The Rocks Holding You Down in Your Emotional Baggage

Emotional baggage refers to the symbolic “rocks” or “weight” we carry around with us: the feelings about ourselves, our work, and the experiences that negatively affect us.

What you worry about = your emotional baggage. These things take up space in your mind and drag you down in many ways. What you carry around with you to work can impact your ability to be a productive and engaged leader.

It’s essential to learn what’s in your bag so you can get rid of some of that baggage!

Let’s get started.

My favorite EQ accessory is my “Emotional Baggage” purse that I bought from a museum gift shop in Amsterdam several years ago (and yes, I went through the museum before hitting the gift shop). 

This well-loved bag is super handy, hides dirt well, and I can fit a lot in there. It has been all over the world with me because, unlike other bags, I can toss it in the washing machine when I get home. Travel germs begone!

Emotional baggage tote

The point is it gets lots of attention. Sometimes too much. I don’t mean to draw attention to it, but people see it and think it’s funny that I’m carrying my emotional baggage. When people laugh and comment on it, I typically respond with something like, “We all have it!” Because the reality is we do. Me. You. All of us.

Some days the baggage is light, with few distractions and minimal worries.

Other days it is heavy, weighed down with thoughts, concerns, worries, emotions, and all the other “rocks” we throw into our emotional baggage.

Poor Charlie Brown on Halloween . . . he knew what was going on long ago. Carrying around a bag of rocks is no fun.

I want you to stop and think about your emotional baggage right now. While it isn’t a physical purse or bag, that doesn’t make it any less real.

Emotional baggage can stop you from delivering praise to a top performer. It can stop you from asking your manager to invite you to a meeting with the executives where you can influence and persuade. It can stop you from managing the performance of struggling employees. And it can stop you from having some fun, confidence, and ease in your role as a leader.

So what’s in your emotional baggage? What things are you carrying around?

Remember, you might not always be aware that it’s there. But believe me, it is.

Here’s what your baggage might sound like:

  • Why don’t people like me? 
  • Did I say something stupid? 
  • Will I get that promotion, or do I have to ask for one? 
  • Maybe they’re just going to recognize when it’s time to promote me. 
  • Am I talking enough in meetings? 
  • Do I need to demonstrate my leadership differently? 
  • Wow, I’m really struggling to work with a peer, and we need to collaborate on a new project. How am I going to figure this out? 
  • Do you think we’ll have any more layoffs this quarter? 
  • I really don’t like my job.

And, of course, there could also be personal baggage in your emotional baggage. I’ll leave you to imagine what that could be.

This concept is called emotional baggage because you have emotions associated with the fears, doubts, dreams, and so forth that you carry with you.

Now you can’t get rid of all your baggage, yet stopping to think about what is in your baggage is the first step to unpacking it. This is a self-awareness step. And if you’ve read about emotional intelligence (EQ), you know that self-awareness is one of the pieces of the EQ model.

Here’s a short definition:

Self-awareness is your ability to be aware of your feelings as they develop.

So again, stop and think about your emotional baggage. What are the dreams, thoughts, fears, and hesitations going on? What are the rocks in your baggage? 

Rocks = thoughts, judgments, actions, and emotions. While they are symbolic and live in your mind, they can cause real damage to your body.

You may not feel those rocks, but they are there. And everywhere you go, your emotional baggage is there with you. It prevents you from being in the moment, being present, and focusing on what’s happening right in front of you as a leader.

It follows you to work, and you take it home every day even if work and home are the same place!

If you doubt and question yourself before each meeting with a senior leader you admire, then you carry that doubt into the meeting.

I want you to be wary of dragging a suitcase of emotional stuff around with you all the time.

See if any of these common rocks are in your baggage:

  • Fear of being laid off.
  • Fear of reorganization.
  • Annoyance with quirky co-workers.
  • Unsatisfactory personal relationships.
  • Fear of being wrong.
  • Feeling underpaid.
  • Disliking a new manager.
  • Uncertainty in your role as a new manager.

See if you can identify some of the things taking up space in your mind. You need to name those rocks in your emotional baggage. They distract you and weigh heavily on you. And once you can identify them, you can start learning how to unpack some of that emotional baggage. You’ll even be able to uncover the reason you carry some of these rocks with you.

So if you want to eliminate some of the worries, fears, and concerns in your emotional baggage, you need to figure out what’s in there.

This is the first of several blogs about emotional intelligence, a key skill I coach leaders to develop. And now, I’m going to make it easy for you to develop it too.

Here’s your homework: stop and write down what your rocks are. Then, come back next week for another lesson on emotional intelligence.

P.S. If you prefer listening to content like this, check out my new podcast, The Leadership Shot. You can listen to the episode that corresponds to this blog post here.