Backpacking Through Life

This year has been good to me. I have visited three countries and stepped on another continent. I have met a lot of new people and made some great new friends. Many new experiences have enriched my life and given me a better perspective of the world, of people, and of myself.

Why did I write this?

Now that you’ve read the first paragraph, clearly, I know everything about the world. Anything I say must be pure words of wisdom handed down from the mountain itself and you should listen to me.

Listen to this wise yogi.

No. That’s not it. This post is not about me telling you how to live your life. It’s not about preaching the real truth of life. I don’t have any answers to life’s troubles and I don’t know why your dog suddenly starts barking in the night.

In this post, I am reflecting upon and sharing the many new experiences I have had this year. I am not trying to start an argument, rather I am looking for a conversation which can help me learn even more. So please, I urge you to take part. Thank you for reading!

Up in the Air

I watched Up in the Air on the flight that took me to the southern hemisphere for the first time, to Australia. I had originally watched the movie when it came out in 2009. But in 2009, I was a skinny high school freshman with a few hairs on my chain and reading Twilight alone at the lunch table. So what did I know? The second time around, a lot of things stood out in the movie, specifically Ryan Bingham’s motivational speech. It did what is was supposed to, it motivated me.

Ryan flies around the country and helps companies lay off their employees. He spends a majority of his year in airports and in flights. Additionaly, he is also a motivational speaker and he talks about backpacks, hence the title of this post. If you are not familiar with the movie, here’s the link to the video. But if you don’t want to watch it, I’ve included a transcript as well.

What’s In Your Backpack?

How much does your life weigh?

Imagine for a second that you’re carrying a backpack. I want you to feel the straps on your shoulders. Feel ’em?

Now I want you to pack it with all the stuff that you have in your life. You start with the little things. The things on shelves and in drawers, the knick-knacks, the collectibles. Feel the weight as that adds up. Then you start adding larger stuff, clothes, table-top appliances, lamps, linens, your TV.

The backpack should be getting pretty heavy now. And you go bigger. Your couch, bed, your kitchen table. Stuff it all in there. Your car, get it in there. Your home, whether it’s a studio apartment or a two bedroom house. I want you to stuff it all into that backpack. Now try to walk. It’s kind of hard, isn’t it? This is what we do to ourselves on a daily basis. We weigh ourselves down until we can’t even move. And make no mistake, moving is living.

Now, I’m gonna set that backpack on fire. What do you want to take out of it? What do you want to take out of it? Photos? Photos are for people who can’t remember. Drink some ginkgo and let the photos burn. In fact, let everything burn and imagine waking up tomorrow with nothing. It’s kind of exhilarating, isn’t it?

Now, this is gonna be a little difficult, so stay with me. You have a new backpack. Only this time, I want you to fill it with people. Start with casual acquaintances, friends of friends, folks around the office, and then you move into the people that you trust with your most intimate secrets. Your cousins, your aunts, your uncles, your brothers, your sisters, your parents and finally your husband, your wife, your boyfriend or your girlfriend.

You get them into that backpack. And don’t worry. I’m not gonna ask you to light it on fire. Feel the weight of that bag. Make no mistake – your relationships are the heaviest components in your life. Do you feel the straps cutting into your shoulders?

All those negotiations and arguments, and secrets and compromises. You don’t need to carry all that weight. Why don’t you set that bag down? Some animals were meant to carry each other, to live symbiotically for a lifetime – star crossed lovers, monogamous swans. We are not those animals. The slower we move, the faster we die. We are not swans. We’re sharks.

Ryan makes some really good points here. “The slower we move, the faster we die.” I immediately connected with him because I have the same mindset. I’m independent. I can live on my own. I don’t need relationships. I don’t need to rely on family or friends. If they need me I am available, but I don’t need anything from anyone. I was ready to shed the weight and put the bag down. At least that’s what I thought. 

He tells you to empty your backpack and leave it behind. I’m going to tell you something different. I say you should fill the backpack and take it with you everywhere. But, it is important what you put in the bag.

Collect experiences, not things, memories, not souvenirs

In the end, we are not going to take anything with us. The only thing we will leave behind is our legacy. Invest in that legacy and invest yourself in collecting experiences that you can share and leave behind for your children and grandchildren.

The world is vast. There is so much information and so many things to learn that it is impossible to do everything in one lifetime. I love and live to learn. I’m not content with what I know because it will never be enough to help me understand the world, people, or life. So how do I learn? Books, the internet, etc. But I also talk to people. In my travels, I’ve met a lot of new people and learning their life stories and sharing their perspective has in turn broadened mine.

Here are a few experiences and memories that I have in my backpack.

