My Mother is a Hiker – Houkje Ross

Last summer, I quit my job. I lingered there for 3 years, and knew from the beginning it wasn’t really the right fit for me. But I kept telling myself it is a good job, a great opportunity to work in international development.

As much as I tried to convince myself that the job was a great opportunity, it didn’t work. By the end of my third year, I was completely burnt out. I came home from work, exhausted, with no energy to spend on friends, hobbies; even my dog suffered from my dismal mood when I neglected to take him on his walks.

I had forgotten a golden rule: If it’s too heavy, don’t take it.

My mother is a hiker —the kind that straps a pack to her back and takes a journey in the woods a few weeks at a time. She brings all her food, a tiny camp stove, a sleeping bag, a jackknife, a first aide kit, and a few other items.

I’ve watched her prepare for these trips… spreading out everything she will bring on a bed or the floor… carefully packing each thing as tightly as she can get it. When the pack is full, she steps on the scale to make sure she isn’t ‘over’. Good hikers know that they can only carry a certain percentage of their body weight. If they carry too much, they may injure themselves.

She can only bring the essentials, only what she needs to sleep, eat, and hike. How much space and how much weight each item takes up in the pack is immensely important. She ruthlessly scrutinizes each item before it goes in the pack.

Like hikers, I think we are all carrying around packs on our backs.. full of the thoughts, people, jobs, relationships…. that make up our life.

Sometimes, the most important thing we can do for ourselves is look inside our pack, take stock of what we’ve put in our life, and remove things that may be weighing us down.

Some things just don’t belong in our lives… no matter how noble, or how ‘great of an opportunity’ they may seem. The job I quit was not essential for my journey. If it had been, it would have felt lighter.

How To Lighten Your Load and Find Your Essentials

1. Get quiet. Take a few deep breaths. Breath all the way down to your stomach and back up through your chest and neck and mouth. Do this until you feel relaxed and present.
2. Remember a time in your life that was fantastic. I mean, you felt so great your body was singing. Go back to that memory. Stay there until you can remember what you were wearing, who was around you, what the smell in the air was like… how your body felt. Write it down. You are looking for sensations in your body … like, my chest felt warm and open, my shoulders are loose, I’m smiling. Include enough detail so that if you had to describe the sensation to a friend, they would understand you.
3. Name the feeling (I felt like a ball of joy or the totally relaxed feeling)… something you can easily remember.
4. Go through your week and write down everything that you have to do in the next 7 days. Rate each item on your list according to how close it comes to the feeling you named above. (Ie. It was pretty close to being a 10 on the ball of joy scale… or it was a 1 not even close!).
5. As you begin to notice what activities, people, things, places… feel like a 10 for you.. you’ll also start to recognize a few things on your list that are lower in number.
6. Ditch the low numbers and make room for more activities, people, etc.. that make you feel great. If you are only left with a handful of things that are a 10 on your list… don’t fret… that just means you have some room for experimenting and trying out new things.

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