What’s in your Backpack?

My first guest blogger is Nithya Ramaswamy. She is a friend and former colleague who has worked in the organizational development space for almost 20 years. An accomplished coach, facilitator and instructional designer (she introduced me to the "learning journey" concept many years ago) she brings a wonderful perspective on learning, leadership and life.


What’s in your Backpack?

As a kid growing up and getting ready for school, do you remember the countless number of times your mum or dad would help pack your backpack before you left? Your backpack would have your essentials to sustain you for the day, and sometimes, something special for you to munch on for lunch, or something to share with your friend.

The backpack is a powerful visualization to represent all our strengths, skills and attributes we build up within us, and help shape us to who we are today. By asking, “What’s in your backpack?” it is really a deep, reflective question to probe, “Who are you today? What has shaped you to who you are as a leader?”

As a coach, I often spend a significant amount of time seeking to understand my coachees’ stories. In particular, I try to unpack what’s in their backpacks through the key experiences and role models that have helped to shape them into who they are today. Understanding what is in your backpack is fundamental to heightening levels of self-awareness, leading to growth and achievement of your aspirations.


In George Clooney’s famous “Up In the Air” speech where he stars as Ryan Bingham, he refers to potential baggage in the backpack that we want to be aware of, so we can consciously overcome these. He says, “Imagine for a second that you’re carrying a backpack. I want you to feel the straps on your shoulders…We weigh ourselves down until we can’t even move...Now, I’m gonna set that backpack on fire. What do you want to take out of it?”

As much as you can take things out of the backpack, you can fill it up with all sorts of tools and valuables which symbolize your strengths, attributes and skills. The reminder is to be careful what you carry, checking back regularly on what you have, but also assessing what else you need.


As a leader, what you carry in your backpack represents what you believe in, and who you are. When faced with setbacks or challenges, what do you pull out of your backpack to respond, or help your team navigate? How can you as a leader help develop those around you, to discover for themselves what they have or need in their own backpacks?


There you have it, we can keep going with the backpack! As you ponder on your purpose, what you want to get out life, that next job or what success means to you, stop and ask yourself and those around you, “What’s in your backpack?” A heightened sense of self-awareness is the first step to your development and growth.

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Jeremy Ho is this week's guest writer. Jeremy is a committed and skilled L&OD professional, husband, son and father. He brings a wealth of practical insight into the leadership space founded on his ex