The time when Jesus brought me back my GoPro

I know, right? You’re intrigued. You don’t care that I have a GoPro, but you do want to know why Jesus brought it back and how in the world did you possibly miss the second coming? The GoPro is a thing, but the story is what I carry around in my backpack.

I was whitewater rafting in the beautiful, clean Rio Savegre in Costa Rica. We came to a pool where we jumped off the rafts and swam around for a bit. AS I was getting back in the raft, the GoPro that was on my chest clipped off and sank to the bottom of the pool. I immediately let it be known that I had lost it, but there was nothing to be done. The action camera disapperead with memories from the past few days. We continued on the adventure and after the trip ended, drove two hours to our next destination: the gorgeous Uvita beach.

Uvita beach. I don't have any pictures of Jesus but you all know what he looks like.

The next day, I returned from surfing in the Pacific Ocean and the GoPro was on the desk next to my bed. It turns out that one of our rafting guides had driven back an hour to the pool after the trip, and then the next day he hopped on his bike and rode two more hours to the beach and returned my camera. His name was Jesús.

No one asked Jesús to do what he did, but he did it anyway. He wasn’t looking for a reward, he was just being a human being and helping someone out. I will carry that with me for the rest of my life. I will be selfless and help people when I can, even if that means going out of my way.

A PhD in Electrical Engineering is growing crops on a mountain

Dr. Chris Ratcliff spent a lot of time and money in obtaining a PhD in Electrical Engineering. He spent years working on silicon conductor research in a dark basement. But today, he is a volunteer at the Montana de Luz orphanage in Honduras and is focusing on sustainable agriculture to provide healthy food for the children.

Why would he make this decision? If you were to visit the orphanage, you will understand immediately. The children have difficult lives, they are struggling with one of the worst diseases to afflict humanity, HIV/AIDS. But if you look at their glowing faces and bright smiles as they run around the yard playing football or midnight tag with ring lights on their fingers, they look like the happiest human beings on the planet.

Chris is happy where he is.

I think Chris realizes this. To him, a well paying job working in a fancy laboratory or teaching at a prestigious academic institution doesn’t hold a candle to when he picks up little Erik and puts him on his shoulders. The bright joy that lights up his face is evidence of this. It’s never too late to do what makes you happy. Having Chris’s story in my backpack is a great comfort and encouragement as I search for what makes me happy.

An Italian art curator left everything behind and found love in Fiji

When I was in Australia in May, I met two of the most amazing people I’ve come across in life. Anthony and Marina, our tour guides through the land down under taught me a lot over the span of three weeks. Unlike me, they’re not ones to talk about their life or experiences or share wisdom until prodded, but that is exactly what I tried to do.

Marina left Italy and arrived in Fiji at the age of 35. Anthony met her on a beach and made her a cup of coffee. A year later they were married. Believe me, Anthony has made me a cup or two of coffee too, and if Marina hadn’t already claimed him…

Anthony and Marina were also camera shy.

Anthony and Marina live for experiences, they don’t care much for materialistic possessions, and they’re absolutely in love. They’re caring, resourceful, friendly, and absolutely the most genuine people I have met. They took us around the continent, cooking for us, helping us discover beautiful places and new activities, and supporting us the whole way. The experience would not have been the same without them, and as a future trip leader at the Outdoor Adventure Center at OSU, I learned a lot from their leading style. But most importantly, I learned that life can take you wonderful places and help you meet wonderful people, no matter which stage you’re in.

My father’s backpack is full

The other day I found a thank you letter I had written in eigth grade English class. It was to my father, but I never let him read it. I wrote about everything he had been through in life and thanked him for always being there for me and being an excellent mentor.

Shameless selfie with my creator. I also need a better picture with him.

My father is my complete opposite. I’m ready to drop my backpack and leave, but he chooses to stay. When my grandfather was ill, my dad was there caring for him until he passed away. When my grandmother was ill, my dad was there caring for her until she passed away. My dad was there by my mother’s side as she battled cancer for ten years, and he was there when she passed away. He brought me to America and we moved in with my aunt. When my uncle tragically passed away, my dad was there by my aunt’s side, and still is to this day. He simply will not leave, because he knows what is important to him. He had multiple opportunties, but never did he drop his backpack and run. I am learning from that.

Take a full backpack on this grand adventure called life

I used to think that living free and without people or things tying you down was the way to go. “The slower we move, the faster we die,” right? No. My family is the most important thing to me. They may not agree because I have an inability to express my feelings properly, the usual, but I wouldn’t be where I am without every single thing everyone has done for me. I wouldn’t be the person I am without all the people I have come across. So I choose to keep them in my backpack.

When my backpack is full of relationships, experiences, memories, and lessons learned from everyone I’ve met in my life, life is a lot easier. When I end up in a new place with no one to rely on but my backpack, and it’s bursting at the seams, everything becomes alright.