Why a Bucket List Won’t Work (Or, how to create a Reverse Bucket List)

There are many, many things I’d like to do in this life. Currently, I’m considering Elvis Week in Memphis, the Bourbon Trail and Sturgis. And that’s just for 2017.

But what I’ve been learning lately in our busy life is that we’re always doing something memorable or cool and we may not have ever considered putting it on a bucket list. How do we credit ourselves for the everyday living?

Looking ahead to things that sound fun, risky, once-in-a-lifetime or include big travel plans is important. There’s some kind of good existential truth there that you need to continue to aspire to more.

Just this December, I jetted off to South Carolina for a wedding where the potluck reception included squirrel pot pies. How does one even know to add this to their bucket list?

But ignoring the present and for that matter, the past, means you may never recognize when you’ve not only filled your bucket with enviable experiences, but you’re ready for large tubs. Or U-hauls. Or shipping barges of experience. Not everything has to make the Zagat guide or Frommer’s to be worthy.

My friend Marcy always asks people on their birthday “the questions.”

These two simple queries pose a great challenge to those who may be watching a checklist of lifetime “to-dos” because they’re often hard to accomplish and since her last round of questions, no progress may have been made. Those of us who see every small thing, every day as an adventure, however, make Marcy’s day, and her point, annually.

Question 1: What was the best thing about this year, the best thing you did?

It’s stunning how few people have an answer there. Sometimes it’s “held on to my health” or “did ok at work.” My true bucket list goal is to always have a more unique answer than that.

Among the many things I did this year for work was to attend a talk by Bill Taylor, the founder of Fast Company magazine. More than just “held in there at work” I made my work part of this year’s amazing experiences.

Question 2: What will your answer to this question be next year?

One year, I said “My trip to Alaska,” true to bucket list form. I didn’t make it (yet) but I have done so much more.

A portion of this year’s answers included

  • Get married
  • Travel to both coasts (New York City and San Clemente, CA)
  • Learn to ride a motorcycle
  • Adopt a new dog
  • Get a new job

Few of those things (ok, maybe the motorcycle, see Sturgis above) would have been bucket items, but if I were only counting the lofty, risky, life-changing goals of a bucket list, I’d have missed them.

Every year we ride in the Santa Cycle Rampage event and even then we can’t be “just Santa.” Here we are as a young pilot Santa, a fly boy just earning his wings, and his USO lady.

We do something exciting every week. We make a point of it. We try new things, explore new events, dress up in costumes, take small trips, start new hobbies, learn to cook new foods and create new obsessions all the time (our latest is The Man in the High Castle). We do most of them as a couple because we see life as a team sport.

I had some bucket list accomplishments this year, too. This year I went to the polls where I got to handle and mark a ballot with a woman candidate for president, sponsored by the Democratic party. My mother didn’t get to do that. My grandmother didn’t either.

A ballot worth remembering.

So I propose a new game.

Let’s not keep writing bucket lists. They’re about aspiration, a good thing, but they’re not about the accomplishments you’re creating every day. 

They’re not about seeing the everyday as a worthwhile challenge. They’re not about having great plans this weekend. They’re about a blip on your life radar. If you’ll pardon me here, bucket list items are trees that prevent us from seeing the rich forest of daily life.

Make a reverse bucket list: Tally them up–what were your odd, fun, exciting accomplishments? What pins did you put on a map, what amazing meals did you devour?

Don’t wait to become, recognize what you are.

Don’t check things off a list, instead, build the list with your things.

I promise, your days become instantly more exciting.

action human interactions Life lessons Uncategorized

maryt1 View All →

Feminist, activist, outdoor advocate, animal lover, chocolate shake lover, reader, watcher, talker, actor, speaker, worker, writer, urban adventurer, hustler, involved, passionate, excited, ready.

1 Comment Leave a comment

  1. You have given me a new outlook on my life. I’m going to look at where I’ve been, what I’ve done & not worry about where I can go. Thank you.

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