You park your car at the trailhead, hop out and grab your pack. As you’re running through the list in your mind, you worry that you forgot something.
Did you grab everything?
Stove? Tent? Food? Check, check and check.
You’ve got the essentials: sleeping bag and pad, water filter, boots and extra socks. That’s everything right?
You still haven’t decided for sure how far in you’re going, but you’ve got just the place in mind. You just need to get out there.
Just in Case
As you zip up your pack, you notice an extra jacket. “Better throw that in,” you tell yourself. “You never know.”
While you’re at it, you grab another coat, a sweatshirt and that wool pullover you love. You better throw in a couple of extra granola bars too. You can probably squeeze your shoes in too, in case your boots get too hot, wet or something.
You never know.
Now you finally zip up your [very swollen] pack. You heave it up over your shoulders, and buckle for a second under the weight. No worries. It feels a lot better once you get it adjusted. You can do this.
“Alright, let’s go.”
The Fork in the Trail
You’ve gone ten miles in and you’re pretty tired now. You realize those last-minute additions really changed things. You never even used them. But it’s still comforting knowing they’re in there if you need them.
As you look up and see a sign ahead, you shift your pack to un-dig the straps from your shoulders, and trudge on.
Coming to a fork in the trail, you see that you have two options.
The first is that short trail that leads to a peaceful lake with nice views of the mountains. You’ve been there before. In fact, it’s one of your favorite destinations. It’s not perfect, but it’s comfortable and predictable. There are normally a few other groups there too, but it’s still mostly quiet.
It’s definitely more beautiful and peaceful than being at home.
As you’re standing in front of the sign, a nice couple passes you to head down to the lake. “I hope they don’t get my spot,” you think to yourself as you watch them head down the trail.
And Then There’s the Other Option
The second option is that trail that keeps going up the mountain. Seven miles, it says, to the falls.
You’ve heard about it from a few people. They talk about how incredible it is up there. You’ve seen pictures of the views, and they look amazing!
Most people don’t go up there, and it’s easy to see why. It’s seven more miles after the ten that led you this far. And it’s up. Way up.
The trail to the right is well-worn, wide and easy. It’s safe and familiar. The trail to the left is narrow, rocky and old-looking; like it hasn’t been walked on in years. But you can’t shake the idea, the feeling, that you should go to the left.
It’s true, you’ve always wanted to do it. You’ve just never made the time, or you were always exhausted when you got to the fork in the trail. But it’s been there, teasing you for years. The unknown, the new, has been right there for the taking, but you’ve always been exhausted when it comes down to it. Carrying that pack up there seems impossible.
What’s the Cost?
As you’re standing there contemplating your choice, and catching your breath, you feel something start to boil over, dissatisfaction, rebellion against your exhaustion and excuses.
“I’m gonna do it,” you hear yourself say from somewhere deep within. Shocked at the sound of those declarative words out in the air, you instantly start to gain confidence.
“I can do this; I need to do this,” you reinforce to yourself.
But your pack is really digging into your shoulders. As you look up the trail to your left, you realize those first ten miles were nothing compared to the terrain ahead.
“I have to do this. I’m done putting it off.”
You take your pack off, and get out your water. Eyeing the trail ahead, everything comes into focus. You know what you have to do. You can taste the pride of being at the top, seeing the view that 95% never take in.
You’ve decided. You’re honed in, and priorities have changed.
Your pack is too heavy. It doesn’t matter, you’re doing this. You take it off, rip it open and apply new rules to everything inside.
You take out that pullover. “Is this going to help me get up there? Nope.” You quickly reevaluate all of your pack’s contents with new eyes and start a pile beside your pack.
You add the extra granola bars, shoes, that extra sweatshirt and clothes to the pile. You even nix the books you brought, that extra coat too. You grab the heap of excess and hide it off the trail for the return trip.
You’re Efficient, Focused and Prepared
As you pick up your pack and throw it over your shoulders, you realize it weighs half of what it did, maybe less. Compared to before, it’s almost like you’re not carrying anything at all.
You feel free somehow. You’re efficient, carrying only what you need to survive and your journal to record the journey. As you focus on the trail ahead, you feel a fire deep inside, pushing you forward. You’re prepared not for any possible scenario, nor for comfort, but for survival and adventure.
Time for Application
This sounds a lot like some hiking trips I’ve been on. It also sounds like life. What are you carrying unnecessarily?
We often add all these “extras” to our packs, just in case. They could be extra clutter, unhealthy relationships, bad habits or self-sabotaging thoughts. Or maybe these extras give you a false sense of security.
The truth is that while they seem light independently, the weight of all those extras in your pack is unsustainable if you want to lead a beyond-average life.
Those just-in-case items are keeping you from a life of efficiency and focus. They’re keeping you from pursuing your dreams.
What are you prepared to let go of to live the life you’ve always imagined? What is holding you back from success? Are you aiming for comfort and familiarity, or for adventure and passion?
Empty your pack of the extra weight. Embrace the unique skills, useful tools and essentials for survival left in your pack. Set your sights on the trail ahead, the one you yearn to take.
There is an amazing view waiting.
I wrote this piece originally featured on Becoming Minimalist.