The world would be a happier, healthier place if someone devised a way we could off-load all of life’s baggage into a giant rocket that blasts into outer space, never to return.
Think of the possibility! Ridding the planet of everyone’s excess baggage, and along with it the billions upon billions of idle hours we wasted rehashing it. We do that because life’s ghosts hide in emotional furniture, and we insist on joining them.
But what if baggage weren’t there; what would people dwell upon?
I am a poster child for past excesses tied to this topic, so indulge me a quick skip down nostalgia lane. Young and inexperienced at love, I refused to accept being dumped by someone I adored who was barely half my size. I did not realize that sometimes relationships are like jobs; they have a beginning, a middle, and an end. I also insisted on a false belief: even if she didn’t love me, if I loved her twice as much that was enough for us both because the average was sufficient.
Wrong. In retrospect I was, as she said, “A silly boy.”
But this begets a question: When should we hang on and when should we let go? How we answer has a huge, direct bearing on how much we worry and the emotional intensity that goes with it. What we think drives how we feel, and how we feel drives what we do. It stands to reason that behavioral choices will be hugely influenced by whether we decide to hang on or let go.
“Hang on” and “cling to” are not the same. Nor are “let go” and “forget.” Both pairs contrast dramatically diverse matters of degree.
To dissect whether to hold on or let go, we need to ask ourselves a pair of core questions:
- Is this something we can directly change or control (or at least influence)? Or are we helpless to change it?
- What value does this have in a happy life?
The first question, whether the baggage we carry is changeable, is the easier of the two to answer. It’s an objective question; its answer is yes or no.
The harder of the two questions is the second. In order to assess something’s value, we have to first decide what the word value means. It’s a commonly used yet very vague term, open to a thousand interpretations. Before we can decide how much value carrying baggage brings to a happy life, we first must redefine value from something vague to something precise. Ideally that definition is measurable.
I like Neil Rackham’s definition: “Value = Benefits (minus) Cost.” Using that definition, we are free to dissect and measure value.
- Benefits come in two forms, tangible and intangible. Tangible benefits are real. Intangible benefits are perceived. Issues we wrestle with or cling to often have one, the other, or both.
- Cost also comes in two forms, direct and indirect. Direct cost is objective in nature and measurable. Indirect cost often translates to time, which is irreplaceable. Every minute wasted is a minute lost forever. A full, rich life wastes very little. A broken, defeated life wastes much.
By analyzing our baggage against this formula, we can clearly see the value (or lack thereof) of what we’re choosing to tote around. Unchangeable things are dead weight. Changeable things are value choices. If the benefits outweigh the cost of the memory, keep toting it. But if they don’t, if the price you pay outweighs the benefits, put it down. Leave it behind.
Evolving lives create changing perspectives, so it’s quite normal for accumulated burdens to be offloaded somewhere down the road. When that time comes, do it. Put the baggage down and walk toward sunshine. It won’t take long to get there.
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