I will now attempt to convince you, that it’s your own crumbling castle that needs to be addressed before you seek out the problems of distant lands.
Put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others
A glorious axiom that demands we prioritise our own survival, in the event of a catastrophic incident in the air. The idea is simple, you’re essentially useless to anyone around you if you’re incapable of stabilising yourself first. For failing to do so, could risk the safety of others in the process. Notably, if you’re contributing to the casualty count by suffering the ill-effects of Hypoxia—removing yourself as an asset and creating a problem in the process.
How often do we witness such a mindset being utilised outside of confines of aerial disasters? Perhaps in sports? Athletes gunnin’ for the top at the expense of their opponents. In business—ruthless entrepreneurs who are picking apart their competitors with savvy financial acumen, admiration their reward. Lessons learnt by those who fall short. And yet, this process of placing the mask on oneself first, tends toimpose a slight sense of unease. Think about that for a moment. What creature of this earth feels shame for looking out for themselves first? How could anyone be apprehensive about openly looking out for the interests of their own existence? And yet, I would say for many of us, we often do. Be careful where you display your own self-care, for in the wrong social context it can come across as narcissistic and arrogant. But why? Is it down to the social stigma that comes from moving away from collective thinking? Is it the fear that one’s individualism comes at the expense of the community? I for one believe that it is society as a whole, who collectively benefits from a populace who places value on personal development. And such a feat can only be achieved through a diligent and challenging learning process that is free of the burdens of groupthink.
To better understand my reasoning, firstly understand how I came to its conclusion. This entire concept initially came to me after I became utterly fascinated by the type of person who chooses to neglect their own personal development in life entirely. Who are these people around me that have no respect for their own conquests? As an avid development writer and a self-proclaimed over-thinker, I had nothing but curiosity for the type of person who chooses to look outwards at the expense of their own wellbeing. For me, these were the people placing the masks on others before themselves.
It was hard not to notice these people. A simple inquiry into the beliefs and passions of the people I met in life would regularly reveal to me those who avoided self-care. Surprisingly, one of the most common traits that I found from these people would be their passion for fixing the grand social problems around them, while doing next to nothing to help themselves in matters concerning their own character development. Do we not owe it to ourselves to be proud of matters internal before we head outwards in search of problems to solve? Who can trust the judgements of men who wish to address the problems of their respective nation states, but fail to address the concerns within their own castle? Or trust the wisdom of those who critique leadership failures so easily when they can’t even hold steady eye contact with their neighbours? Do we as a society, do enough to emphasise the importance of personal development?
Perhaps some of you are thinking, we achieve this concept in our schools dummy! And I would firmly disagree. Firstly, personal development in education is enforced through socially mandated decorum. Introverts, alternative thinkers and anyone that isn’t doing it the right way are deemed problematic to our academic institutions. Critical thinking skills are regularly neglected at the expense of submitting to authority—We won’t teach you how to think, merely what to think. Perhaps the social responsibility is with our parents then? Sure, in an ideal world that grants us all with wise guardians who have their shit figured out—providing the next generation of citizens with the necessary traits to navigate this world with purpose and resilience. But how many of us have gotten that? If you did, then that’s truly magnificent, you have certainly lucked out. For anyone reading this who didn’t, what then, for you? For those out there who have never had a strong sense of loyalty to oneself, who regularly doubts their own resolve. I call out to you! Are you drifting through life with a lack of purpose? Are you ashamed to focus on yourself at the expense of others? Enough! It’s time to take matters under your own control. Focus on your own oxygen mask. If you wish to fix the problems of your environment and beyond, you must first empower yourself! Learn of your weaknesses, formulate critical thinking skills, seek mindfulness, purpose and fulfilment.
We aren’t fixing shit until we all start fixing ourselves first, gents. You know why? Because the alternative is flawed. One big lie that reveals the hypocrisy of the selfless agents who typically gravitate towards problems outside of themselves while simultaneously neglecting their own situation. These are the people who tremble at the first moment their lot in life becomes compromised by chaos—Falling back on their selfish instincts, dependent on them to survive. It’s disingenuous when you see their beliefs held aloft by shaky foundations, ready to fall with a strong gust of uncertainty. Strong character development resolves this, by arming a person with the tools to stand resolute in their convictions, even when their positions are tested by the chaotic forces around them. Personal development demands that we all run the gauntlet of adversity to test if we should truly stand by our positions. Graduates of this way of thinking know the importance of forming an unwavering confidence in their own convictions. It’s all about the process of forming strong behaviours that make us healthy in body and mind. Continuously building the habits to safeguard our mental, physical, and spiritual wellbeing.
Look around you! Who are the people you admire most? Who is walking the path in life that you would like to walk along also? Usually, these inspirational figures hold stern purpose—people who have unshakeable principles, never backing down from what they believe in. Trusting in their gut instincts. Seeking internal growth and placing importance on personal development. Survivors. These people get it—They dealt with their own oxygen mask first. They understand that there is nobody out there looking out for the best version of them. There’s only one person who can do that, and that’s themselves. Anybody who fails to grasp this notion is risking their existence to be defined by others. And if you choose not to design your own life plan, chances are you’ll fall into someone else’s. And guess what they have planned for you? Not much. This type of selfish rhetoric may feel uneasy to some of you. Particularly from those of you who have formed the unfortunate reflex that tends to look outwards to place blame on life’s problems, before looking inwards first. Lose the anxiety folks, It’s perfectly ok to prioritise your own interests over others.
Coming full circle
And now we come full circle. Society most certainly benefits from this mindset when she is armed with a self-aware, confident and resilient populace. Self-neglect of our character development becomes a burden on the entire social system. More noise that must be cleared—More misunderstandings that must be clarified before we can even begin to get to the root of our biggest problems.
However, must this concept ultimately depend on societies’ collective benefit for it to be valid? Is it not enough to want to work on yourself because you want to? How about that for a thought? The oxygen mask metaphor works for me because it doesn’t matter if somebody placed their mask on first for grand intentions or selfish ones. The end result is the same. I beg of you, listen to your instincts. For surely those instincts validate my message. Feel the internal unease when you’re misplacing your priorities—It’s your own crumbling castle that needs to be fixed before you seek the maintenance of castles in distant lands.
“The first duty of a man is to think for himself”
― José Martí
Resources: My own personal development methodology.