The Burden of Unfinished Business

I sat at a departure gate at Newark airport, watching a woman struggle with more bags than she could possibly take onto the plane. She looked around and the only open seat in the waiting area was directly across from me. She sat and immediately began to unpack and repack the contents of four bags, trying to rearrange her belongings to meet the airline’s carry-on limit of two. Within a few minutes, this woman seemed frantic. We would soon be directed to board the plane and many of her things were still strewn on the floor. I could almost feel her desperation as she shoved items back into her bags.

Weeks later, I am still thinking about her but now in a different way, realizing that I AM that women. No, I’ve never entered an airport with more than the acceptable number of carry-on bags, but every day I lug around invisible baggage that weighs me down, bags full of my “unfinished business.” I unknowingly unpack and repack those bags just as my frenzied counterpart did that day at Newark airport, not getting rid of the contents but hoping to rearrange them so they do not interfere with my life. It’s simply not possible.

Unfinished business is a distraction in our lives, a thief that slowly and silently steals away our energy, time, and creativity. It weighs on us because it chains us to the past and prevents us from investing all of our energy in the present moment. We know that eventually we have to deal with the nagging loose ends in our lives, but the actions required seem too burdensome or unpleasant to begin. So we pack them all away, unfinished, hoping they will sit quietly in the back of our mind or, better yet, magically disappear. We know this is not a likely outcome, but we can always hope.

There are many categories of unfinished business, but with a nod to brevity I believe that these are the top three:

Unresolved Conflicts with People We Love – This category can be a wellspring of unfinished business. We often avoid resolving conflicts or disagreements with those we love, sweeping big issues under the rug rather than having the “real” and predictably difficult conversations required to address them. And because these issues remain unresolved, they weigh us down. Sometimes we are aware of this weight, sometimes not, but we must never doubt that it is there.

Unresolved Conflicts with Other People in Our Life – For many of us, this can be a long, long list that includes people in all aspects of our lives. Take a moment to think about the many people in your life. If you feel any tension when a name comes to mind, you probably have unfinished business with that person. Right? You may choose not to do anything about these unresolved issues, but being aware will help when you assess the weight of this baggage.

Unresolved Internal Conflicts – Yes, I have saved the biggest bag for last. We weigh ourselves down by carrying around all of the old disappointments, anger, pain and frustration that we have not yet chosen to resolve or heal. The circumstances that have triggered these feelings may go back many, many years. Some of these are still in our awareness, while others are deeply buried away so we can avoid looking at them. In either case, they hold us back from fully loving and being at peace with ourselves.

Recognizing that we carry our unfinished business with us each and every day is a good beginning, and choosing to do something about is even better. I’m off to begin unpacking now.

14 thoughts on “The Burden of Unfinished Business”

  1. I actually think about this quite often. I have unfinished business with several people, including members of my family. Most of all, however, I fit in category 3. I definitely have unresolved internal conflicts with myself. This has been something that I have been trying to work on in the past few years with little avail. Sometimes, even, it puts a slight strain on my relationship because I struggle to make amends with myself, in turn making me insecure about myself and my relationship. Instead of facing this internal conflict head on, I find myself going around in circles hoping that one day I will wake up and not feel this way. Nevertheless, I am still working on myself everyday and I sincerely hope that one day I can honestly say that I have resolved these conflicts so that I can truly be at peace.

    1. Thank you so much for your candor and openness, Katy. I admire your high level of awareness and your commitment to dealing with unfinished business, and am grateful that you chose to share your thoughts with us. We have much to learn from each other. BIG THANKS!

  2. I can related to all 3 catergories and just like Katy said above, it takes a lot of time and patience (with yourself) to work through “unfinished business.” As recent as last year, I have tried a new way of conversing with myself when baggage starts to weigh me down. First, I become aware of what is really bothering me. Is it that I had a rough day at work and I feel worn out, or is the emotion caused by unfinished business that I have been avoiding at address? At that point, it becomes apparent that I can no longer run from myself. While there isn’t always a quick solution to resolve issues that run deep, I have started using extremely kind and compassionate words in conversations with myself. If your BFF was talking to me about this, she wouldn’t be critical and loathing. Then why is it that most of us get trapped in a cycle of self criticism and self loathing when addressing such things?

    My conversations to myself have been more compassionate, which makes it easier to acknowledge unfinished business and allows me to be patient with myself. Things have improved dramatically for me in the last year and I am happier not lugging around things from the past.

    1. Neha, thank you very much for sharing your perspective on working through unfinished business. I particularly appreciate your advice about being extremely kind and compassionate in our conversations with ourselves – it’s an excellent reminder. Many thanks!

  3. Hi Sharon – What Katy and Neha shared as well as your blog post really resonated with me. And your post is very timely for me as I just yesterday became aware of a “weight” that I carry around related to relationships in my life (#3).

    Self-compassion has been instrumental in helping me become more aware of these weights that I carry around and in fact I wrote a blog post about it which I share here hoping it will help others. Mostly, I find I write the blog posts because they help me learn something I am needing to learn :-).

    Here’s the challenge though…how do you dump the thinking patterns that affect you after you become aware of them? Would love a blog post on that!


    1. Thanks very much for your comments and for the link to your blog about self-compassion, Henna. I look forward to reading it tonight, but in the meantime am grateful to you for raising this important and often fogotten topic. Your question about how we “dump the thinking patterns that affect you after you become aware of them” is an excellent one. We’ll have to work on that one soon. THANK YOU!

  4. I have been thinking a lot about Sharon’s blog post. As it may have been the case with many of you, it echoed very deeply in me. Indeed, I do have unfinished businesses of all 3 categories and life has given me opportunities to do something about them. But as you said Sharon, in the case of unresolved internal conflicts, they might be deeply buried away so that we avoid looking at them. For me it was impossible to avoid looking at some of them, when my children were born. Their births and the amazing transformation they brought to me and my life, forced me to look at them “right in the eyes”. It is not necessarily easy and doesn’t happen all at once. It takes time. You fight back because you don’t want to be confronted with them. But ultimately if you follow your intuition, if you listen to your inner voice, you know you will be so much better after having looked at them. I am glad I listened. I am glad I took the opportunities of life. And I am so grateful to those 2 little ones who without knowing it, made me a better person. It also reminds me of one of the ideas developed in the book “Many Lives, Many Masters”: there is a purpose to whom you encounter in your life, to whom you live with. They all have something to teach you about, so that you have the opportunity to get rid of them and you do not carry them over with you to another life.

    1. Virginie, your comment is a beautiful blog post itself. Thank you so very much for generously sharing your experience, wisdom and advice as a woman and a mother. Your perspective helps us all. Sending thanks and a big hug!

  5. I actually do take the time once a month to clean up a mess in my life. It might be soihtemng as simple as cleaning out a closet that I have just been throwing stuff in to get it out of the way. Or if I go out the garage to take out the trash and I see that it’s starting to look a little filled with crap I know that’s the next clean up job. I don’t do it to make my wife happy or keep her off my back- although it doesn’t hurt. I do it to make room for the massive abundance coming my way. If the cup is full there is no more room for more. If my mind is cluttered with having to think about that drew or the garage every time I see it that takes up space I would otherwise have free for soihtemng new I could be learning. Silly I know, but it works.

    1. Thanks very much for your comments, Fama. I agree with your comment about making room for the abundance that is coming our way and appreciate your willingness to share your perspective.

  6. Really liked what you had to say in your post, The Burden of Unfinished Business |, thanks for the good read!
    — Ken

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