Posted by: Leigh Reynolds | March 26, 2011

Un-packing

I used to travel a lot for my job – at one point last year I was flying out every week for two months. It seemed like I was living out of a suitcase. Sometimes the suitcase would sit on the floor in my room, full or only half un-packed in-between trips. It would be time for the next trip and I’d just throw in a few new things I needed and off I’d go again, carrying some of the stuff I’d packed from the last trip into the new adventure with me.

I was bouncing back and forth from the East Coast to the West Coast. As you can imagine, in late winter and early Spring, the weather varies greatly between California and D.C. There were a few times I’d arrive at the hotel only to look in my bag and realize I had some utterly inappropriate items for the city I was in. Cute little sling-back heals are not what you need in D.C. in February; a wool blazer is not what you want to wear to a meeting beachside in Santa Monica. The problem was, I was carrying old stuff into a new journey and it just didn’t belong.

All too often we do this in life.  We are hurt in a relationship, we are damaged in some way, and we pack up those hurts and we carry them along as we go. Sometimes, the lessons learned help us maneuver the challenges in life and help us fare better the next time around. If we’ve taken the time to learn from out past experiences, however pleasant or painful, then we are preparing ourselves to better tackle the next one. But sometimes, we carry things forward that don’t belong.

Like those cute little sling backs that were great in LA, but cause my toes to freeze in D.C., dragging forward the distrust and pain of a past relationship into a new, healthier one only causes immense and unnecessary discomfort.

For me, the challenge comes in deciding what I need to carry with me and what I need to leave behind. When you enter into a new situation, a new relationship, it’s all new and none of us really know what we are up against. Will this person hurt me like the last one? Can I trust her? Will he lie to me like the other guy did? Is she being sincere, or does she have a hidden agenda?

All too often we just drag the bags we packed the last time forward, without any real thought or plan. We’re tired and busy and rushing from one thing to the next. We grab our baggage and we’re off. It can be time-consuming and frustrating and sometimes embarrassing to realize we have brought something that didn’t belong. But we have a choice. I can walk into the meeting, through the late snow, and point it right out, “Can you believe these shoes?! I was in LA last week and I just forgot to pack different ones!” Odds are the person you’re talking too will share a story of how they did the same thing once and we can all have a laugh. Or I can put my pride out in front and refuse to acknowledge my mistake… and leave the meeting looking like an idiot.

When we can be honest with ourselves and with others, it is so much easier to find common ground and move forward. Everyone has baggage they’ve packed as they have gone along in life. We are all a sum of our experiences – the good and the bad. It is easy to judge others with a view clouded by our own baggage, and it is easy to forget that the other person may be doing the same. We don’t mean it, and neither do they.

I am working on getting better at checking my bags before I take off. What am I bringing forward that makes sense, and what doesn’t belong? I am also working on getting to know the person across the table from me a bit more before I make assumptions. Maybe they have something that doesn’t belong here that someone else packed in their bag too. It’s a conscious choice, and it’s not a simple one. It is hard to remember that the person I am across the table from today is not the one who caused the pain of yesterday.

Keep what is useful, learn what you can, then unpack the rest and leave it behind. It just doesn’t belong.

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