What’s Keeping You From Going Further?

Editor’s Note: This is a guest post by Scott Stephens. 


You park your car at the trailhead, hop out and grab your pack. As you’re running through the list in your mind, you worry that you forgot something.

Did you grab everything?

Stove? Tent? Food? Check, check and check.

You’ve got the essentials: sleeping bag and pad, water filter, boots and extra socks. That’s everything right?

You still haven’t decided for sure how far in you’re going, but you’ve got just the place in mind. You just need to get out there.

Just in Case

As you zip up your pack, you notice an extra jacket. “Better throw that in,” you tell yourself. “You never know.”

While you’re at it, you grab another coat, a sweatshirt and that wool pullover you love. You better throw in a couple of extra granola bars too. You can probably squeeze your shoes in too, in case your boots get too hot, wet or something.

You never know.

Now you finally zip up your [very swollen] pack. You heave it up over your shoulders, and buckle for a second under the weight. No worries. It feels a lot better once you get it adjusted. You can do this.

“Alright, let’s go.”

The Fork in the Trail

You’ve gone ten miles in and you’re pretty tired now. You realize those last-minute additions really changed things. You never even used them. But it’s still comforting knowing they’re in there if you need them.

As you look up and see a sign ahead, you shift your pack to un-dig the straps from your shoulders, and trudge on.

Coming to a fork in the trail, you see that you have two options.

The first is that short trail that leads to a peaceful lake with nice views of the mountains. You’ve been there before. In fact, it’s one of your favorite destinations. It’s not perfect, but it’s comfortable and predictable. There are normally a few other groups there too, but it’s still mostly quiet. It’s definitely more beautiful and peaceful than being at home.

As you’re standing in front of the sign, a nice couple passes you to head down to the lake. “I hope they don’t get my spot,” you think to yourself as you watch them head down the trail.

And Then There’s the Other Option

The second option is that trail that keeps going up the mountain. Seven miles, it says, to the falls.

You’ve heard about it from a few people. They talk about how incredible it is up there. You’ve seen pictures of the views, and they look amazing!

Most people don’t go up there, and it’s easy to see why. It’s seven more miles after the ten that led you this far. And it’s up. Way up.

The trail to the right is well-worn, wide and easy. It’s safe and familiar. The trail to the left is narrow, rocky and old-looking; like it hasn’t been walked on in years. But you can’t shake the idea, the feeling, that you should go to the left.

It’s true, you’ve always wanted to do it. You’ve just never made the time, or you were always exhausted when you got to the fork in the trail. But it’s been there, teasing you for years. The unknown, the new, has been right there for the taking, but you’ve always been exhausted when it comes down to it. Carrying that pack up there seems impossible.

What’s the Cost?

As you’re standing there contemplating your choice, and catching your breath, you feel something start to boil over, dissatisfaction, rebellion against your exhaustion and excuses.

“I’m gonna do it,” you hear yourself say from somewhere deep within. Shocked at the sound of those declarative words out in the air, you instantly start to gain confidence.

“I can do this; I need to do this,” you reinforce to yourself.

But your pack is really digging into your shoulders. As you look up the trail to your left, you realize those first ten miles were nothing compared to the terrain ahead.

“I have to do this. I’m done putting it off.”

You take your pack off, and get out your water. Eyeing the trail ahead, everything comes into focus. You know what you have to do. You can taste the pride of being at the top, seeing the view that 95% never take in.

You’ve decided. You’re honed in, and priorities have changed.

Your pack is too heavy. It doesn’t matter, you’re doing this. You take it off, rip it open and apply new rules to everything inside.

You take out that pullover. “Is this going to help me get up there? Nope.” You quickly reevaluate all of your pack’s contents with new eyes and start a pile beside your pack.

You add the extra granola bars, shoes, that extra sweatshirt and clothes to the pile. You even nix the books you brought, that extra coat too. You grab the heap of excess and hide it off the trail for the return trip.

You’re Efficient, Focused and Prepared

As you pick up your pack and throw it over your shoulders, you realize it weighs half of what it did, maybe less. Compared to before, it’s almost like you’re not carrying anything at all.

You feel free somehow. You’re efficient, carrying only what you need to survive and your journal to record the journey. As you focus on the trail ahead, you feel a fire deep inside, pushing you forward. You’re prepared not for any possible scenario, nor for comfort, but for survival and adventure.

“Let’s go.”

Time for Application

This sounds a lot like some hiking trips I’ve been on. It also sounds like life. What are you carrying unnecessarily?

