Growing up in a fairly religious family the notion that you should always consider other people before yourself was pretty well hammered into me. Of course we all know what most religious people say and what they do are two very different things but that’s a topic for another time. But regardless, as a kid I always had the adults in my life repeating this to me. This manifested itself in different ways in different situations. I remember from a very early age sitting on an airplane listening to the safety instructions and thinking it was rude and selfish that the flight attendants were suggesting that people should put on their oxygen masks before helping anyone else. I’d listen and ask myself what kind of terrible people would help themselves before helping others.
It took me years to understand the importance of this disconnect. It’s shockingly obvious: You can’t help others if you are dead – then you both die. Putting on your oxygen mask first ensures you live and can then help other people.
Abstract that back a bit, two people, two problems. One person tries to fix the other persons problem and it’s a very real possibility that both people will still have problems. End result, two people, two problems. But if one person fixes their problem right away, then tries to help the other person with their problem at worst you’ll have one person with no problems and one person with one problem, and at best two people with no problems.
At some point I realized this wisdom extends far beyond the tarmac, and well into normal everyday life. You shouldn’t try to fix other people’s problems before fixing your own. And beyond problems into happiness, you can’t expect to make other people happy if you aren’t happy yourself. (Secretly miserable comedians excluded apparently). I don’t think the importance of this can be underestimated and for something that is so obvious – put your oxygen mask on first – not a lot of people follow the logic elsewhere.
How often in a disagreement, business or personal, where two parties want different things is compromise proposed as the solution? That’s not actually a solution, it might be an agreement, but at the end of the process neither party gets what they want. It’s not “we’re both kind of happy” it’s “at least the other guy isn’t happy either.” A better solution is to work with people who want the same outcome as you. To spend time with people who are happy because you are happy, not people who want you to be unhappy. Even if on the short term that seems reasonable, big picture – it’s not. Think about it. Long term nothing good can come from investing in people who don’t value your happiness.
This isn’t just a lesson about who to spend time with, but also about the importance of knowing what actually makes you happy. If you don’t know what you want, then you can’t make it a priority. You can’t find people with similar goals. You can’t be happy to begin with. So, if you don’t know, figure it out. It’s important. Put on your own oxygen mask first.