Be Willing to Leave Your Baggage Behind
My dad was a master of the profound pithy saying. One of his favourites was, “When the building is burning, leave your baggage behind.”
Dad usually offered that sage nugget of wisdom during work crises. It was a reminder that the war was more important than the small battle; that survival of various kinds be prioritized above all else.
What I’ve been doing this past week doesn’t begin to approach the extremes of war or survival. Nevertheless, it has been a challenge, an awakening of sorts.
The Beginning of Hume ProEd Inc.
After publishing six books and three adolescent literacy programs with a large, mainstream publishing house, I was offended and angry when they didn’t want a seventh book. Their reasoning was good. The digital world was threatening to take down educational publishing. My publisher was trying to figure out how to survive. Another professional learning book was low on his list of priorities, but he wasn’t saying ‘No’ forever. He just wanted me to wait for a couple of years.
However, I couldn’t imagine life without my well-worn pattern of write, publish, facilitate workshops and give speeches, then write some more. I saw my publisher’s decision as an assault to my passion and my livelihood.
In an ill-conceived “I’ll show you” move, I started my own small publishing company creating professional learning kits called ProPaks.
My idea was to save schools and school districts from having to spend thousands of dollars hiring people like me by giving them everything they needed to lead high quality professional learning experiences on their own.
ProPaks were resource heavy: image-based PowerPoints with speaking notes, a twenty-four page guide, posters, cards, game pieces, worksheets. They were beautifully, professionally designed and published in full colour. Oh, and to add to the madness, I offered to personalize each ProPak to the needs of the receiving school or district.
The Ending of Hume ProEd Inc.
Another, less helpful, bit of advice from dad was, “Do it right or don’t bother doing it at all.” I did Hume ProEd right, if quality was the metric. But I didn’t do it sane. I offered ten different ProPaks from the get go. When a single order came in for each, I committed to writing all ten at once.
Hume ProEd definitely exacerbated the burnout that was, unbeknownst to me, rendering me incapable of making a single decision in my own best interest. Feelings and misplaced values, it turns out, make for pretty heavy baggage. As I sunk ever deeper into an exhausted, robot-like existence, I nevertheless remained determined to not disappoint any customers, to be a superhero to all.
Finally, after two years of gruelling effort, in the midst of the most debilitating exhaustion I’ve ever experienced, I called it quits. I donated my significant professional library to a faculty of education. All of the printed materials of Hume ProEd got shoved into closets, ready to deal with ‘someday’. I would have happily donated ProPaks too, but learned early on that I really should have started my business with a focus group or two. It turns out that educators are more comfortable paying the big bucks for speakers like me, rather than doing it themselves even when I write the workshops for them.
I love new beginnings, fresh starts, clean slates. After decades in schools, I think of September as the real New Year. My birthday in late August seals the deal.
This new year, I’ve decided that it is time to declutter my already clutter-free home. I feel a strong need to have less, do less, and be more.
Every object in every cupboard is being assessed. If it doesn’t have good memories, isn’t beautiful, if I don’t love it, out it goes. I’m putting items on Kijiji, donating to friends and charities, making a (hopefully small) trip to the dump and, in the case of Hume ProEd, visiting the recycling plant.
Toto, I have a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.L. Frank Baum
Leave Your Baggage Behind
As I fill blue bag after blue bag with posters, guides and activity cards, I find myself reliving every positive and negative of Hume ProEd’s two years. I am proud of the quality of the work, glad that I stayed with it long enough to break even financially and even show a small profit.
As is my wont, however, I start off paying little attention to these positives. I engage, instead, in my favourite blood sport of harsh self-criticism. How could I have wasted all of this money/time/effort/trees? I really wanted to write a big guide for facilitators. Why didn’t I start with that? Why did I get caught up in my old stuff of being all things to all people?
Then, as I pitch armloads of paper into recycling bags, I realize that “old stuff” is accurate. I needed Hume ProEd, just as I needed all of the crazy, intense decades before. My experiences have shaped me. They’ve taught me that I’m okay even when I take off, especially when I take off, the superhero cape. I didn’t know that truth before I started pitching paper.
Eckhart Tolle has a quote I’ve always liked–“Get the inside right and the outside will take care of itself.” I think that’s true, but for me the reverse is also true. When my mind feels cluttered, one of the best things I can do is purge and clean. Then, when my environment is orderly, my mind and my emotions are eased. Today, I’m fully and gratefully leaving the baggage of Hume ProEd behind.
I can vouch for “leave your baggage behind” as a great act of self-care. If that is something you need to do, please take the necessary steps. You’re worth it.