As the harshness of winter is moving into the rearview mirror, we look ahead not only to spring but with newfound optimism toward the end of a pandemic.
It strikes me as a good time to revisit the bucket list.
At its core, a bucket list is an inventory of things to do before you die (or “kick the bucket”). The key is that your list should be things that you want to accomplish and would love to do. Basically that’s all there is to it.*
Sometime in the 1990s when I was in my late 30s I put together my first bucket list. The approach of “big” birthdays tend to have that effect on people. At the time our family didn’t have a lot of money, but we did have access each summer to a wonderful house on Island Creek off the Pawtuxet River in Southern Maryland. During those two weeks each year, the four of us would read, trap crabs, spend time roaming the yard with the dog, ride our bikes, catch up on sleep, play games of croquet, and — most importantly for this topic — talk about our goals for the year ahead.
That last item became a staple of our dinner conversations while at the river. Each year, as one example, we listed all the things we wanted to do to make our home more comfortable. Some ten years later we looked back at that list and we’d checked off every single item. These two weeks were like a mini-sabbatical for our family, where we stepped off the treadmill to rest and think. We each treasure those times in our memories.
One year I started a personal bucket list while at the river house.
- Like many of these creations it was heavy on travel: visit the United Kingdom, travel to Italy, make it to Asia (check, check, and check.)
- There were experiential items: try my hand at fly fishing in a western mountain stream (check).
- Work and life plans were included: do jobs that make an impact and retire early enough to enjoy the next third of life (check and check).
- And musical goals also surfaced: take piano lessons and play before an audience, learn a respectable version of Deep River Blues on the guitar (check and check).
Bucket lists are a work in progress. Don’t try and capture everything all at once. Some begin with very personal items that you are giving yourself permission to pursue. Some morph into lists of ways to help others and make a difference. The point is that expectations and situations will change. Take 2020, for instance.
We’re coming out of a year when it may have been hard to think about the future, much less items on a bucket list. We’ve found ourselves in lockdown with the heavy weight of the impacts of a pandemic. We have faced challenges — personal and as a community — with health concerns, political unrest, and social justice issues. While I was able to complete one bucket list project in writing thank you notes to the people who have shaped my life, overall I found it hard to focus on a life list in the midst of so much turmoil and tragedy. Perhaps you share a similar experience of the year we’ve just navigated.
It was a recent conversation with a friend and former colleague that inspired me to think that the time was right to reinvigorate my list. We were discussing visits to baseball ballparks (one of my longtime goals) and he mentioned friends that had visited every presidential home, every congressional district in the U.S. (he is a lobbyist), and even presidential gravesites. I know someone who has visited every state capitol. As we finished, I was invigorated with the idea of jumping back into my personal list.
Bucket lists give us permission and are optimistic, by nature. I like the idea of turning from cynicism to optimism this year as we’ve got way too much of the former in the world right now. Cynicism is easy, while hope is risky and hard. A bucket list says, “I’m going to be out in the world, I’m going to make a difference, and I’m going to love what I’m doing.” A bucket list should include things you can do in an afternoon and things that will take the rest of your life.
So yes, I’m going to start planning to make trips to knock off the two remaining states I need to visit to get to all 50 — Nevada and Alaska, here I come! — and to finish out the last 10 baseball stadiums I need to get through that list (anyone want to catch a game?). I’m going to look through my list to see what I might be able to do in a day, what is going to take time, and what’s missing that I want to add.
I love hearing about items on a bucket list, so feel free to write about yours in the comments or send me an email. Perhaps we can support each other in doing the risky, hard, and ultimately oh-so-satisfying work of hope.
More to come…
*Some people hate the term “bucket list” because it has the element of rushing to beat death. Sebastian Terry is one of those people. He talks about doing things for purpose, growth, and connection. That’s fine. You can check out his Tedx talk entitled 100 Things – What’s on Your List? to get his point of view. It is your list…do with it what you wish.