I messed up. When I was a junior in high school, I crashed my mom’s car. The worst part was that I lied about the cause. My excuse was that I was reaching into the back seat to grab a brush. This was the ‘80’s, so I had to tame the mullet! The truth was that I was attempting to get a cigarette out of the pack and lit. this is not a story my 16-year-old self wanted to tell my parents, so I lied. That same year, my parents went away on a trip over a weekend, so I had a party. We had a keg of beer and lots of people. The screen door was broken, my shower wall was kicked in (don’t ask), and the cover on my stepfather’s cherished red Trans Am was ripped. You guessed it, I had great stories for each incident. What about that time a friend was attempting to cook lamb, but it was taking forever, so I left. That relationship was never the same. There was another time when the twins were little that I got so angry I took their toy golf club and broke it over my knee.
These are just the tip of the iceberg. I have made so many mistakes and wrong choices in my 46 years. Unfortunately, they seem to accumulate like the non-essential crap that weighs down a backpack or purse. We think “that is part of who I am, so I better keep it, like an old photograph”. The difference is that our mistakes often only serve as negative reinforcement, while a photograph serves as a pleasant reminder of the past. Everyday, many of you get out of bed and the first thing you do is put that backpack of mistakes on your back. You are completely unaware of this because it has been a slow progression. Each mistake gets placed in the backpack. Do you know why? I certainly don’t, but several years ago, I discovered life is much easier without the weight of all my mistakes on my back. I don’t know for certain, but I do have a theory for why we choose to carry the burden of the past into each day. My theory is that we use it as validation. Each of us has an overwhelming desire to be validated. This desire for validation manifests itself in countless ways. Some people wear it like a badge of honor, almost begging others to acknowledge the difficulties from their past. These might be wrongs done to them or the wrongs they themselves have made. Either way, you can spot them a mile away. Their lives are like a drama unfolding every day.
I believe there is a second reason we put the backpack on each morning. The backpack is an extremely convenient excuse. It is why we haven’t been making healthy choices. It is why we have been struggling in our marriage. It is why we haven’t been progressing in our career. These excuses are the reason you are overweight, out of work, divorced, unhappy, broke, etc.
The past is the past. This is an obvious statement, but why continue to drag it into the future? Give yourself permission to let go of the burdens of the past. Here is an even better strategy: take the lessons from your mistakes into the future. Let go of all the rest. There is no honor in dragging screw-ups or the wrongs done to you into the future. They will not serve you they will not improve your status among your peers. In fact, they will likely trigger others to avoid you. Who wants to be around a person constantly seeking validation? Nobody. They disguise their need for validation as a need for empathy.
Big backpacks are most often loaded with resentment from the treatment of others. Your spouse made a condescending remark, so you put it in there. Your boss passed you over for a much-deserved promotion, and you put it right next to the condescending remark. These are a couple of the many justifications for your heavy burdens.
Here are some tools for helping you to unload your backpack
Forgive yourself and everyone else.
I learned of this option many years ago. I had been dating a girl for five years, but we ended up breaking off the relationship. Very soon after, she began to date a friend of mine. This made me miserable. I had been betrayed by them both. Thankfully, I had begun to study Stephen Covey and utilized some of the tools he so generously shared with us. I made a choice to wish them the best (in my mind). This was like a light switch for me and became the first thing I actually chose to remove from my backpack. Who are you allowing to have some level of control over your emotions? What from your past are you allowing to weigh you down? What mistakes have you made that are continuing to hold you back? Forgiveness is not easy, but there is nothing more freeing than letting go of the hate, anger, disappointment, and bitterness from the past.
Make a list, then burn or trash it.
Grab a pen and paper to write down all items in your backpack. Here are themes or categories to consider: What mistakes are you carrying with you? Who wronged you? What regrets are you allowing to hold you back? What do you continue to put off that is causing unnecessary anxiety? The majority of society chooses to wear their burdens like a badge of honor. These burdens validate wherever they are versus where they think they should be. The need for validation is a human need and very real. The hunger for validation most often shows up in the form of drama. Write down your list and trash it.
To be clear, I am not a psychologist, but I do realize that some of the heaviest burdens in the backpack require help to extract. Therapy is a proven method for identifying and unloading our burdens. There is no shame or embarrassment in asking for help in any area of your life. This is especially true when it comes to mental health.
One of the keys to a more meaningful and fulfilling future is the acceptance that it is 100% your responsibility. The past is an excuse for a lack of action in the present. The better future can be as simple as unloading the backpack. Choose to take only the lessons of the past with you and leave behind the regrets, emotions, hurt feelings, resentment, bitterness, anxiety, and anger. None of these will serve you in the present or in the future. There is no prize for having the biggest backpack, only misery to the one who wears it and the people that care for the person choosing to wear it.