Articles Leadership Moments

Where’s my oxygen mask?

Oxygen Mask
Oxygen Mask

This week, I started the process of what will definitely be a transformational year for me in an extended coaching program.  It is the first full week session we will have out of four that will occur throughout the year.

I learned a lot about myself in the last two days and there are still two more days to go.  Today was a hard one though as I really could have used an oxygen mask to help me breathe and get through some tough moments.  My biggest learning this week is that writing through my emotions is all fine and dandy but having to speak them out loud is quite another story…

I can speak up at different moments in the course and it is all fine and dandy but when I start talking about the more emotional bits, I can feel the little tiny break downs begin…  It starts with my voice that all of a sudden sounds different and strained with emotion…  Then the head games begin: “Shit! There’s that voice again… why the frack is this happening?  I was fine five minutes ago!”

Part of me starts looking around for the oxygen mask while the other part keeps pushing through and keeps saying what I have to say in that moment…  “Frack, I can’t breathe…  what the heck?”  Eventually, the entire defense mechanisms collapse and my emotions catch up with me.

So here I am once again feeling broken, sitting in a room with eighteen other people…  The truth is that I want to run away and hide but I know I can’t do that…    My next solution is putting some armor back on to prevent this from happening but I know I would be cheating myself if I did that.  So I look around once more for an oxygen mask and at this point, I would take pretty much any mask offered to me in a heartbeat but there is none within my reach.  The only option remaining is to walk through it and that is what I do.  This week, in the moments where I really needed it the most, I found that I could always turn to the trainers in the class to find a look of compassion and understanding.  In real life, I know I can turn to my wife, my family and close friends (including David and Carrie) who are always there for me.

An oxygen mask can be anything that gives you some room to breathe.  It can be a person or a thing that gives you the strength to have that moment of courage or supports you as you take that next step.  Leaders sometimes need their oxygen masks when making tough decisions or having hard conversations with their people.

Who in your life has been your oxygen mask?  Who supports you or inspires you to have courage and take those magical leaps of faith?




About the author


Steffan Surdek

I am a leadership development coach, corporate trainer, professional speaker and author. I believe in contributing to a greater cause, making a difference and adding value.

Feel free to reach out, I would love to hear about the leadership challenges in your organization!


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  • Thank you for sharing your journey. It feels like sharing and reaching out, and even hearing yourself, is another oxygen mask.
    I will add that for me personally, living through life changing breakdowns into breakthroughs (what makes them life changing) has been my ultimate oxygen mask. I learned what was truly most important in my life, what I am capable of, and gained perspective. I once heard a woman speak who was a holocaust survivor. She shared a conversation with her husband where she told him “don’t sweat the small stuff.” He asked “what’s small stuff?” She replied: “Birth is big stuff. Death is big stuff. Everything in between is small stuff.”
    My journey through “the belly of the whale” helped me get that. It was the oxygen mask that never runs out. So cherish & embrace your journey my friend.