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Don’t Claim Other People’s Baggage!

By Dr. Calvin Mackie

Calvin Mackie’s story would be remarkable even if he had just left off at attaining two undergrad degrees, a master’s, and a Ph.D. He also owns a patent and is a critically acclaimed author; however what’s most remarkable about Dr. Mackie is his social conscience and willingness to guide young people. He is a very in-demand keynote speaker on many topics, including helping people unleash their greatness and transcend personal and societal barriers. He keynoted the AVID Up Where We Belong conference in 2007, which focused on African American male students. Since then, he has remained a friend of AVID and has spoken at many student conferences across the United States. One of his recent blog postings grabbed our attention… 

Recently I was standing in Los Angeles airport, tired and exhausted, waiting for my luggage after a long flight and a couple of days on the road. The more tired you are, the longer it takes for your bag to make its way off of the plane. It seems there is only one little munchkin unloading the airplane as the wait becomes longer and longer. [It seemed] Everyone else's luggage came off before mine. I was merely watching all the bags go by: big and little, black and red, raggedy and upscale. As I stood with the driver my client had hired for me, he asked if certain bags were mine, "That's not mine. That's not mine. Nope, I don't own that one. Yes, that looks like mine, but it's not." Some people would pick up a bag that was not theirs and then sheepishly return it to the conveyor belt. Numerous signs were posted by the airline stating that if you claimed someone else's luggage you would be responsible for the cost and assume all liability for returning the bags to the rightful owner.

I recalled a trip last year to New York City where I claimed the wrong baggage and didn't realize it until after I arrived at my hotel. I was shocked, and then angry when I realized I had someone else's suitcase. The items in the bag served me no purpose. I realized that I had to return this bag to the airport and hope my bags were there waiting. It was going to cost me $100 to get someone else's stuff back to them, and then another $100 to get back to my hotel.

This episode at the baggage claim revealed life lessons we could all use. It is our personal and professional responsibility to make sure we do not claim baggage that is not our own. Claiming someone else's baggage is an expensive, laborious, and distressing experience. Picking up and holding onto another person's personal baggage causes heartaches and undue stress. People are walking around packing all types of emotional baggage: fear, anger, shame, guilt, insecurity, frustration, hurt, debt, and abandonment from their childhood, parents, relationships and life's bad experiences. To avoid claiming the wrong baggage and holding onto other people's problems, you must:

Know and claim your own baggage. All of us must perform a personal and professional audit to determine what baggage we are carrying around with us. Many of us are experts at pointing out other people's baggage, but have difficulty identifying our own. All of us have unresolved experiences from the past that impact the present. It is our responsibility to unpack these bags without allowing them to negatively impact our personal and professional relationships. When you claim other people's baggage, it will cost you and when you don't know your own baggage the costs sneak up on you. In New York City, claiming someone else's baggage cost me physically, emotionally, and financially. If I had packed less the experience would have never occurred, or it would have been less traumatic at least. Commit to knowing your own baggage.

Pack less in your bags. In a perfect world, we would not have any baggage to check or claim. However, all of us have baggage and sometimes it is based on where we are or what we are currently going through. When I opened the wrong bag I noticed the owner had packed a lot of excess stuff. The easiest way to avoid baggage claim problems is to not check your bags. Minimize what you pack. Many people habitually carry around unnecessary articles of clothing, objects and emotional artifacts that should and could have been left at home or, better yet, discarded years ago. Let the past be the past, learn from it and leave it in the past. Stop carrying around excess baggage that weighs you down personally, professionally, and emotionally, impacting relationships you may be trying to establish. When you pack less, you have less to bring with you into your current relationships and you are substantially less likely to claim someone else's baggage.

Do not claim other people's baggage. You have to create a way to clearly identify your own baggage. Other people's bags will be tempting. They may look newer or less damaged than your own. People have a way of dressing up their baggage so other people might want to claim it as their own. Many people are packing emotional baggage from their childhood - parents, relationships, bad experiences- and are looking for someone else to carry it. One of my favorite mottos now is, "I am not claiming that!" I refuse to claim other people's baggage. In these challenging times, people refuse to take responsibility for their place and stage in life. They think the fault lies with everyone but themselves. They blame their situation on parents, spouses, friends, teachers, or bosses. Are you in denial? Are you looking for someone else to carry your baggage? If you are not careful, you will be paying extra fees at the airport of life for checking and claiming bags that are not your own.

When you can discern what is yours and what is not yours, relationships at work, home, and school will become less confrontational and challenging because you will not be trying to solve other people's issues. You will take their bags back to them and lay them at their feet for them to own up to. Compassion and empathy require that we offer help to others with their baggage, but nowhere is it required for you to claim it. So, know your bags, pack less, and commit today. Say it out loud: I am not claiming that!


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