Flight attendants instruct us on every flight that should an oxygen mask drop down in front of us, we must put on our own masks before attempting to help anyone else. That seems selfish and counterintuitive for most of us. First we want to help our child, parent, spouse, or frightened seatmate. It can be difficult to accept the fact that we will not be able to help anyone else if we run out of oxygen ourselves.
We might be more likely to accept the truth if the flight attendants painted a picture of what could happen if we don’t put on our own masks first. Imagine a scenario in which you are traveling on a plane that develops engine trouble. Suddenly, oxygen masks drop down and your seatmate just stares at his, frozen with panic while precious seconds tick by.
If you choose to ignore the flight attendant’s instructions and struggle to get a mask on a panicked person first—in a plane that may well be unstable—you may wait just a bit too long to take care of your own mask. At that point, you are no good to yourself or anyone else.
Suppose instead that you recognize the common sense in the flight attendant’s instructions. You decide it’s not just okay but essential to take care of yourself first and only then assist your fellow traveler. Once you have your seatmate settled, you glance across the aisle and notice someone else frozen with panic. You reach across, help them, and then motion for them to help the next person over. Eventually you find that you have helped someone who helped someone who … You get the idea. When the flight stabilizes and you land safely, you know with every fiber of your being that you have been anything but selfish.
Unfortunately, we rarely notice how well the “oxygen mask” principle applies to everyday life, but does it ever! The parallel is that failure to take care of your own health will inevitably mean you will be unable to care for the ones you love. Though the damage can be slow in showing up, one day you wake up weighed down by a load you can no longer bear—physically, mentally, emotionally, or spiritually.
What if you used the oxygen mask as a symbol of self-awareness in your daily life? Sitting right in front of your face at all times. Put it on, breathe deeply, and new choices appear. Not selfish choices but honest ones that allow you to set priorities that nurture you and those around you on a journey to wholeness.
Remember what it felt like to be able to help others on the airplane because you first took care of yourself? As you become increasingly self-aware and able to make constructive choices, you become a positive example for someone else, who becomes a positive example for someone else, and so on. Like the ripples in a pond, your new self-awareness requires no pushing or directing to move outward and touch others. It just happens.
My client Lisa feels that the most important changes she has made in her life through coaching with me are self-awareness, living with intention, and having compassion for herself. She has also lost thirty pounds, but in her words, the weight loss is “just the outer indication of significant inner change.”
“When I was introduced to Deborah, I had been putting in thirteen- and fourteen-hour days establishing myself in a new profession while caring for my dying mother. I was overweight, with my body and spirit stretched to the limit. That seemed normal because, for me, hard work has always been both a joy and a legacy.”
Lisa’s mother was raised in a small coal-mining town where they grew their own food or they didn’t eat. Recreation as we know it today didn’t exist.
Growing up as the oldest of ten children, Lisa’s mother shined in her daughter’s eyes as the greatest role model any girl could have. Her mother’s young life consisted of washing the clothes and working in the company store. Over the years, Lisa watched her mom always do the right thing. She was the person Lisa wanted to be.
“Unlike my mother, I was blessed with greater bounty. My parents worked all the time, and we would never have gone hungry. But my brother and I worked side by side with my parents and were fulfilled by knowing that our work could help support the family too. Looking back, it shouldn’t surprise me that my parents’ legacy of unending hard work became the bedrock of my life as well.
“Over time, I became a life coach, committed to helping others integrate the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual aspects of their lives. I quickly discovered that even coaches need coaches.”
In our first session, Lisa told me she wanted to lose weight. Little did she know that physical weight loss would be the smallest part of what she gained from our work together—a byproduct rather than an end in itself.
“Deborah listens in a way that is hard to explain. She is extraordinarily intuitive and asks penetrating questions that helped me get past how much my body weighed and begin to see the weight on my spirit.
