Everyone comes with baggage; roads traveled, tears cried, and scars of recent and distant past. But we also come with gifts, strengths, and dreams. Don’t let your “once was” dictate your “to be.” Write the ticket. Then go! —Dr. Robyn Silverman, from Creating a Community of Character, Keynote presentation
Tabula rasa is dead. And it’s OK.
We are all born into current states of something. Good or bad, bad or good, we come in with a suitcase and we fill it up as we go along.
Some might view this as depressing. I guess it can be depending on how we choose to look at the contents of the suitcase.
What are you carting along with you? When you take inventory on the contents of your baggage you notice…
(1) Life experience wears on you vs Life experience makes you stronger: Well, which one is it? Maybe it’s a little bit of both at times—sometimes events in our lives make us feel tired, frustrated, angry, alone and sad. We’ve all been there—some more than others. Many choose to stay in this state of unrest for months, years, and sometimes even their whole lives. Others find ways to remain hopeful and move forward. They use their life experiences to help them make decisions for the future and for that, they are grateful.
(2) Scars keep me guarded vs scars remind me that wounds heal in time: Betrayal, loss, pain and suffering have a profound effect on the human spirit. Some are cut deep and remain closed off from others—concerned that the wound will easily open and they will be hurt again. While we take a chance with trust, this is no way to live. We guard ourselves from hurt but also from joy. So many choose to try again. To trust again. To love again. And for those who do, they give themselves a chance for new happiness and fulfillment.
(3) Challenges hold me back vs challenges urge me forward: When you feel challenged, do you push back or do you cave in? There are many challenges in life. Some are dealt what can be seen as a very bad hand—disabilities, unsupportive or unplugged families, poverty, illness—and yet, some thrive. And those who do often use their challenge as a stepping stone rather than a boulder holding them down from their dreams. One of my friends had major learning disabilities and ADHD growing up—moved from school to school hearing that she’d never be good enough– she’s now a special needs teacher who helps many children every year learn, grow, and believe in themselves.
(4) Labels stick vs labels are just one person’s opinion: Children are labeled at a very young age. Negative labels, whether true or not, can make an impact on a young person’s psyche. “She’s shy.” “He’s not athletic.” “She’s awful in math.” Some children, teens and adults self label. Others receive implied labels by comparison, for example, “His brother is the book worm” or “Her sister is the real ‘go-getter’ in the family.” And then there are the name-calling labels such as “bitch,” “player,” and “slut,” that can pigeon hole, hold people back and keep them from attempting new goals and meeting new people. Children, teens and adults tend to live up to the expectation set forth for them. Unless…we learn that one person’s opinion is not necessarily reality. As mentors, business people, parents, teachers and leaders we must demonstrate that we make our own reality.
(5) Yesterday’s noted characteristics haunt me vs help me: Were you called “argumentative,” “spirited,” “headstrong,” “stubborn,” or “opinionated” when you were little? Sometimes the old traits that frustrated our parents and teachers in the past are the very characteristics that serve us well in the future. Reframing those opinions in the positive—perhaps seeing “opinionated” as “assertive” and “headstrong” as “determined” can show that you were always in training to go after your dreams.
(6) Old baggage stored vs dealt with or dumped: Remember that bully you never faced in elementary school? Can’t forget that one thing your parent, teacher, or friend said to you in 9th grade? Wish you said sorry for something you did in college? Negative memories can hold a lot of weight in the baggage we cart around in life. But they don’t have to. When I first got onto Facebook, I reached out to a bunch of people who I felt I wronged in some way in childhood or adolescence. As a different person now, I wanted to be accountable for my mistakes. I also remained open to others who wanted to do the same with me. They were different people now too. The band aid was finally pulled off—and the memories were reframed, explained, and changed. Some of you can do the same. If the chance has passed by due to death or inability to get in touch, write the letter, say the words, have the conversation with someone else you trust so you can forgive and let it go.
(7) Negative people accommodated or released: Everyone has housed negative, rude, unsupportive, and detrimental people in their lives for some period of time. Some have taken permanent residency in our lives—even seated in the driver’s seat or at least backseat driving us to an unhappy place each day. When it’s a family member, it can be hard to let go. And when it’s a friend you’ve had since childhood, it can seem wrong. Still, it may be best to literally or figuratively dethrone that person in your life. That means cutting ties, having a frank conversation about the need for change in the relationship, spending less time with that person, or what I call “demoting them” in level of importance in your own head space. Sometimes, the negative people are no longer in our lives but we still repeat their ugly words in the privacy of our own head—shine light on that—and let them go.
The weight we give our so-called deficits, weaknesses, negative life experiences, leaches, and unsupportive labels actually is up to us. It’s not always easy to let go, reframe or disempower whatever has been weighing us down—but it is possible and it is time. When we commit to making this shift, our strengths become more obvious, our happiness more likely, and of course, our baggage more manageable, lighter, and quite nice to have along for the ride.