Secure Your Mask Before Helping Others

Written by Todd Putman and Lori Sparger

It’s a common refrain, young and old, people everywhere talk about wanting more out of life — more impact, more opportunity, more fit, more balance — just more. And more often than not, the longing for more is tied to career. But what more should look like, where to find greater fulfillment, too often remains undefined. As a result, rather than moving forward with intent, many people fail to fulfill their potential, not because of lack of ability, means, or opportunity, but because very few can even say what they want.

The inability of incredibly intelligent, successful, highly competent, and otherwise articulate individuals to simply say what they want is staggering. The rambling stream of unconnected gibberish that follows the phrase “I want something more” is painful to hear. Even worse, the failure to say what they want oftentimes results in extremely capable people who are not fulfilling their potential either professionally or personally.

What stops people from moving forward?

It’s not lack of ability. People spend tremendous amounts of time managing things: Strategic plans, corporate reorganization, the Little League snack and carpool schedule. And yet, when it comes to managing our careers and charting our life’s journey, too many of us can’t find the time. But it is time that must be spent. Placing value on ourselves is not a selfish act. And putting everyone and everything else first is not heroic. Remember the airplane safety drill: “Secure your mask before helping others.” When you take the time to make yourself stronger, you will be better able to help those around you.

With some introspection and a bit of unfiltered soul searching, you can learn to understand your skills, values, and passion as part of an exercise to articulate what makes you different, better, and special in the world. It’s the first step toward learning to tell your story in a powerful way.

Being a great storyteller is about more than simply telling a story. It’s about being compelling. It’s about being inspirational. It’s about having a hook that makes people want to listen from the beginning straight through to the end. It’s about having heart. And conviction. And the courage to put yourself and what you believe in for others to see. Finding your truth is the first step in learning to say what you want.

But knowing what to do isn’t enough. It won’t make you start. To do that, take these two uncommon steps to set you on your journey.

First, set a deadline. Note the word. Dead. Line. It has an irrefutable ending, and it suggests a direction. Set a date to complete your plan. It won’t happen overnight, so give yourself time. It may be three months, it may be six. Be realistic, but be specific. Then, share it with a friend. Pick someone who will keep you honest and call you out if you don’t follow through. Someone who is bossy and whom you trust will fill the bill.

Second, write it down. All of it, the deadline, your goals, your skills, values, passion. Take pen to paper or fingers to keyboard and begin to bring your plan into the world. Create a document that stares at you, challenges you, gets in your face, and pushes you to bring your talents to bear for your most meaningful project of all — you. Then share that with your same bossy, trusted friend. Together, you can test it for authenticity and take ownership of accountability. Finding two to three people to join your team is even better.

With a deadline and a commitment to creating a tangible plan, you will be taking action rather than merely hiding behind those words that pine for more. A deliberate effort to tell your story, to say what you want to accomplish with your life, exactly what getting more out of life means to you, is not always an easy thing. But it’s incredibly important. In fact, it’s pretty much the thing.

As you become comfortable telling your story, your confidence will grow like a muscle and will become stronger as you exercise it. Armed with clarity of vision, a sense of your own purpose, and a commitment to persevere, you will gain strength from knowing what matters most to you and why. Taking the time for yourself will empower you to pursue a life that is meaningful and will enable you to reach toward more and to add greater value.

Mask in place, you will be ready to claim your unique place in the world.

Originally posted on the Bulldog Drummond Uncommon Blog.

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