Is your baggage weighing you down? We accumulate so much mental and material baggage as we move through life. How we deal with that baggage can dictate how we approach each moment of our lives.
AB: “Are you someone that thinks about your legacy?”
IA: “No, I don’t believe in legacy. That’s a penis word. Men think in terms of legacy and transcendence. Women are more realistic. Nobody’s going to remember me except maybe my grandchildren once in a while. That’s it.”
This striking exchange comes from Chilean author Isabel Allende’s recent appearance on the Adam Buxton podcast. The conversation as a whole, and these words in particular, have been on my mind all week.
This past week was the second half of a much-needed fortnight off for me. I did a poor job of scheduling my annual leave this year, not allowing myself a proper break until mid-August. I was at a point of mental exhaustion. It took pretty much the entire first week for me to unwind. To feel normal again. To lose the baggage that I’d built up over an intense working year (so far).
Isabel Allende’s chat with Buxton keeps returning to the theme of baggage, the mental baggage and the material baggage that we accumulate over the course of our lives. How we choose to deal with that baggage dictates so much of how we approach each moment of our lives.
Allende argues that the value of most of what we accumulate as we go through life is illusory. What good does it do you to have, for example, more than one set of plates? Thoughts about legacy are another such illusion. Placing too much importance on what we leave behind can be a way to convince ourselves of the value of what we have done and are doing with our lives. At the age of 79, Allende wants above all to minimise her burden on the world she will one day leave behind:
“I just want to die in peace, feeling that I have not damaged the earth or other people too much. And you know, Adam, one of the things that I am discovering in old age is how little I need. The material world interests me less and less. I don’t want stuff, I don’t want clutter, I don’t want your drawers full of cutlery.”
If we aspire to wisdom
Of course, not everything that we accumulate on life’s journey is a burden that we might do better to jettison. Wisdom in particular is something that can be difficult to accumulate. But wisdom is also something that we can never have too much of. In her book The Soul of a Woman, Allende shares some wonderful, wise words from her mother:
“If we aspire to wisdom, we have to start training at a young age.”
What wisdom do you gain over a lifetime? There is no question that Allende started young on the path to wisdom. She is so generous as to share a little of the wisdom she has collected over the years. Towards the end of their conversation, Buxton asks her about the lessons that her life has taught her. I love Allende’s reply:
“When you say ‘Am I wiser?’ I am wiser in certain things, but the person I am… I am more of the person I always was. I don’t acquire anything new because I’m older. Things just get more visible. Maybe because you lose inhibitions. The thing that I’m wiser in is that I don’t expect anything from anybody or from life. I’m content with what there is. I want the world to change and I’m doing the best to change it. I’m not going to succeed in my lifetime and it doesn’t matter. I’m just one part of this chain toward evolution, so let me do my part. And that is good enough for me.”
It was 20 years ago today
What wisdom do you gain over two decades?
On my last working day before my two-week break (Friday 20 August 2021), I somehow hit my twentieth anniversary at my place of work. I count myself lucky to have been part of a business that has grown exponentially while repeatedly transforming itself beyond all recognition over these two decades. Change has been a constant, and always will be. This is as it should be.
So many faces and so many initiatives have come and gone over that time. The business world is always about what is happening now and what comes next. This relentless forward motion can at times give rise to a kind of amnesia. What went before can very soon mean little as circumstances and priorities change and evolve. Things that seemed to be of critical, urgent importance one moment can be completely forgotten the next. Baggage is jettisoned as a matter of course.
I’ve always liked Rick’s words on this curious corporate phenomenon, from his 2013 post Workplace archaeology. Rick talks about finding a trove of rare paper-based evidence of years’ worth of once vital, now forgotten corporate initiatives of yesteryear in an old office cupboard:
“It’s a bit like that old agricultural machinery you see rusting in the corner of fields. Something once thought of as essential equipment, now obsolete, but that someone couldn’t quite bring themselves to get rid of. It was as though an invisible current had carried them there and washed them all up in the same place.”
This invisible current is the product of the corporate world’s relentless forward motion. There is a lot to be said for this constant and automatic removal of baggage. But it must be balanced by aspiring to wisdom at all times. Perhaps the most useful piece of wisdom from Allende’s conversation with Buxton is her reminder that you are one part of a chain toward evolution. You play your part, then time moves on.
The waters will engulf all in time. The peaks of achievement will disappear beneath the still and calm surface of the water.
But this is no excuse for idleness now. No excuse for half measures, for phoning it in. Each moment will pass. But while each moment is here, while you are in each moment, you should engage with it to its fullest, give as much as you can to make the moment as good as possible, for yourself and all those around you.
May today be nothing but kind to you and yours.
- 010-KW XKZ 0213-Hoera we gaan op reis-page10 via Wikimedia Commons.
- An MJCarty at large in the Ashdown Forest (September 2021 edition).
- Isabel Allende (1975) via Wikimedia Commons.
- I make no claim whatsoever to the copyright for the cover art to The Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band album, and will of course remove it immediately from this post if required.
- Sunlight through trees, 25 August 2021, by MJCarty.