What we carry matters.
Earlier this summer, I was selected to offer the keynote address for Book Expo America. What would you like to talk about? I was asked.
Climbing, I say.
Here’s the thing. We think of our careers – and the whole of life, really – as a single trajectory in which the ultimate goal is self-actualization. It’s a pyramid, right? Weren’t we meant to scale it?
We were not.
I have detailed my own career journey in my book – and more recently, I shared for Backpacks.com the only secret to success I can claim (lush Knomo not withstanding). But do you want to know, too, a surefire secret to failure?
Assuming there are any secrets at all.
I’m often asked about the how of blogging. How does it work, exactly? How do you make money doing it? How do you build a following?
And from my own dear, sweet aunt: How can I find your blog again?
Last year, Ken, Bee and I mountain climbed in the Andes. Have you ever been mountain climbing? It sounds intense, nerve-wrecking, adventurous. But mountain climbing, like blogging, is a simple blend of two things:
Walking and walking again.
Hitting publish and hitting publish again.
It’s a series of highs and lows, of peaks and valleys, of the goals you set and the work it takes to get there.
It looks like dirt. And your own shoes. And the road a few feet in front of you. And the rocks. Every now and then, you hit a plateau and see how far you’ve come and what lies ahead, but mostly it’s just us and the walking, isn’t it?
Just us and the work.
We can make our work harder, though. We can stuff our lush leather backpacks with expectations, with doubt, with comparison, with envy. We can weight them down with other people’s definitions of success, with benchmarks we were never intended for, with roadmaps for another.
Or, we can lighten our load and enjoy the walk.
Whistling, if we’d like.
In my own small blogging journey, there’s a new platform to chase every year. A new strategy, a new direction, a new cause. I’m often encouraged to be an early adapter, to make sure I’m ahead of the curve, to ensure that my “audience” can hear me through each and every megaphone. Do it this way! I’m told. Follow this trend, this path, this curve! For the love, why are you not capitalizing on the Nordstrom Anniversary Sale?!
But that’s a lot to carry, isn’t it? Every good hiker knows to pace themselves, and a journey spent chasing the next best thing is a shortcut to burnout.
I choose, instead, to walk with a lighter pack.
To hit publish and publish again, quietly, slowly, understanding that the view from here – the muddy boots, the words, the dirt – is a view I have grown to love far more than an occasional sunset from the peak.
When I think of the backpacks that I’ve carried through life – from Singapore to Ireland, from South America to Ethiopia, from the streets of Haiti to the peaks of the Andes – I see the transformation of a girl who once carried it all. I see a girl who stuffed the seams of a waxed canvas backpack so tightly that the threads frayed, the zipper broke.
I wear a smaller one these days.
There’s plenty of room for growth.
If you’re by any chance in that place today of frantic and fast and frenzy – in careers or in life, whether toting a Fjallraven or a Knomo – can I ask that you take a good, hard look at your backpack? What are you carrying? What is essential? What do you believe are your strongest tools, your smartest assets? What might take you where you’d like to go?
Leave the rest.
“I was amazed that what I needed to survive could be carried on my back. And, most surprising of all, that I could carry it.”
Cheryl Strayed said this of her own hiking adventures through the PCT.
And now, you must say it for yours.
Go now. Lighten your load. Dirty your boots.
Whistle, if you’d like.
This is an essay written for Backpacks.com, the newly launched site for carrying you from day to day – whether the daily grind or the Andes peaks! (This one‘s my current favorite.) Journey on, sweet friends.