The River

Dear WE Readers,

Events that have happened to us in the past and the feelings we carry about these past events can impact our state of mind, our actions, and even our health. Yet many of us carry emotional baggage with us for days, weeks and even years without being conscious of this truism. Last month I addressed a group of women and asked them if they would share an event from their past that they found difficult to let go.  One woman described an incident from two years prior when a promotion opportunity became available at her company. She applied for the position but did not receive it because the job was given to another woman within her team.  She felt betrayed.  She had discussed the promotion opportunity with her peers but this team member did not reciprocate and state that she was also applying for the position.  The feeling that the promotion was “taken from her” resulted in her leaving the company because she did not want to work for this person. I mean “how could you trust someone like that” was voiced.

There is this wonderful story (told in numerous ways) of two monks walking together on their way to a distant monastery when they come to a river they need to cross. Sitting beside the river is an immaculately dressed young woman who is crying. She needs to cross the river to attend her sister’s wedding but the oarsman has departed and her outfit will be ruined if she attempts to wade across. She appeals to the monks to help her. The younger monk, who appreciates that his faith precludes him from touching a woman, refuses. The older monk lifts the woman onto his shoulders to carry her safely across the river.  As they continue onto the monastery, the younger monk keeps talking about the incident and the affront to their faith that he believes the older monk has perpetrated. Over and over again he repeats the question: “Why did you carry that woman, you know our religion does not allow us to touch women”? This continues on for the days it takes to reach the monastery. Just before they enter, the older monk turns to the younger and says: “I carried that young woman for about fifteen minutes to help her cross a river. You have been carrying her with you for days! Which one of us has been more distracted from the pursuit of our higher aspirations and faith?”

I love this story because it reminds me that we have choice. We have choice not only with respect to how we deal with events and situations that we are confronted with, but also about how we internalize and learn from them afterwards. The questions we must ask ourselves are: Does continuing to mull over the incident or the perceived slight increase or decrease our emotional reserves? Does our intended response advance or retard our aspirations and agenda? For the woman I described above, being passed over for promotion resulted in her leaving a job she liked and, possibly more importantly, carrying the burden of betrayal around for two years in a way that may have impacted subsequent decisions and relationships of hers.  On the other hand, the woman who received the promotion probably has not given the matter a second thought. She likely feels she fully deserved the position and has been focusing on proving this to be true since then!

Emotional response to things that happen is often good. Our emotions help guide us when we have to make key decisions. They should not swamp analytical approaches but they should not be ignored either. However, I would definitely challenge all my readers to reflect upon the following:

Are there memories of past instances in your life that you continue to carry around emotionally? Do they cumulate and become heavier and heavier when making decisions and having to take action today? Or, have you managed to channel these emotional reflections into lessons that help you make better decisions and engage in smarter actions? In other words, have you been able to transform your emotional baggage into a tool bag that can be an aide and support for your path ahead rather than an emotional drain?

The world needs far more women at the highest levels of organizations. Achieving this requires that each of us works through real and perceived offenses we have experienced.  We need to transform this negative energy into a positive force (or strength) and use that to help other women become more powerful as individuals and collectively. We have to learn how to celebrate each other’s promotions.  We have to learn how to sponsor one another for jobs. We have to learn how to lift each other up otherwise nothing much will change and we will still be in the same place in ten years’ time.

I challenge you to transform some of your emotional baggage into positive lessons, aides and tool bags for the future. What cannot be transformed in this way should be dumped into the river that our monks and the young woman crossed so long ago!

Dianne Bevelander, MBA, PhD
Associate Dean MBA Programmes, RSM
The River

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14 thoughts on “The River

  1. Yes, I’ve experienced situations where emotional baggage hampered me, those where I was able to successfully transform it into something that helped me become a more empowered me – and also those where I just dumped it into the river (luckily, this kind of dumping isn’t toxic for water and wildlife).
    Great post, Dianne!

  2. Dear Dianne,

    I just read your wonderful blog on letting things go and wanted to share with you a new tea that I have just blended and the story that goes with it


    or white tea with peach

    I love words, and I have a soft spot for those that have been lost from the English language with time. One such word is Hierath, which is ” a longing for something that never was”. I have to admit that I have been guilty of hierath on more than one occasion, longing for something that never actually existed, perhaps to the point of wallowing in just a little bit of self pity. If you too have been guilty of being nostalgic for something that never was, I ask you take the time to drink a cup of this comforting white tea with peach and remember everything that was good about that thing that you are feeling nostalgic about. Then when you have finished that cup or pot of tea, let that thing go and move on and embrace life to the full.

  3. So true, Dianne, thanks so much for the inspiring reminder to let go for change, and that there is the bigger cause of equality -in different forms and with different consequences – to which we can contribute.

  4. Thanks for sharing your thoughts with us Dianne, and I agree with your challenge.
    However, it’s interesting that you address to us, women, as I think men should work on themselves as well. I see it in my family; both my brothers never reflect on their behaviours, never sit down and wonder what went wrong. It is what it is, they think.
    And I don’t want to sound a man hater, but that difference makes us, women, far more interesting creatures !
    It might not always be easy to sit down and reflect on the emotional baggage we carry, but it you do it, it gets you so much further. Success everyone !

  5. Dear Dianne,

    Thank you for sharing your wonderful blog!

    It helps women to empower themselves and other women when we can turn around difficult situations easy and quickly.

    I am fortunate to have tons of energy and a positive view on life, which helps me to become better at this every day. I am not saying this is easy or always has been easy though.

    Nowadays I love to mentor MSc and MBA students and often tell them that having faith & truly believing and feeling that “Alles sal reg kom” (Everything will be ok) helps to enjoy life.

    All the best,

  6. So true, Dianne! Indeed, sometimes “getting over it” or turning the negative into constructive seems hard, but it’s so much worth it! 🙂

  7. Brilliant post Di. Yes we all carry baggage in some form. You know mine and I dumped it some time ago and the feeling of empowerment was so gratifying. I agree with Jackie H’s comment above. Thanks Di.

  8. So True Diane. I am very much in agreement when you say “We have to learn how to celebrate each other’s promotions. We have to learn how to sponsor one another for jobs. We have to learn how to lift each other up otherwise nothing much will change and we will still be in the same place in ten years’ time”
    For years women have been seen as unable to deal with the successes of other women. They have been painted as insecure and unsupportive of their female counterparts. This is quite different from what obtains in male settings. I think its time we change all this and for that change to happen this “unfortunate trend” needs to be brought to the fore and addressed. Thanks for doing just that via this Post!

  9. Dear Professor Bevelander,
    Thank you for this post.
    Sometimes we need to compare things which happen to us with nature objects (river, bridge etc.) for better understanding. You give so many associative examples and it really works!

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