Who Do You Put First?

Life and commercial flights have a lot in common. The practical realities of being on the plane limit what you can do, but you’ve still got options and choices. When you’re flying, you and your fellow passengers are in it together until you arrive safely at your destination. In life, your fellow passengers are your family, friends, colleagues, and community. Both situations require give and take from those involved, because what you do, or don’t do, has an impact upon your travel companions, and vice versa.

Imagine you’re on a commercial flight. Everyone’s on board and the crew’s preparing the cabin for take-off. The safety demonstration starts and the crew member soon gets to the part where you’re told what to do if the oxygen mask drops down in front of your face during the flight.

What does the crew member instruct you to do?

I’ve asked hundreds of people this question, and about half responded, ‘Well, you help others to put their mask on before you put your own on – especially if you’re travelling with children.’

As noble as this is, the answer is dead wrong.

If passengers did things in that order, they’d quickly develop hypoxia (lack of oxygen). Hypoxia causes you to become euphoric, impairs your judgement and eventually kills you.

‘If your oxygen mask drops down, pull on it firmly to get the oxygen flowing, and quickly put it on, making sure it’s secure. Once you’ve done that, you can help others.’ This is what the crew member instructs you to do. Why? There’s two reasons.

If you get hypoxia you’re not going to be able to help others. Also, if you become hypoxic and trip out, your erratic behaviour could endanger your fellow passengers. The oxygen mask is down because there’s already a crisis, and the cabin crew doesn’t need you to create another one.

There’s at least one important difference between life and flying: Mindset.

When most people get on a plane, they’re conscious of the risk that something might go wrong and they may not reach their destination. But it’s rare for us to have the same mindset towards life, even though reaching the destination (death) is a certainty.

I hear you. ‘It’s an emergency, not a real situation. Life doesn’t always allow me to put myself first.’

True, life’s full of things we have to do, and choices made for us not by us. I’m not suggesting you ignore those and just focus on yourself. I am suggesting that if you don’t make time, even if it’s the briefest moment, to breathe in some oxygen for yourself then you won’t be able to do the the things you need to for the people who are important to you.

Does it surprise you that, the vast majority of those who gave me the ‘help others first’ answer to the question above were women – many of whom were mothers?

The National Women’s Health Resource Center in the US surveyed women about the priority they placed on their own health care, and it found that women put themselves 5th on the list – after their children, pets, elderly relatives, and their partners.

That equates to putting the oxygen mask on four other people in a plane emergency before themselves.

Taking care of themselves ‘later’ might rob these women of being able do  what’s important to them, or worse still … having a ‘later’.

What’s on your list of things to do later?

Before you answer, take a very careful look. Are you sure putting on your own oxygen mask isn’t hidden somewhere on you ‘later’ list?



About the Author

Jacqui Alder is an internationally experienced human resources executive, consultant, and coach, with over 30 years’ experience in global businesses. She has worked in Australia, Europe, and Asia across multiple industry sectors.

She is founder at Clarity Simplicity Success for Women, and author of a self-coaching journal for women of the same name. The purpose of this business is to empower women to define their own meaning of success.

I write these articles for you and value your feedback. If you’d like to hear about a topic, have tried one of the exercises, or used any resources please let me know your thoughts. You can contact me by posting a comment below, send me a message via the Facebook page, or e-mail me at

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