You can learn a major key to career success from emergency directions on an airplane

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If you can’t breathe, you’re no use to anyone.
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Oscar Siagian / Getty Images

If you’ve flown recently, and if you waited to pop in your headphones until after the flight attendants had given their in-case-of-emergency instructions, you’ll remember that you should always put on your own oxygen mask first before helping anyone else with theirs.

The logic being that if you can’t breathe, you won’t be able to assist others, and no one will survive.

According to Arianna Huffington, these directions are a fitting metaphor for less morbid circumstances, and for life in general: Take care of yourself before trying to take care of anyone or anything else.

Huffington is the cofounder and former editor of The Huffington Post and current CEO of startup Thrive Global. In a recent Facebook Live interview at Business Insider’s annual conference IGNITION, Huffington explained why maintaining your own health is key to your success at work.

Here’s Huffington:

“Once you look at the science, you realize that there’s no contradiction between your well-being and success. In fact, the more you prioritize your well-being, or as they tell us on airplanes, you put your own oxygen mask [on] first, the more effective you are.

“Because when we are running on empty, we’re not as creative, we’re not as productive, we are very irritable. And it’s not the best place from which to do your job or create your startup or whatever it is you’re doing.”

The science that Huffington refers to includes a report from McKinsey, summarized in The Harvard Business Review, which found that sleep deprivation hurts performance at work in a number of ways. For example, when we’re well-rested, we make better decisions and are better equipped to solve tough problems.

It’s easy to brush off these findings, and Huffington’s observations, by saying that your job requires you to be on 24/7. But that’s likely untrue. Research suggests that much of the time people spend working isn’t very productive, and that working around-the-clock is often more of a status symbol than anything else.

So if you don’t sleep enough (and eat properly, and get some exercise), you’re hardly a paragon of dedication to your job. Instead, the research suggests, you’re likely sabotaging not only your own health but also your organization’s performance.

Watch the full Facebook Live interview with Huffington: