What's In Your Backpack

This article originally appeared on my first blog, The Simpler Life, sometime in 2009. It has been updated and revised to be included on TheWorkologist.com.

In the movie Up in the Air, George Clooney's character is a motivational speaker that often gives a talk called, "What's In Your Backpack?" He talks about how each of us is carrying around a metaphorical backpack that contains all of our possessions and commitments. Our backpacks get heavier and heavier until they are so filled with "stuff" that it is nearly impossible to move. George Clooney's character argues that we should "set our backpacks on fire" and free ourselves from this burden. In terms of relationships, he makes the same argument but thankfully gives us permission to not set our backpacks full of family members, friends, and significant others on fire. Much like our backpack full of our possessions, our bag-o-relationships weighs us down and prevents us from being truly free and we should just walk away from it.

Up to a certain point, I was nodding right along with the talk as it was being given. I agree that we all carry around a metaphysical backpack with everything that weighs us down. Our possessions, commitments, relationships, responsibilities and our own goals overflow our backpacks until many of us have no chance of ever being able to move again. However, the point where I differ in philosophy from the movie is what we should do with our backpacks.

In my quest for simplicity and well-being, I am methodically removing everything from my backpack and asking myself if it is truly something I need to be carrying with me. In terms of physical items, this is why I am committed to living a more minimalist lifestyle with less, yet higher quality, possessions. I do not need the extra weight of a large wardrobe or a room full of video games. Most importantly, everything I decide to keep in my backpack is something I have consciously decided to keep around. I think many people have no idea what is in their backpack and yet wonder why it is so heavy.

In terms of relationships, I do not accept the philosophy of Clooney's character. He lives a life completely devoid of personal relationships because he thinks they tie him down. I prefer to fill my backpack with relationships that I care about-- to honestly ask myself what role they should play in my life. I'm not afraid to let friendships fizzle out that no longer make sense in maintaining. At the same time, I am fiercely committed to those relationships I deem worthwhile and important. I take the same approach to my relationships that I do my physical possessions; if I love it and it makes sense to keep, than I make it a point to cultivate it. If it is no longer important to me, then I let it go.

Think about the backpack you are carrying around every day. Have you consciously allowed everything you are carrying around to enter your life? If not, you might want to take a moment to stop, empty your backpack, and make some decisions about what you are going to put back in before you continue slowly killing yourself under the weight.