“The larger lesson was becoming sufficiently self-aware and detached to see that I needed to start by having greater compassion for myself. Deborah helped me realize how the negative energy of my relentless inner taskmistress was weighing me down and holding me back from the joy-filled life of service I desired.
“Many people tell us that we should take care of ourselves, but how can I manage to have compassion for myself when my beloved mother is dying? How can I do what I need to do for my mother and still embrace the hurting self who can’t imagine who she will be without her mother?”
Only when Lisa could detach and begin to see herself from the outside was she able to embrace the grieving part of herself who was eating for comfort. None of her past diets had taught her that. Until she began to get it, meaningful, lasting change was unlikely. By serving as a loving mirror—listening deeply, trusting my intuition, and asking penetrating questions—I was able to help Lisa get past the distraction of her external body weight to see the root of her unhappiness: the unbearable weight her heart and soul were carrying on the inside.
“Today I eat and live with greater intention. I’ve lost thirty pounds. There is vitality and light in my life even as I rework my priorities and commitments to ensure that my mother’s final days are as peaceful and as filled with love and comfort as I can make them.
“To demonstrate real compassion for others, I had to first put on my own ‘oxygen mask’ and have some compassion for myself.”
For more insights into the role of self-compassion, read Start Where You Are by Pema Chödrön.
Excerpt from “Choose Your Energy: Change Your Life!” © Copyright 2013-2018 DJW Life Coach LLC. All rights reserved.
What readers say about
the impact of Deborah’s book
“With admiration and gratitude, I highly recommend ‘Choose Your Energy: Change Your Life!’ Deborah Jane Wells shares her journey through both highs and lows. Her personal stories are touching, genuine and most of all inspiring. I found myself relating to many of the struggles she so clearly outlines—her own and client stories. Her transparency makes me trust her counsel. Her experience is staggering. I’m an avid reader so I was thrilled to find her book loaded with models, charts and practical applications for enhancing my own journey forward. She also provides an abundance of resources for further learning and exploration. As an executive coach and facilitator of leadership development, I plan to recommend her book for my own clients as they sometimes face many of the same challenges she addresses. I now keep her book close within reach to refer to again and again.” Kathy Cooperman, MA, CSP, KC Leadership Consulting LLC
“I have heard many spiritual teachers, self-help guides, and authors say that we must ‘love ourselves.’ However, I have encountered few, if any, who actually told us how to do it. That is, until now. In ‘Choose Your Energy: Change Your Life!,’ Deborah Jane Wells provides us with a clearly defined method for doing just that. Through sharing her personal story of recovery and the stories of some of her clients, Deborah not only gives us hope that loving ourselves is possible, but she also shares the tools that each of us can use to do it for ourselves. This book has the power to transform your life. It is clear and concise and offers a detailed framework for applying the tools. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is seeking to make meaningful and lasting changes in their lives.” Rev. David Howard, Senior Minister, Unity Spiritual Center Denver, Colorado
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What clients say about
the power of coaching with Deborah
“I knew Deborah before she became a Professional Life Coach. I’ve been amazed at how she has changed her life. When I decided it was time to begin making decisions about the next phase of my life, I knew immediately that Deborah was the person I wanted to work with. Her personal and professional experiences help her guide clients through coaching in a way that is individualized and delightfully eye-opening. Her warmth and sensitivity are immediately apparent, even over the phone. With gentle encouragement and permission, she will guide you through an examination of your life, including difficult experiences. She will help you gain insight from your past choices and then explore possibilities for moving forward in less encumbered ways. When you work with Deborah, your life will take on new meaning and your potential will be limitless!” Chris
“The work I did with Deborah continues to change my life. While I have learned many valuable lessons from her, the greatest was the deep insight that is available to me when I listen to and learn from my own inner wisdom. Her intuition, discernment and encouragement have taught me to trust my own intuition—creating new paths and possibilities for my life. One of Deborah’s great gifts is helping others respect and connect with their inner guidance and through that connection, to form a deeper, more meaningful bond with the collective wisdom and energy of all.” Ryan