How Heavy Is Your Backpack?

Karen WehrBy Karen Wehr|March 24, 2021|7 Minutes

While I was walking through the snow (yes … we still get snow in March in Rhode Island) with one of my best friends a few weeks ago, she began telling me about a coaching framework she’s been working on—centered around a backpack.  My friend Brountas (I call her by her last name … something that stuck during our college years together) owns an executive coaching business (https://www.linkedin.com/in/jen-brountas-16b731/).  She uses the backpack analogy as a way to help her clients prioritize the things occupying their headspace.  A backpack is a useful tool, but it has a limited capacity and a tendency to collect stuff that weighs you down.  I couldn’t help but think that her framework and analogy could benefit my students as they transition into a post-pandemic world.

Brountas described her backpack idea as a way to talk about what feels awful and what feels good in our lives, and the consequences of letting the best parts of ourselves get lost in the load.  I think a lot of my students would agree that the weight of junior and senior year of high school can “feel awful and overwhelming ” just like the weight of a too-heavy backpack.  Everything about these later years of high school feels important … there is so much pressure to have just as heavy a backpack as everyone else, especially when thinking ahead to college.  In fact, students often tend to “clip on” more responsibilities, like carabiners that create more weight on their shoulders. 

“Think about what you miss and don’t miss” is a phrase I’ve heard many times over the course of the last year.  I think most of us can quickly rattle off a few things we’ve missed throughout the pandemic and others we would happily toss out of our bags.  It’s fun taking the time to reflect, but it’s much harder to actually leave some of your old life behind—to physically remove the weight or change the way you engage with the items that gnaw at your side.  This spring, don’t just think about what’s next; instead, take action and make the leap forward to make your high school years the best they can be.  A “big” bag full of all the right “things” doesn’t need to be heavy.

Stop & Unpack:

What “Rona” (as my students like to call the virus) did was force you to stop.  It forced you to put aside your heavy load for a while.  As Brountas says, “Feel the release.  Step away from the bag and be conscious of what’s going on so that you can have a fresh perspective.”  Before you sling the heavy bag back on your shoulders, I encourage you to unpack each item and sift out the “trash.”  Is sitting on the bench at your team’s games getting you down?  Maybe let that go and pick up something that makes you feel lighter and better represents the person you’re becoming.  

Sort:

Sort the commitments in your life into categories: activities, clubs, the classes you’ve signed up for, jobs, internships, projects, time for sleep, time with friends and family, etc.  What means the most to you?  What would you like to leave behind?  This act of reprioritizing isn’t something you should be ashamed of, it’s something you’ll have to do for the rest of your life.  You’re just setting new goals!

Repack:

What do you want to take with you from the pandemic?  Did you learn new skills?  Strengthen your work ethic and confidence?  Include these intangibles with your other priorities and make sure you have enough space — the type of space you enjoyed in your life as your heavy commitments shut down this year.

Try It On:

How does it feel?  Is it still heavy in one area?  Uncomfortably rubbing your side?  If so, be aware of the irritating item in there that might need some reshifting.  Maybe you just need to look at it differently?  Perhaps a slight adjustment, like taking on a different role, forming a study group, or asking friends to join you in an activity can help make it feel more comfortable in your bag.

As schools go back to in-person learning, let’s talk through your re-entry and what’s most important — so that you don’t tip over from too heavy a bag.  I believe a strong college application is closely tied to the joy and personal growth that comes from making good choices, and as Brountas says, “Monitor your backpack’s framework: it should be powerful and effective but not overwhelming.”  An ideal weight, without filling your bag to the brim, allows you to walk with confidence and more intentionality as you move through your days and put time into what matters most to you.