I’m sure you’ve heard that the ego is a bad thing.

While stereotypical egotistical behaviour is never a good thing, there is one time when your ego serves you well. It’s when you let it do what it does best…make you think of yourself first.

Many of us have been raised to think this is a bad thing – that we should always put others first. The problem with putting someone else first is that unless that person is putting you first in a reciprocal fashion one hundred percent of the time, it is a downward spiral. It may be a very slow one, but if you are not caring for your own needs first, you can end up at the bottom of the food chain, so to speak. If you put others before yourself, everyone else will get taken care of and you will be last; and since there is always someone else who needs something, you will not only be last on the list, you may never get anything you need. If you put yourself first, you can take care of your own needs quite quickly and then tend to others that need it.

Remember what flight attendants always say during the pre-flight briefing on an airplane?

“People travelling with children or persons requiring assistance should don their own mask first before helping the other person.”

Have you ever thought about why they say this? It is because if oxygen levels are dropping, there may only be time to put one mask on before you pass out. If you put your child’s mask on first, while he/she will have oxygen flowing, he/she may not be old enough or know how to put yours on you. You have to put your own mask on first to save you both. Is that being selfish?

No…it’s being smart.

As a volunteer firefighter, we have to take care of ourselves first, too. On the fire ground, there is nothing worse than a “man down” — knowing that one of our own is in trouble really makes it difficult to focus on the job we have to do. Our instructors often remind us in drills that if we hear of an emergency situation, we are to continue to do the job we’ve been tasked to, unless we are asked to help directly with the rescue. We always have a dedicated rescue team, called a Rapid Intervention Team (RIT), standing by when a team goes into a burning building. If we are careful and make sure we don’t get into trouble in the first place – run out of air when we go interior, or fall through a weak floor because we forgot to check it – then we can do our job to maximum capacity and so can everyone around us. Then we can save the victims and/or prevent the fire from spreading any farther.

Putting yourself first doesn’t have to take much time. Trained firefighters can don their full protective gear in less than a minute, some of which is done en route, and then they can focus on the job at hand, being courageous and saving the day and all that. How can you make sure to put yourself first? What one or two things do you need each day to start your day in the best possible way? Answer these questions for yourself and then make the commitment to take time for yourself each morning, no matter what.

The one time it is alright to put someone else before you is when you do so consciously. This means that you carefully and selectively allow one or two people’s needs to come before your own (usually these are children), but then you firmly draw the line there so you do not end up at the bottom of your list. So if you have small children, by all means, care for them first — but don’t let anyone else creep up that list ahead of yourself.

Put your own mask on first.

(Photo credit: Leo Reynolds via Flickr – CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

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