We often add all these “extras” to our packs, just in case. They could be extra clutter, unhealthy relationships, bad habits or self-sabotaging thoughts. Or maybe these extras give you a false sense of security.

The truth is that while they seem light independently, the weight of all those extras in your pack is unsustainable if you want to lead a beyond-average life.

Those just-in-case items are keeping you from a life of efficiency and focus. They’re keeping you from pursuing your dreams.

What are you prepared to let go of to live the life you’ve always imagined? What is holding you back from success? Are you aiming for comfort and familiarity, or for adventure and passion?

Empty your pack of the extra weight. Embrace the unique skills, useful tools and essentials for survival left in your pack. Set your sights on the trail ahead, the one you yearn to take.

There is an amazing view waiting.


Scott Stephens helps others break free from average and create an exceptional life of adventure, passion and purpose. Follow him on Facebook.

Image: Daniele Zedda

Joshua Becker

About Joshua Becker

Writer. Inspiring others to live more by owning less.
Bestselling author of Simplify & Clutterfree with Kids.

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  1. eyebo says

    An excellent analogy to really drive home the point. I’ll always remember this when I come to that fork, and resolve myself not to let unnecesary stuff burden me down and prevent me from taking the adventourous route.

  2. says

    Amazing post – it is so true that we are all carrying additional baggage sometimes like a shield against life. We aren’t prepared to live fully so we use our experiences, pain and emotions as a warranty that we do not have to live fully. We use the just-in-case mentality to remove any chance of spontaneity and impulsiveness. We have to plan ahead, we are not playful anymore.

  3. says

    Awesome post! Paints quite the picture of every time I travel anywhere. I am trying to get better, but it is a struggle every time! I always bring the just in case items. I have a trip coming up in a week or so and my goal is to only take things I will need and use. Wish me luck!

    • says

      Hey Chris. It’s not just metaphorical for me. I struggle with this every time I go traveling or hiking. I always have to ask myself these questions. Before I know it, I’m 40 miles in regretting those things I just had to bring on my hike on the Wonderland trail.

      Less is almost always more. Good luck on your upcoming trip!

  4. Forrest Snyder says

    “Two paths diverged in the woods, and I,
    I chose the one less travelled by.
    And that has made all the difference.”
    — Robert Frost

  5. says

    Those adventures waiting to happen are so useful in this way! I’m cinching in the straps on my now-roomy backpack as I start the climb. Who knew I could live this light? (And I’m pretty sure there is more to eliminate later. I’m not used to doing without yet.)

  6. says

    That was truly an amazing post. And this, “Is this going to help me get up there? Nope,” is something I’ve recently been using in my own journey to minimalism.

    Thank you for a great start to Monday!

    • says

      Thanks Alyssa! I’m glad this is helpful to you. That question is so hard to ask myself sometimes, but I never regret asking it.

      Good luck on your journey into your minimalism.

  7. Mike says

    Love this. I’ve been on some of these adventures with Scott. Agonized over the decisions, and wept with joy after overcoming challenges. Agonizing over some life decisions now… Keep the great, encouraging posts coming from Ending Average and Becoming Minimalist!

  8. says

    Where is the photo from? I want to do that hike! This is beautifully written and really proves a solid point. We carry too much with us all the time – emotionally, spiritually, physically, literally. We carry emotional traumas instead of getting real, professional help. We carry around extra weight and have all the excuses in the world for why it’s there. We have houses larger than we need full of possessions we don’t need. Let’s drop the backpack, take out everything we don’t need, and climb the mountains we want to. We’ll never regret taking the less traveled path!

  9. says

    Scott, this is a great post about getting rid of what is not essential to your goals. It reminds me of how sculptors take a chunk of stone and chisel away to “find” the finished piece waiting for them inside of the rock.

  10. says

    Very inspiring post. I am a true minimalist as I am very sensitive when things get too crowded. I feel drained when there is too many un-needed things hanging around.

    I do think most of the time we carry extra things for a reason. Often times we subconsciously think we need protection from something, or we are avoiding something. It’s the same reason some people carry extra weight, to protect themselves because of past hurts.

    I guess sometimes we have to look at why we may be holding onto things. Do we need to nurture ourselves more so we feel safe – and thus don’t have to surround ourselves with stuff for protection.

    I just found your website and I am loving it. I like how the minimalist movement is taking off!

