Put Your Mask On First

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The co-founder of Carats & Cake on learning to make space for ‘me time’ while starting up. 

By Jess Levin (Co-founder & CEO, Carats & Cake)

I was recently at dinner with a mentor when he told me a story. He once walked into an office and immediately noticed a yellow mask, the kind you see during the airplane safety demonstrations, sitting on the corner of a desk. When he asked what the mask was for, the response was, “Put yours on first.” The lesson is obvious: if you don’t save yourself you can’t save anyone else.

The Law of Diminishing Returns

As an entrepreneur you constantly hear people, especially women, talk, to the point of bragging, about how burnt out or overworked they are. In the startup space, we proudly sport dark circles under our eyes like badges of honor. Even though I know at times it is absolutely essential to push yourself past the breaking point, I’ve started wondering how productive the mentality is that we should constantly be living like this. Not to go all econ major on you, but let’s consider the law of diminishing returns for a moment. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the concept, the basic idea is that continuing after a certain level of performance has been reached will only result in a decline in effectiveness. After working 14 hours straight, how great will the product be after that 15th hour?

As female entrepreneurs, we are constantly reminded that we are the minority in our space, so we push ourselves even harder. We are incredibly aware of the “flight” risk we pose by potentially “opting out,” so in many ways we try to over compensate, but at what cost? Going back to the mask analogy, if you yourself aren’t happy and healthy, how can you expect your company and the team you’re leading to be? Some prominent female innovators have touched on this, opening up about the schedules they’ve created for themselves and the steps they’ve taken to make the grueling life of an entrepreneur work for them. I know firsthand that when building a business you’ll likely be working around the clock, but it’s important to make sure you’re doing it your way and not the way you think you‘re expected to. If you can run on four hours of sleep, while eating only Ramen, then do it, but don’t do it because you feel like that’s what everyone does and you have to prove you can too—do it because you love ramen and you are a super human who can function on four hours of sleep.

A Culture of Balance

In recent years, working hours and productivity have become a serious topic of discussion as companies such as Google and Facebook have taken the necessary steps towards enhancing the lives of their employees, rather than sucking it out of them. Our team has made a conscious effort at this early stage to build a culture that promotes balance, even though at times this can be challenging—if not completely ignored.  This doesn’t mean that all-nighters aren’t a way of life, but it means we pull 24-hour days only when we have to and not because we feel like we should. I was never a morning person, but I learned that I would rather start early to allow myself a bit more balance, like the ability to break for dinner or a quick workout.

For me, working out is a necessary release and something that I struggle to make time for. So, a few weeks ago I decided that twice a week I would come in even earlier than usual in order to make an evening SoulCycle class and finish the workday in all my sweaty glory. Additionally, by inviting my team to join we’re reinforcing a culture that promotes some “me time” and removes the anxiety associated with taking time away from the business to do something for yourself. Those of us that choose to ride make the necessary adjustments to the day so that the hour break doesn’t affect our productivity.

I know I’m not going to make every SoulCycle session work, but I know I’m a better person and a better asset to my company when I put my mask on first.

Are you hurting your business by neglecting yourself?

jess2-1About the guest blogger: Jess Levin (@TheJessLevin) is the co-founder and CEO of Carats & Cake, a platform for brides to share their weddings and experiences while inspiring future brides to create their dream days.