Jamie and I just returned from a trip to the beautiful island of Barbados. The travel part of the trip was less than easy (as it often is lately). A canceled connection with an unexpected trip reroute through Toronto, Canada, resulted in a loss of one vacation day. It was disappointing and of course stressful in the moment. But, we were (eventually) still en route to Barbados. I am grateful for my opportunities to travel. This experience provided a perfect chance to practice that gratitude—while holding the space to still feel through some of the negative emotions. Ironically, I am thankful for the struggles giving me insight to myself. And of course, it was all absolutely worth it. 

While on our direct flight from Toronto via a giant Air Canada airbus, one of the post pandemic additions to the safety demonstration caught my attention. 

“We want to remind you that if you are wearing a face covering you must remove it before using your oxygen mask.” 

Seems pretty silly, right? Of course we are all smart enough to remove a physical barrier before trying to use a device that is providing an essential lifeline. And if you have ever traveled on an airplane, you also know that they tell you to put your own mask on before helping others. This common safety recommendation is an oft used analogy to communicate the importance of self care— you must provide life giving air to yourself before having the capacity to do the same for others. 

This is true, and I like the simplicity of the analogy. But, I also think there is more to it. First of all, I want to remind you that our culture does not always promote the idea that caring for ourselves first applies to all humans. Ultimately, it is up to the airline to ensure that the oxygen masks are on the plane, properly functioning, and that they do in fact drop down when cabin pressure changes. We cannot use these as lifelines unless this is the case. Similarly, our culture needs to establish a system where life giving air is provided to all. I urge you to continue to influence change to make these sources of life more accessible. 

At the same time, remove any barriers before trying to help yourself

How can you start? One step toward vulnerably exposing ourselves is to practice gratitude. By finding things to be grateful for, we can navigate the hard parts of life with more ease. We can establish and live in the tension that comes with reroutes and cancellations, among many other challenges. By “taking off our masks” we stop projecting personas and start to authentically move forward in helping ourselves, before we can help others in meaningful ways. 

But, first- an FYI: A daily gratitude practice is not toxic positivity. Forcing yourself to be “positive” all of the time is just another mask that you put on to distract yourself from your true feelings. Gratitude can exist in or alongside the tough parts of life.

Some Steps Toward Finding Gratitude

Start to take off all of your “masks” before helping yourself. Build a relationship of trust and compassion with the realest you. Educate yourself and open up to the idea of intentional vulnerability. Let go of victimization and the need to justify or validate why “everything is terrible.” Circumstances might truly be awful, but seeking out even the tiniest thing to be grateful for can have life giving impact your day. Show your full face to the world. 

Allow yourself to experience negative feelings while also finding things to be grateful for. Life is not this or that, but both/and. You can be disappointed and also grateful for opportunities. Sad and excited. Angry and anticipatory. Exposed in the most raw way, yet finding reasons to smile. 

Keep a gratitude journal. I find it helpful to “count my blessings” daily with intentionality. I also use my journal to write lists detailing specifically why I am grateful for my loved ones— especially when I am struggling in a relationship. It doesn’t have to remove or negate my frustrations, but it reminds me that we are all human, and good inside

Tell people why you are grateful for them. Be specific. 

Find hobbies that add value to your life. If you are a multiport athlete, refer to the above advice in your actual training sessions. Show up with curiosity and find moments to be grateful for, while also being willing to be disappointed. You don’t have to “love” every moment to find gratitude in parts of a session, or in the overall journey. 

I was very aware of the both/and of life during my recent race at the 70.3 Ironman World Championship in St. George. In the weeks leading up to the race, I realized I was wearing many masks. As I started to remove them through daily practices (some mentioned above), I was able to breathe in life giving air. I realized I could be whatever I needed to in the moment. And I spent most of the weekend, including the race, welled up with overwhelming feelings of gratitude, while also experiencing some lingering imposter feelings along the way. 

I hope that you can use this week to focus on living with authenticity, start to remove your masks, and then put your own oxygen mask on. Find those places and the people who will encourage you to do it first. Continue to reflect on how we can shift the culture together to provide the standards, tools, resources, and support that we all need to breathe. 

Be grateful, even if it is for what seems like the smallest, most insignificant moment— like a big breath of fresh air. 

I am grateful for all of you. Thank you for not only reading each week, but for showing up to learning more about yourselves with the desire to leave a positive impact on each other and the world.