  11. says

    I realize the profound metaphor to life this evokes…. however for some reason the first thought that popped into my mind after reading it was how I need to reduce the contents of my purse/handbag—its weighed down with so many “just in case” items- most of which never are needed… I carry it to work, to the store, to outings etc… perhaps even the idea of carrying it daily can be reduced…

  12. says

    This is so helpful! It makes me think of my day-to-day. The weight of expectations of myself and others, the physical bag I carry around full of “just in case” and everything I keep in my life that weighs me down. This process of cutting a new path and discovering what is actually necessary, useful, and worth the day to day expenditure of energy is an interesting trip. My gut instinct is that the list is very small, and I am enjoying the discovery of putting things aside and opening up a new life. I also like the image of examining things – one at a time – deciding – and letting go.

  13. says

    I have worked very hard to over-come the “just in case” mindset as others have mentioned. It hasn’t been easy — but you find out that even if you aren’t fully prepared, the world doesn’t end. When I read about “preppers” who are stocking up for the end of the world, I just can’t figure out why anyone would want to be prepared in that way. The sky is not falling, we don’t need to always look to the future as something we’ll be in trouble with if we’re not fully prepared. Religion or not — that is what I consider “faith.” I have faith in the future and that makes the act of living a non-burden.

  14. says

    Great observations Scott. Too much is, too much. It was so liberating to be able to move everything I own from the US to Asia in my luggage on an airplane. Now I look at what I have and think of ways to reduce more. Nice not to have the burdens of “stuff”.

  15. says

    Thank you so much for this. I am just beginning a journey into minimalism. I don’t know if I can take the trail to the top or even the first 10 miles b/c I can’t even get out of the house with the stuff I need to bring. I’ve been on similar quests before in my life only to lug every single thing on the easy trail. Reorganize, shift, compartmentalize, repair, throw away over and over and over again. NEVER get to the top. The easy way there and back, backpack full of stuff I don’t need. Thanks for posting this. It helps to think continually how to make my load light to enjoy the view from the top.

  16. Teresa Blubaugh says

    Great post, I could relate to the backpacking analogy. I have done a first sweep of my home and life, now trying to fine tune, get to the heart of it. Thanks for helping me on my journey.

  17. says

    So many people can’t move forward in life because they are too focused on their pasts, their possessions, and their priorities. Until we overcome the baggage in our thought-life, we will never eliminate the baggage in our physical lives. Thinking differently is step one to living differently. Thanks for the challenge!

  18. Hilary says

    I’ve always been a minimalist at heart. I feel so inspired by blogs such as yours. I am finally paring down and getting rid of junk that just weighs me down. I feel so energized and focused as things I don’t need leave my possession. I was excited about this process and telling people at work about it. The response from one coworker was, “are you dying or something?” She just couldn’t imagine anyone would get rid of stuff on purpose to create a better life. And in a way, we are all dying. We don’t live forever. Why spend the precious time we have here consumed with buying stuff we don’t need just to store it and clean it, etc.

  19. Chris Myers says

    I remember a certain trip in Colorado with two roomates, a bearded man and a Russian where they packed about 70lbs worth of food in one pack. Great post man!

  20. says

    Love it! Dragging a heavy pack around on my back is just the mental image I need to motivate me as I purge! The freedom that comes with lightening the load is addicting, and I love the idea of questioning what I’m willing to give up in order to live the life I truly want.

    Thanks for your words of wisdom!

  21. Jammie F. says

    Amazing post! It was well written with clear imagery that really drives home the point. Very entertaining and highly motivational. I’m going to go clean out my pack now!

  22. Sarah says

    This article was so perfectly apt for me…for many people I suppose.
    Thankyou for your blog and for the perseverance you give me every time I read .
    I am an artist ,and so many times I’ve reached that fork in the road ,given up or taken the easy path.
    For a long time I didn’t realize the clutter in my studio was such a huge block ,so after a 7 year journey from literally hoarding to a nearly sparse minimalism I feel free to work ,I feel inspired to finally achieve what I’ve always wanted to achieve.

    I often read your blog when I need that extra push .thanks for that!
    You are an inspiration to so many ,please keep up the excellent work.


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  24. Michelle says

    As a backpacker, I can completely relate to this. When my husband and I started, our packs weighed 50+ pounds each for a weekend. Now they are less than 35 pounds each for 4 days.
    Some of this is due to the improvements in gear, but some of it is realizing just what it is you need to survive.
    We just sent 12 bags of clothing from our closets to charity and it feels like things are so much lighter now.

  25. Char says

    You’ve outdone yourself!
    As always, blessed (and convicted)….
    Thanks for the extra push!
    In His grip!
    Char :)

  26. Nirav Siddhena says

    great insights and true :) started becoming a minimalist!!! loved this post :) thanks … really awesome way to tell something and i like the way you narrated it :)))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))))

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