The Benefits of a Bucket List

We’ve all seen the movie, “The Bucket List,” right?  Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson, two terminally ill men on one last road trip with a wish list of things to do before they “kick the bucket.”  It’s funny. It’s sweet. It’s meant to be inspirational.

On their journey, they cross most of the things off the list, but Jack dies before the list is complete. Morgan Freeman brings his ashes to the top of an unnamed peak in the Himalayas, in a Chock Full o’Nuts coffee can… and the audience cries.

Wait! What? Am I the only one who sees a problem with this? If someone has to haul my lifeless ashes to someplace on my list that I didn’t get to see while I was alive…. I’m going to be pissed! Why did they wait until they were dying? Think of how much more fun they would’ve had doing their “wish list” when they were in their 30’s for God’s sake!

I mean what if Jack Nicholson’s character wanted to experience a threesome just once in his life. (I have no doubt the REAL Mr. Nicholson has crossed that one off his list) But this, along with climbing Mt. Everest, and many other feats, may not be something an ailing 80-year-old man would want to try.

A few years back, I asked my then 85-year-old father-in-law, “What’s left on your bucket list?” He replied, “I’ve had a long life. I’ve done and seen many things. But I’d really like to go flying one more time.” Mike had sailed the seas, soared through the skies, and traveled both far and wide. He had thought that there was nothing left that he really wanted to do… until I asked. What if I had not asked him? Would he have missed that experience?  My father-in-law passed away this past Sunday evening at the age of 89. He piloted his last airplane at the age of 85, the same day I piloted my first.

You are missed, Mike. I hope you are flying high, with one hand on the yoke and the other wrapped around a bourbon on the rocks.

The trick, I believe, is to not wait until the end of your life to start thinking about what’s left to be done. You’re never going to be any younger than you are this Very Second. So do everything you can while you are young. And then, if you have the time and the desire, you can always (like Mike) do it again.

So get busy on that list, and don’t say you don’t know where to start. There are various websites (such as 43things.com) that are devoted to helping users concoct a list while connecting people with similar items. They even reveal what others have done to accomplish their goals.

I’ve had a serious bucket list for the past 25 years.  By “serious,” I mean, the sucker is 4 pages long. There are items crossed out, and new items added every year. The paper – that’s right, it’s a real list, not a virtual or digital rendering – gets so worn that at times I have I print out a new copy. My goal each year is to check off at least 2 feats, while adding 2 more I’d like to accomplish. Making a bucket list is one of the best things I’ve ever done for myself!

Here’s why. 
1. Wishes, hopes and dreams become real when you write them down. It’s true! Writing them down make them seem more attainable, and with that, you can make a plan of action. Your goals can be anything, ranging from skydiving to quitting your current job, but they have to be YOURS: there is no copying off your neighbor’s paper. And although the sky is the limit for what you can wish for, they have to be written or printed on actual paper – not left on your computer screen or phone. That page will call on you to look at it, to hold it in your hands, and to bring your desires to your daily or weekly consciousness. But only if you keep the page within eyesight!

I keep mine in the coaster drawer in my TV room. Every time I plop my ass on the couch in front of the television and reach for a coaster… There IT is. Staring at me. Asking me,“What have you done for me lately?”

2. Making a bucket list helps you know yourself by realizing those goals or experiences that are important to you. You can tell a lot by someone’s list. It’s not counterintuitive: if your list consists of mostly job aspirations, then you know your career must be very important to you. If, on the other hand, your list consists mostly of travel, then it’s clear that you are looking for new adventures.

For you big dreamers, you can always create separate bucket lists for different areas of interest: one for travel, one for career, another for family, and even one for out-of-the-box experiences, such as riding in a hot air balloon or taking an oil painting class. My own 4-page bucket list may need to be sub-categorized like this soon. However you choose to do it, it is extremely empowering to know exactly what you want to accomplish in this life.

3. Writing down your dreams opens up the floodgates to dream even more.
Once you start your list, new things pop into your head all the time. Things you wouldn’t have even dared to verbalize for fear that they were unattainable. It opens up that youthful part of your mind and enables you to start dreaming again. As a child, think of all the things you wanted to do or become. We weren’t afraid to say them out loud. Did any of you want to grow up to be a princess or astronaut?

I remember wanting to be in the Olympics! My less-than-Olympic quality athleticism didn’t make me second-guess my dreams in the slightest. We are taught to dream BIG! Then, when we get to a certain age, we stop dreaming big. We are told to “be realistic” and, with that, comes a limit to our dreams. Next, comes acceptance of our limitations and finally, passivity. Once you start dreaming again, it opens up a very youthful part of your brain that most of us haven’t used since childhood. You may surprise yourself with everything you want out of life, but were either too afraid, or too busy with grown-up stuff, to write them down and make the concrete plans.

So, I challenge you to start your bucket list today. It’s the first step to accomplishing the fullest life you can live. A life lived with youthful vigor. If the movie, “The Bucket List,” taught me anything, it’s to not wait until I’m about to kick the bucket to do the things I want.

Do it Now. Do it Now. Do everything Now.

Live Young,

Darnell 🙂