Reworking our baggage at work

As the entrepreneurs in Colorado that I've mentored already know, I've been fascinated for years by the possibility of employment as the place to resolve emotional baggage. Business models that fail to recognize the drag on success created by everyone's baggage, undermine their own survival. Baggage in the minds of the founding partners and new hires is bad for business, customers and the developing brand name. It clouds individual's minds, distorts their thinking, skews judgment, and serves up strong inclinations to make things worse. It results in poor investments, bad decisions and deficient customer service. As the baggage-laden reputation spreads, the enterprise will attract "customers from hell", investigative reporters, and governmental audits that turn those jobs into nightmares.

Having deepened my understanding of baggage this past month by writing about it so extensively, I now see that possibility in a new light. Here are some of the components of how it might function to rework baggage at work:

Everyone at work has a job that requires particular skill-sets and less defined capabilities. In that context, there are always additional responsibilities that could take a job-holder's game up a level. Those responsibilities offer particular rewards that function as incentives to advance in skill-sets and capabilities. This creates an ideal context to rework some baggage.

The job holder's baggage will usually interfere with taking on the additional responsibilities and earning the additional rewards. The interference may take many different forms including:
  • mental blocks that inhibit communicating with others, expressing oneself, getting creative, etc.
  • fear of getting known by others, exposed as flawed, understood as underdeveloped, etc.
  • emotional instability, inclinations to overreact, propensity toward outbursts, etc.
  • patterns of avoidance, making excuses, shirking responsibility, lying about misdeeds, etc.
  • urges to retaliate against mismanagement, sabotage work in progress, steal supplies, etc.
  • misreading individual character, problematic situations, unexpected opportunities, etc.
  • ineffective efforts to change policies, reformulate strategies, improve team dynamics, etc.

In typical work settings, baggage like this does not get discussed. It's considered too psychological, subjective and complex to handle at work. When baggage interferes with job performance, the situation gets diagnosed as a lack of ability, motivation, management attention or training. The baggage continues to interfere with performance in spite of well-intentioned improvement efforts.

When baggage is explored as a possible explanation and area to rework, the interference can be put into remission. The rewards attached to additional responsibility incentivise the rework of the baggage. The accountability for changed behavior, demonstrated capabilities and reliable skill-sets insures that mere talk of changes is not good enough. The work-related context sets up expectations of significant and lasting changes in mindsets, outlooks, thought processes, emotions and conduct.

How the actual rework will get done is something I'm currently developing. Stayed tuned!


  1. I just wanted to say that I've been checking in on your blog for a while and appreciate your posts even if I don't always understand.

    Emotional Baggage. Huh. That's the stuff that my nearly 50-year old body has come to feel weighed down by: stuff from childhood and after, the amassing of experience over a lifetime that my muscles and on a cellular level after all the years I feel.

    I'm involved in a creative writing class at my local community college. The instructor is wonderful, as is our little group. Week to week we are getting to know one another through our encounters and writings, in what is a topographical journey of sorts. We plumb depths in ourselves, find vantage points, share with others and - mirroring our society, because it's quite a culturally/generationally split little group - slowly build trust.

    Emotional baggage: each of us in the workshop comes loaded with it, and the point becomes to set it down, or to dig deep and bring it aloft and - since it's a writing class - to set it down.

    The instructor is brilliant, smart, widely-read, empathetic, nonjudgmental, and strict in her professional way. I feel very fortunate that she's a creative writing instructor rather than, say, a Park Avenue psychiatrist. I feel certain that the that a Fostering-Creative-Expression approach is the best cure possible for cultural, endemic soulsickness.

    Thanks for your thought-provoking blog! (a butterfly flaps its wings.......)

  2. Thanks for adding some more dimensions to this exploration, butterfly :-) Your creative writing class sounds like a wonderful process for reworking burdensome issues.

    This series of blog posts about baggage is a kind of creative writing exercise for me. Rather than delve into my own issues, I'm meditating on what issues our baggage has with us. Our baggage is getting a job done, keeping us safe, deciding who and what can be trusted. By creating the space for our baggage to seem sensible, respectable and even valuable, we may resolve our own issues much more easily.

    I also find psychiatry to be a dysfunctional approach to baggage. As your class is showing you, our own creative processes of self exploration and self expression can surface hidden issues, combine opposing objectives and grasp other viewpoints thoroughly. Developing trust in others reworks foregone conclusions about predictable safety and dangers in groups.

    Like you, my own comprehension of what I'm reading comes and goes. It's a process I've learned to trust, rather than control or define as a problem. I do a lot of rereading of something that eludes my initial grasp while it's enticing me to pursue it. Comprehending our baggage poses an equally elusive challenge. It's an iterative process like your writing class is following.

    Thanks for stimulating all these reflections!