The Weight of the World

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When non-pilots see the plane I fly, they assume it carries a lot. But everything in life, love, and lift is a tradeoff. If I want to take four people on a trip with the baggage compartment maxed, I better calculate how much fuel I must remove from the wing tanks to ensure we aren’t overloaded. Less fuel means a much shorter range, but you deal with it. Even pilots of huge passenger jets pay meticulous attention to weight and balance because they know the same thing: you can’t overload a plane and expect it to fly right, if at all.

The same principle applies to you and me as human beings. Many of us want to achieve liftoff on a dream so it can soar. But how many dreams remain grounded because the owner of that dream is saddled with too much weight in the form of emotional and physical baggage they load upon themselves by choice? They weigh themselves down with fear and doubt. They chain themselves to the earth with store-bought distractions and clutter that is rarely used. In short, they place the weight of the world on their shoulders and keep piling it on.

I’ve given a lot of consideration to this over the last few years and have come to realize life is much more enjoyable when I have less stuff to worry about. I don’t want an austere life, just a feather-light one. To accomplish this, I’ll keep those items I frequently use and jettison those I rarely touch. It’s not easy, but it’s rewarding. And it’s not enough to get rid of the burdens; I must also limit the flow of new stuff into my life, only allowing that which will lift me versus drag me down. It would be a shame to turn around a year from now to discover I had replaced all the useless junk I'd discarded with "new and improved" useless junk.

I’m far from the only one doing this. Many in my circles are doing the same. I have a friend whose husband has accepted a new position within his company and the entire family is relocating to Honduras for three years. They have rented out their house and sold some major possessions while giving away or discarding the rest.

“It’s so liberating,” she said, as we left the fitness club where we both teach. “I thought I would miss all this stuff, but after we sold the car, it felt like a weight had lifted from me. One less thing I have to worry about.”

Hearing her give voice to the revelation gave renewed momentum to my own. Her phenomenal progress made my journey down the same path feel like baby steps. But I’m ready to sprint, ready to shrug off much of the weight I’ve been carrying so long. Here’s what I plan to do this summer and beyond:

Clear out the physical clutter - No inanimate object will be safe in my house over the next few months. If I haven’t touched it in a year, and it has no sentimental value to someone within my home, it’s gone. (I had to add the sentimental value part because I learned the hard way. I recently attacked a cluttered drawer while my wife was away, throwing away everything in it we hadn’t used in a long time. One item was a bib that both our younger sons used as infants. I’m still in trouble over that one.) 

Wipe out the mental clutter - I go in waves on this one. Typically, I do well here, but then life throws a few curve balls and I find myself dwelling on things I can’t control. The problem is, I don’t realize I’m doing it, almost as if I’m on auto-pilot. Once I realize it, however, I can usually ditch the mental baggage easily. I simply make a choice to shun the negative thoughts and then focus my energy on something positive. I’ve also noticed that the more physical clutter I remove from my life, the clearer my mind becomes, similar to the weight my friend felt had been lifted.

Create more than consume - Everyone was born to create in some manner. Perhaps it’s art, or a business, or something for an employer. Too often people think being creative only has to do with art, but I don’t buy it. Each of us creates something everyday. The problem occurs when our create-versus-consume activities tilt out of balance. It’s too easy to veg on the internet, or television, or feel compelled to satisfy our “fix” by checking email every five minutes. But I’ve noticed a dynamic that occurs when I create. In the hours after I’ve done something creative, I feel grand, even if the process of creating was hard work. Contrast that to the lifelessness I feel after I’ve been in a heavy consumption mode. But the problem is the consumption mode makes us feel good—or at least so numb that we think we feel good—and we keep coming back to it even though it doesn’t foster long-term well-being.

So begin to pay close attention to how certain activities make you feel afterward versus while you're in them. Incorporate more of those activities where you are energized afterward instead of continuing with the time wasters that stroke the pleasure centers of your brain. My bet is this one perception shift alone could make a huge difference in your life.

Accumulate experiences instead of stuff - At the end of my life, I’ll remember the meaningful experiences I accumulated instead of recalling the stuff that lines the walls of my house. As I evaluate what to let flow into my life, I’ll continuously ask, will this item help to further my goal of meaningful experiences? For me, flying is one of those meaningful experiences, so all things remaining equal, I’ll make it a priority to have access to a safe plane. But the car I drive to get to the airport is not as important. I’m more concerned with the scenery outside my vehicle than the scenery inside. I’ve driven the same Jeep for 10 years, and hope to drive it a while longer. Not having a big car payment because I must be seen in the latest car, allows me to use that money to create new experiences flying or traveling with my family.

You may not feel as if you carry the weight of the world, but don’t be too sure. That burden accumulates one piece at a time and it’s easy to fool yourself. Your job is to explore and enjoy the world. There is no need to carry it.