Why put YOUR air mask on first?

Why put YOUR air mask on first?

Your body needs more breath and space, in order show up for others, and for the world.

There’s a profound saying in the leadership development and personal transformation world that many of us have heard (or said) before – a saying that takes its inspiration from the aviation industry: “put on your own air mask first, before helping others…”

But what does this saying really mean? Why is it so important?

And why are most of us so much more likely to say it…than to actually do it?  

In the aviation industry, this statement is spoken by the flight attendant, tasked with educating passengers about one of the life-giving actions that may be counterintuitive, or unlikely to kick-in by default in the case of an unexpected emergency in-flight.

Industry specialists have found that under extreme pressure, our instincts are likely to steer us wrong about what to do.

It turns out that, similar to the airline industry example, under pressure in our daily lives, our ‘instincts’ also can steer us wrong about what actions will help us to take the best possible care of ourselves.

As a practitioner of embodied leadership I am constantly tracking the role the body plays in our ability to access desired, meaningful states like
  • a sense of resilience
  • connection to purpose
  • the sensation of greater aliveness
  • a feeling of belonging or dignity

While these powerful states are inherent in us – our human birthright – and can (in theory) be accessed by anyone under the sun, (in practice) our body-mind systems may require some re-training (or even deeper healing) in order to get there with ease.

In fact, when we are gripped by our anxieties; when we fall into old habit-patterns that strive to protect us but actually take us out of the game; our trauma is triggered and we are struggling to stay in our bodies, in our relationships, or in the room – 

one of the first thing to go is our breath.

Instead we may grasp, freeze, push, fight, work harder, attend to a loved one, ask more questions, struggle to make sense…

the list goes on.

Unfortunately most of these default actions – while offering momentary relief – result in tightening the grip of our fears, draining our energy, extending the length of our feeling out of control and sometimes putting us at an even greater risk of suffering.

Meanwhile, our bodies contract and we lose access to our life-giving breath, leaving us stuck in the same place for longer – even as we feel called to take new actions and create positive change.

What does the body need in order to reverse the cycle?

Enough time, safety and encouragement, to finally unwind.

Over the past few months of producing events for women leaders who are committed to making a positive difference in the world, one thing that became abundantly clear is this:

When our souls feel called to help, our bodies, hearts and minds must be resourced enough to follow through.

And at this tender and challenging moment in time, there is a LOT of help needed by our brothers and sisters, both at home and around the globe.

On the heels of the COVID pandemic, with community health, racial justice, global unrest and climate change demanding our attention, we are a species on the verge of... something urgent, to be sure.  

That’s why, despite the tenderness of this time,

 I have been designing and hosting events under the Guts & Grace umbrella that provide an opportunity for women leaders to rejuvenate and rebuild energy, to reflect on what matters most, and to re-claim their sovereign relationship with our time, and to re-connect with their own strengths and superpowers.

These programs are not for women who are looking to ‘get away from it all’, check out from life, or pretend everything is ok…

but for women who –
  • feel deeply called to serve the needs of their communities and the world right now
  • AND who know that they need to deeply nourish, heal and resource THEMSELVES now in order to show up for others
If you are:
  • leading a bigger team
  • holding the healing, change or transformation of your community
  • bringing forward a new and important vision for your industry
  • feeling a call to help steward a new movement
  • seeking a more purposeful role, company or line of work
  • or just burned out from leading at work and in life
Then I invite you to take some time for yourself to replenish, rejoice, and get clear about what matters most right now.


I wrote the first draft of this blog from the jungle of Costa Rica where I went on my own personal retreat for healing, rejuvenation and creation. After an intensive business sprint at the end of Q1 this year, I decided if I was going to ask this of you that I'd better be taking my own medicine.

I was readying the ground of my being to support you and the Guts & Grace community over the next few months.

The truth is, we don’t know what’s coming next.

But I know that whatever it is, I want to have the energy, clarity and strength to standby you. To this I am dedicating my time. And I invite you to do the same.

If you are feeling called to expand the impact of your leadership this year,

And if the need for deeper resourcing at this time speaks to you,

Then I invite you to take the time to develop a personal re-set ritual for yourself over the next few weeks.
  • take an individual day of rest and reflection
  • invite a small group of friends to join you for a healthy meal, with the topic of discussion being your professional hopes, fears and dreams
  • enlist a support person (e.g. coach, mentor, therapist, healer) to help you get clarity about what matters most and how best to allocate your time

Whatever you choose, I challenge you to explore the deeper meaning of this phrase“put your own air mask on first” as a critical part of your leadership approach.

You are part of the equation.

Don't forget it.

Want to go deeper, but don't want to go alone? You can find out more about our coaching and leadership development programs here, and apply for a discovery call here.

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