How Heavy Is Your Invisible Backpack

How Heavy Is Your Invisible Backpack?

By Arlene Harder, MA, MFT

“The unexamined life is not worth living.”

— Socrates

What did Socrates mean in this famous dictum that he apparently made at his trial for impiety and corrupting youth, and for which he was sentenced to death?

He believed that living according to the rules of others, unless you freely accepted those rules as your own, was not worth the effort you need to live.

He taught that by examining your life, you give yourself the gift of freedom, peace, and clarity. As he also said, “We must examine and understand the universe that dwells within [our] own soul.

”The core of his philosophy was to always question what others say you should believe or how you should act. Examining your life involves stepping back from the “autopilot” that controls most of what you do. It requires the courage to reflect on who you’ve been and what you’ve done in order to look forward to decisions that come from your core beliefs, not the beliefs of others.

I think of this as an examination of the things you carry in an “invisible backpack.”

How Did You Create Your Invisible Backpack?

From the day you were born, your parents wanted to keep you safe from dangers—both real and imagined—that they perceived in the world. So, they gave you advice on what you should value, what you should believe, what you should be skeptical of, how you should dress, how you should behave, etc.

Their goals for you came from the culture in which they were raised and their own experience. You might have wholeheartedly accepted their goals, or have let them go in one ear and out the other.

However, although your parents and other care-givers wanted to shape your life to reflect their view of the world, you were not a blank slate on which they could permanently imprint their views. That is because you were born with some things that directly influence who we are today

For example, your genes determine your physical characteristics, from eye color to height. You also have an inborn temperament that makes it more likely you will tend to be calm or anxious. This in turn influences your choices as you interact with the world and move from one stage of growth to another.

Over time, you’ve heard a variety of opinions on how others, besides your parents, think you should live—relatives, teachers, preachers, friends, spouses, professors, bosses, pundits, and a slew of advertising. You have gathered all of this information, whether it was based on fact or fiction, and put it into a “container” that you carry with you all your life.

Of course, I realize that it is your brain that holds the opinions and advice from others and your reaction to them. However, to explore whether any of this still applies to your life today, I have found it helpful to imagine that everyone has an invisible “backpack” they hardly realize they are carrying.

Yet the contents of this personal backpack have a greater influence on you than the things you put into the visible backpack you toss over your shoulder.

This is because you constantly refer to this backpack in deciding what path you want to take in life. Will it be the one your parents and other givers-of-advice want you to travel? Or your own?

Your choice depends on your courage to periodically look inside your backpack and discard whatever you no longer need. Otherwise, you can be pulled in a thousand different directions and the energy it takes to walk on someone else’s path can weight you down until it feels as though the effort life is not worth it.

If you are ready to take a look into your invisible backpack, here are some articles you will find helpful.