Business Owners, Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First

Only when business owners can take care of themselves can they support those who depend on them — like their teams, customers, suppliers and even their families.

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By Jason Zickerman

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Business ownership is a journey. Throughout these travels, business owners are bound to experience turbulence from time to time. Occasionally, when the flight is particularly bumpy and maybe even a little scary, we grit our teeth, clench our fists and sweat it out, believing that surely the bad weather — the economy, inflation, labor troubles, and supply chain issues — will pass and smooth sailing is bound to lie ahead. Every business owner experienced this feeling, albeit to varying degrees, throughout the volatility of the pandemic and all its related slowdowns, lockdowns, and shutdowns. That was certainly a rocky flight, as so many of us were scrambling to ensure the survival of our businesses and the safety of our employees, both from a health and financial perspective.

As business owners, we're used to taking care of others. And we should be; it's imperative as a good employer, vendor, and, well, person. But with so much on the line every day, what happens when business owners simply run out of gas and aren't sure how to continue on their journey?

Let's reflect on those inflight safety demonstrations we've all sat through in preparation for takeoff. The flight attendant instructs us, in the event of low cabin pressure, to "Put on your own oxygen mask first before assisting others." From a business ownership perspective, this approach might appear egotistical and self-serving, but I assure you it is far from it. Only when business owners can ensure their own steady flow of air can they truly support those who depend on them — like their teams, customers, suppliers and even their families.

Self-care in the business ownership journey is essential, but what does that really mean? It relates to different things for different people, as we all have unique dynamics throughout our businesses and lives. But there are universal approaches to self-management, growth, and enhanced opportunities that business owners should truly consider as they continue on their journeys.

Related: Why Being a Good Entrepreneur Means Taking Care of Yourself First

Focus on what matters most

Business owners often find it challenging to grow their companies without sacrificing a thriving and fulfilling personal life. However, carving out enough time and emotional availability for family and friends is essential to a business owner's overall well-being. Allotting effort to a satisfying personal life does not detract from the success of your business; rather, it enhances it.

It might not seem scientific, but happy and fulfilled people simply tend to run better businesses. They are more content, more centered, and overall are much better equipped to address tasks and challenges, both daily and long-term. So, time and connection are key to enhancing your physical and emotional tanks and the overall health of your business.

Related: 7 Secrets to Employee Happiness

Join a supportive community

Being active in a community of other business leaders and owners allows you to connect and be supported by peers who genuinely care about you and the success of your business. They too have embarked on the same heroic business journey that you have, and along the way, have likely overcome similar obstacles to those you face. Participating in groups like these can empower you as a business leader and enhance your company's overall operations and success.

There's an African parable that reads, "If you want to go fast, go alone. But if you want to go far, go together." Connection and growth opportunities like peer advisory boards, mastermind groups and other business think tanks can truly breathe new life into your business leadership journey. Understanding the difference between a business networking group and peer advisory is important. The former offers handshakes and introductions, while the latter extends emotional and tactical support. Both are important but play very different roles in your personal development and business objectives.

Related: 7 Ways To Stay Resilient As a Leader During Turbulent Times

Find meaning

Having a purpose is so powerful. Pay attention to those things in your business and personal life that feel fundamentally and personally significant because those are the catalysts from which you, as a business owner, will derive your greatest satisfaction. Finding meaning and relevance at work and home promotes both psychological and physical well-being, reduces the risk of depression and positively impacts nearly every aspect of your business ownership journey. Identifying and fostering meaning also adds fuel to your personal tank, enabling you to lead your team with purpose and positivity. Now, infuse that meaning throughout your entire business, including your growth strategy, community engagement, and company culture. You will find that embracing meaning and purpose wields massive impact throughout your business and everything it touches.

The journey to success will never be without its fair share of instability and disturbances. However, by
understanding the importance of the "my oxygen mask first" concept and applying it to your own business leadership style, you are much better positioned to make it to your destination – and far more likely to enjoy your flight along the way.

Jason Zickerman

Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor

CEO of The Alternative Board | Business Development and Growth Advisor

Jason Zickerman is the President and CEO of The Alternative Board, an international organization providing business leaders with facilitated advisory boards and coaching services.

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