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What’s in your Backpack? by Debo Adejugbe

What’s in your Backpack?

“Is it possible to pursue happiness if the pursuit itself does not make you happy?” – From the book titled “I move Your Cheese” by Deepak Malhotra

I watched “up in the air” a few days ago and learnt few lessons from it which I’ll really like to share. The movie features George Clooney as Ryan Bingham – a motivational speaker whose main job is to fly around the country to fire people for his firm’s corporate clients when they are downsizing (these clients find it hard to face their employees with such news). He eases people out of employment with a touch of excellence, charisma and persuasion that makes them feel less bitter about being laid off work (or so he thinks), and in the process he rakes up air miles to a point of insanity.

He travels almost all of the time (prefers the comfort and feel of an airplane or airline terminal to his home in Omaha, Nebraska), things were working out fine until a newly graduated and freshly hired Natalie Keener pushes a new way of laying off people via video conferencing to the company. His boss was thrilled that they could cut cost, insurance and time by the new process and he endorsed it, to Bingham’s distaste.

After several arguments on the appropriateness of the new method, his boss assigned him to show Keener the ropes in the art of firing with finesse so as to perfect the new method. His relationship with Keener and another frequent flyer Alex played a part in how he sees life.

Bingham’s boilerplate termination speech has this unique line: “Anyone who ever built an empire or changed the world sat where you’re sitting right now…” ; he tries to let them know being laid off is not essentially the end but the beginning of a purposeful life where they can fulfill childhood dreams and take advantage of the rare opportunity “being laid off” avails them. Its an awkward situation to be in though, no matter how relaxed you are when getting laid off, its going to be a slap in the face for someone to direct you to your childhood dreams as a respite to being flushed out of a system you might have been in for a minimum of ten years.

There are several things that we can learn from this movie despite Ryan’s lonely life and avoidance of commitments (two things that helps him in handling his work very well), the “what’s in your Backpack?” speech stands out and it affects everyone of us in different ways we might not be willing to acknowledge. The speech is reproduced below; Bingham makes it a point to always have a backpack around when delivering this masterclass.

“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 them?

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 knickknacks, the collectibles. Feel the weight as that adds up.

Then you start adding the larger stuff: clothes; tabletop 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 going to set that backpack on fire.

What do you want to take out of it? Photos? Photos are for people who can’t remember. Drink some ginko 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 going to 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. Then you move in 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.

Don’t worry I’m not going to ask you to light it on fire.

Feel the weight of the 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.”

There you have it!

Now, let me ask you: “What’s in your backpack?” Its a question we all have to answer individually at some point and our answer, even if synonymous, will definitely vary in context and content because we have different purposes and life designs.

I agree that an empty backpack can be lonely, but an abnormally filled and heavy backpack is not a design that can bring fruitful results.

After filling your backpacks with everything you have, what is the effort required to mount it on your back? We tend to weigh ourselves down with things that really don’t matter, things that generally cuts back our existence and we go through this motions believing we are living life.

Have you tried setting that weight down and see how relieved you are? If you don’t have food on the table, rather than add worry to your backpack, why not move forward in search of food? You need a job? Worrying might kill you before the job materializes. Is it shelter? If you die with the worry in your backpack, who gets sheltered?

Your wife, your husband, children, parents and relationships are all there to add value to you; it becomes a burden in your backpack when you carry the baggage around every day of your life. Its important to live life, any other way to it is filling your backpack with junks.

We got this in the speech: “the slower we move, the faster we die”; let me add that all these things that are making your backpack heavy are things you will leave behind when you die. Someone else will start carrying the backpack and the cycle continues.

Why not lay the backpack down, because no matter what you do with that backpack, “make no mistake about it, we all die alone”.

I’m @deboadejugbe

About debospeaks

Hailey's Dad | IT Professional | Chronic Optimist | Incurable Satirist | DeboSpeaks | @deboadejugbe


  1. Deep and thought-provoking………

  2. Debo, THIS IS BEAUTIFUL! Thank you for this article because validates what I think about life. And what a way to validate, wow!

  3. Well done Debo. We do tend to lug too much stuff around with us. Kudos to you and keep them coming.

  4. Nicely presented article. We tend to always carry too much weight at any given moment and the What’s in your backpack question is something we should ask ourselves from time to time to realize when we are unnecessarily carry wrong burdens.

  5. Marcel @Hybern8

    Better than it was presented in the movie. Especially the “add-on’s” to the excerpt.

  6. Time nearly stole this beautiful, thought-provoking piece from me. This morning i woke up analyzing with a colleague how invaluable people are. This is the climax of that conversation, thank you Debo.


  8. Great write-up, brilliant!

  9. Inspiring, vry inspiring

  10. Damilola Omitogun


  11. Amina Ibrahim ilamosi


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