My Thoughts on Bucket Lists

Posted on Life

A friend of mind recently revealed to me that she hates bucket lists. And by that, I don’t just mean that she hates the term ‘bucket list’, but rather, she hates the whole concept of making a list containing everything that you wish to do in life and working your way through it. Her argument is that if you make a list for your life, there are only two ways that it will turn out:

1) Either you will write your bucket list, carefully and thoughtfully and usually while still at school (I myself wrote my first bucket list when I was about fourteen), and then you will lock it safely away in a drawer, waiting until you finish school, considering that to be the time at which you can finally start living rather than merely plodding through the education system. You will wait through college, university, graduation comes and you find yourself getting your first job in order to gain a degree of financial security before starting on the list. Your second job follows, then you meet someone, move in together, get married, children come along and suddenly, you’re too old. You retired and find that your age and most insurance policies are striking a big black ‘x’ through half of the list: skydiving, surfing, taking part in 4 deserts, etc. As for the other things on your list (and I’m just using as example the most typical aims to appear on people’s lists), you never became a millionaire, you never won the lottery, there are still big chunks of the world unseen to your eyes, nor have you seen most (if not all) of the seven modern wonders of the world.

Basically, according to my friend, writing a bucket list only results in you becoming angry to realise that life got in the way of living and disappointed that you did not complete what your fifteen-year-old-self swore to do by the time you were forty. You become so preoccupied by the regrets of what you did not do, that you forget to realise what you did achieve; marriage, becoming a parent, a grandparent, paying off your mortgage; whatever it may be. ‘Normal’ achievements in life.

2) Or, you become so obsessed with your bucket list that you do the exact opposite; life revolves around doing the ‘out there’ stuff; again, skydiving, learning to surf, crazy endurance races, etc, and instead, you never find time for the other side of life: work, friendships, relationships, and so you never marry, never have children, never settle down, and you find yourself to still be renting when you turn 50 because you’ve never stopped fixating on the ‘amazing list’ for long enough to think about growing some roots. So then instead, you end up lonely, with no property to call your own, and nothing but memories, photographs, and souvenirs – with no one to show them to.

My friend paints a pretty grim picture, wouldn’t you say?

And now for my opinion on the matter.

I am definitely pro-bucket list. They give a sense of order to my goals, in the same way that having a memory palace gives a sense of order to my knowledge and the learning process. In fact, I simply love lists. As someone who was born without an ‘off switch’, they keep me organised, they help me to remember every one of my crazy thoughts and ideas and dreams when my mind is working like a runaway train and I can’t physically keep up with my ideas before the next one comes along. Bucket lists are, for me, no different. For every goal I tick off, I add three more.

I would probably class myself as a much cheerier option 2); I am 21 years old, and I have already proudly completed my first bucket list and written a second. Granted, list two may well take longer than seven years to complete, because it requires travelling further afield, to several continents rather than just Europe. It requires big career steps and big life choices, but regardless, I’m proud to have already completed one 58-point list by my twenty-first birthday. My bucket lists (and the numerous other lists of my life) keep me motivated, they keep me busy, and it gives me something to aim at each day. Recently, I have realised that I have spent most of this year simply existing. I have thrown myself into the necessities of life, primarily work, and have instead pushed too many creative projects aside, practically forgetting how to simply enjoy life. As a result, I felt miserable. I hid my new bucket list away and I dread to think how many days of this year have been wasted.

Then it all hit me while I was in Portugal. I spent a day in this beautiful city, in a beautiful country, free of the responsibilities of a nine-till-five job or family commitments or monthly bills, and yet I wasn’t seeing any of it, not the beautiful city or my friends or my experiences as a traveller. Instead, I was wallowing, convinced that I had completely forgotten how to genuinely laugh and relax and have fun, and I spent two miserable days trying to figure out exactly what I want in life. I had to set a goal and start working towards it, and those two days became two weeks of dragging myself upwards out of that depressive hole. I have my goals in sight one more and now, I feel so upbeat, and so happy, and so positive, motivated, energetic, and excited for the future.

summer face

I have written a ‘second half of 2013’ bucket list. Yes, maybe I focus on my bucket lists a little too much, but I think they have only been used to help in my quest to re-balanced my life and start living spontaneously again, while equally ticking things off the list again. I consider it good to have goals and to aim to tick something off the list on a regular basis, but equally if something comes up, a spontaneous opportunity, I say yes, which is something that I stopped doing for a long, long time.

I do have a tip for effectively using bucket lists, however. I have two; a ‘to do’ list, and a ‘completed’ list. I find that otherwise I will find myself staring endlessly at my long list, be it a to-do list or a bucket list, and it all just looks so overwhelming. Where to start? There’s so much that you want to do, that it suddenly doesn’t seem possible. There’s suddenly not enough time. However, with two lists, and I can see that I’m already part way there. I keep my completed bucket list alongside my second one so that I can see how much I have already achieved in my life. I start each day’s to-do list by copying a few completed tasks from the previous day – and striking them out immediately. It simply helps to prevent a busy day – or life – from becoming overwhelming.

As for my friend’s belief that by focusing so much on the things on my list: skydiving (done) and visiting China (to do) and so on – most of my goals being travel or career related – I will only find myself alone in a rented apartment full of photographs and souvenirs with no one to show them to. That doesn’t worry me. Goals of marriage and children are not on my bucket list, and I’m not about to add them to them simply to guarantee that someone is going to be there when I’m 70+.  I’d prefer to be lonely for the final decade or so of my life than to sacrifice genuine goals in order to follow the typical goals of society.

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