What the air hostess told me that changed my life

Whenever I sit on a plane, and while the safety demonstration unfolds, I am reminded of the most powerful advice I have ever been given by a stranger.  It changed the way I live and work. Maybe it will do the same for you?

Her name was Christina, or so read her Air Hostess name tag. She was doing the safety demonstration. When it came to using the oxygen masks, she explained how adults should first affix theirs before helping their children put masks on.

“Why should we do that?” I asked her when she had finished.

Her reply changed me forever.

“Take DELIBERATE OXYGEN for your self,” she said. “You have to make sure you are functioning well before you can really be at your best for those you love.”

This simple message made me realise that unless I better managed my own stress, I would not have the resilience to keep being the best I could be for the people who relied on me, at work and at home.

Here’s how to do it- at work and in life.

First- Give Yourself Permission To Take Deliberate Oxygen, Often

Arianna Huffington, the founder of The Huffington Post, told us at Cannes: “We equate relaxation with losers. We have to redefine the value of unplugging and recharging…. Relaxation is an essential element to creativity.”

Former Wallaby rugby captain John Eales wrote in his Australian Financial Review column: “Sometimes you need to slow down to speed up.”

Tony Blair in his autobiography writes how he and Gordon Brown would periodically go to New York for a few days, book themselves into a nice hotel, walk the streets and parks, eat well, and talk. And talk. And talk.

Deliberate Oxygen As A Leadership Team

At STW, our CEO Mike, CFO Lukas and myself call it: ‘Fresh Air’ sessions. We try to block out a day and a night every quarter if we can. Get out of town. Suck in the air. Talk. Talk more. Revisit what we talked about and talk about it with another twist.

We always get back to our desks with alignment, clarity, renewed and reinvigorated momentum. We used to feel guilty taking the time to do this. Now we feel guilty and negligent if we don’t.

Mike and I run together as often as we can (not often enough). We choose a topic, a gnarly issue. We talk it through as we jog the hilly streets of Sydney’s lower north shore. The change of scenery and clear heads always helps us nail it.

And Deliberate Oxygen In Your Lives

Well- each of you know what does it for you. Fishing. Gardening. Cycling. Reading. Charity work. Whatever it is, to stay resilient and to keep ourselves ‘fit’ so we can give others what they need from us, we have to take deliberate oxygen, regularly.

The Power of A Third Place

At the very least, block out a two hour session once a week to quietly sit in your Third Place (Starbucks invention- we have home, we have work, but we all need a ‘third place’ where we can be alone and think). Think about all your priorities. Are you focusing your time in the right way, on the right things. Fine-tune your plans, and ‘to do’ lists. That two hours of ‘deliberate oxygen’ per week will give you clarity, confidence and invigoration.

As Arianna Huffington says: “We have to redefine the value of unplugging and recharging.” You are NOT a loser when you do this- you are instead someone committed to doing the best you can for those you value and care for.

>View of a video of Chris retelling this post

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16 Responses to What the air hostess told me that changed my life

  1. Kate Whitehair October 26, 2011 at 11:19 am #

    LOVE IT! Adding to this try ten minutes of reflection/meditation in the morning before you do anything and then again another ten minutes just before you go to bed. Either side of your day to re-set and re-charge.

    Works a treat.

    • Chris Savage October 26, 2011 at 1:58 pm #

      Thanks Kate. I will give it a go! Chris

  2. Gordo October 26, 2011 at 11:21 am #

    Thanks for the post Chris. WP is always a great read.

    But I wonder if Huffington was actually referring to her mobile phones when encouraging people to ‘unplug and recharge’…

    “Huffington, 60, is a tough boss and self-confessed workaholic. She has three Blackberrys – one a hotline to daughters Christina, 21, and Isabella, 19, and two that she puts in the bathroom at night in order to stop herself from replying to emails at 3am.”

    From “Arianna Huffington – does anyone say no to her?”,–does-anyone-say-no-to-her-20110713-1hdak.html#ixzz1bqGZoI4o

    • Chris Savage October 26, 2011 at 1:59 pm #

      Thanks Gordon. That’s amazing! Frightening. Chris

  3. Peter McNamara October 26, 2011 at 11:46 am #

    Chris, the air hostess advice to first take your own oxygent mirrors the Medical tutor’s advice in med school. My wife’s student group was presented with a chronically ill patient, with massive problems.

    The tutor asked each student in turn: “What is the first thing you should do?”

    The answers ranged across “Check the patient’s pulse, airway”, etc.

    The tutor said: “Nup, all wrong. The first thing you check is your own pulse. It’s no good trying to fix a complex problem if you are in a panic”


    • Chris Savage October 26, 2011 at 6:35 pm #

      Brilliant!!! Love it. Thanks Peter

  4. Paul Spon-Smith October 26, 2011 at 1:20 pm #

    Chris, after ready your “oxygen” gem today I feel so much better about spending a solo overnight stay at Bantry Bay (with the sea eagles) on my little boat last week.
    Why on earth do we often feel compelled as CEOs to constantly punish ourselves with unrealistic work loads…….so counter productive – habits are habit forming perhaps?
    Regards, Paul

    • Chris Savage October 26, 2011 at 6:57 pm #

      Thank you Paul. I appreciate the story very much. Given you are usually at your desk by 7am, you deserve “oxygen” time more than most! Chris

  5. Cath October 26, 2011 at 4:03 pm #

    Chris, just returning from a break I can’t agree more with your post.

    I have definitely come back to my desk with renewed and reinvigorated momentum. I don’t feel guilty as I know everyone around me will be better for it!

    Thanks, really enjoy my regular read from Wrestling Possums.


    • Chris Savage October 26, 2011 at 6:13 pm #

      Thanks Cath. Appreciate the feedback. And welcome back! Chris

  6. Amanda Little October 26, 2011 at 4:12 pm #

    Chris I have learnt this lesson many times in my career – the hard way. When we are in such a dynamic professional, oxygen is essential – on a regular basis!

    • Chris Savage October 26, 2011 at 6:34 pm #

      So true Amanda. I wish i had learnt it 20 years ago. Chris

  7. Ross Clennett November 4, 2011 at 9:40 am #

    Loved this post, Chris. As I mainly work from home it’s easy to just keep plugging away in my office. I live 4km from a beautiful beach and each time I give myself permission in ‘work time’ to walk along the beach and just enjoy the experience I bring myself back to why I work for myself and do what I do. Inspiration normally follows.

    • Chris Savage November 8, 2011 at 6:23 pm #

      Thanks Ross. A great example of regular Oxygen! Enjoy. I am jealous!


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