jobs (one as a writer, and another that provides our primary income source) and making constant compromises and sacrifices to keep ourselves, our passion, our families and our sanity in tact.

We are no good to others if we have not been good to ourselves first. This much I know. So, how do we live this principle? I propose that we start by defining our own terms.

What does it mean to you to secure your own mask before assisting others? What are the essentials you must have in place so that might equip you with the foundation of energy you need to make your (writing) life happen — and even create the overflow resources you need to give to all the people and causes you wish to serve?

My “secure your own mask” list, in priority order:

  1. Sleep (8 hours).
  2. Basic financial foundation in place–as in: mortgage and bills comfortably covered.
  3. Quality time with my family–I know very specifically what this means to me in terms of types of activities, amount of time, and the shared feeling of the experience.
  4. Work commitments fulfilled–deadlines met, desk cleared, vision for the next day / week / project clear.
  5. Writing vision articulated–even if not enacted. Meaning, I know what I intend to do so that I can hit the ground running when a window of time appears in which to write.
  6. Spiritual practice–dog walk in the morning; bath before bed.
  7. Fun–Because I have a tendency to fill every spare moment with work, I literally make guidelines for when and how I intend to have fun; then, I stick to them.

When I’m in balance, my client work gets done, my family and I have a blast, and my creative work has the space it needs to breathe and meet me at the page. I’ll bet you find the same to be true. It’s ok if you don’t know what you need, exactly, yet. All you need to do is commit to finding out. I encourage you to experiment with the variables that are foundational to your well being. Make note of what energizes and what drains you.

Notice how your choices impact your experience. It could be you’re doing something such as exercise that’s time consuming but actually doubles your energy (and therefore gives you extra time for your writing.) Or maybe you have an energy leak somewhere surprising that could be resolved with a clear boundary–such as talking on the phone for a half hour to your friend in distress, instead of two hours.

With a steady flow of oxygen to your life and your writing, you’ll be better prepared to follow through on your commitments to yourself and to others. The writing you produce and the experience of those around you will likely be noticeably improved.

2 Comments on “Secure your own mask before assisting others”

  1. Dear Sage,
    Just a quick note to thank you for this post and for “Perception/Permission” and “Go to the Source”. Each of these came to me at exactly the moment I needed them! I really enjoy your blog and have been trying to incorporate some of your advice from The Productive Writer as well.
    Best wishes,
    Lee Ann

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