The Power of the Secret Backpack
“Out of suffering have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared with scars.” - Kahlil Gibran
I believe everyone carries an invisible backpack through life. Each person on Earth has their own backpack, and everyone’s bag is filled with the weight of challenges, limitations, shame, and all other sorts of baggage that comes from both internal and external pressures. For me, my backpack is heavy because of chronic pain and living with Postural Orthostatic TachycardiaSyndrome. Every day can be a challenge, but I also know that I am stronger because of whatI've been through.
To further personify the secret backpack concept, we can look at with a person with a chronic health condition. They might be carrying an extra 20 pounds relative to the average person.Their weight could be made up of the daily stressors caused by physical or mental limitations, or fear and self-loathing from social discrimination and harassment, or anxiety because they might not fit into their workplace culture. Their weight could be a combination of all those things.
One of the biggest challenges with chronic conditions, in my eyes, is this invisible weight. Often, we know about our obvious challenges in the form of diagnoses and research, but we all also face invisible challenges. They can be difficult to see from our perspective as well as the perspective of others. It’s really important that communities, workplaces, and society as a whole recognize that people are going through invisible challenges.
However, it is important to also remember that there is a positive to carrying weight in a secret backpack. Just as lifting weights makes people stronger, over time, we as humans adapt to challenges - whether physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual - and working through challenges makes us stronger. People who work through challenges, especially on a daily basis, get stronger on a daily basis. This is not to dismiss the difficulty that comes with challenges. I wouldn’t wish my struggle with chronic pain upon anyone. But, as I have tried to look for the positive in what I’ve gone through, I have discovered there are real strengths that have come from my journey. A different perspective, incredible resilience, strong coping mechanisms, and an optimistic outlook are often traits seen in those who have had to carry a heavy weight.
Though you may be chronically challenged, I believe you are also capable in ways that that are special to you. For every unique struggle where one feels like they are alone, later on a gift develops that is unique to oneself and borne out of struggle.
The idea of the secret backpack has important implications in the workplace. Not only is it important for people to recognize that those around them are often facing invisible challenges, it is also in companies’ best interests to leverage the unique strengths of those who have faced unique challenges. For this reason, I am excited about the mission of Chronically Capable. I believe flexible work can help to remove some of the weight that people carry on a daily basis while also connecting resilient and uniquely talented people with world-class companies. In the future, people with chronic conditions are not burdens to companies; rather, they are assets who will be especially valued for the diamonds they have developed while under pressure.
Through my journey with chronic pain, I have had many parts of my identity taken away from me. But, I am also thankful for the resilience I have gained from living with pain. I can attribute many of my greatest strengths to the battles I’ve fought and the perspective I’ve gained. My backpack is heavy, but I know I am strong.
Whoever is reading this, I hope you know that you are strong because of what you are going through. I believe workplaces are starting to recognize that equipping talented people with new ways to work can help companies leverage strong and uniquely gifted individuals.
If your backpack is heavy right now, I hope you can continue forward. I have faith that you will prevail and be stronger because of it.
Check out more of Tom's thoughts at: powerthroughpots.com