Bucket Lists 101

I’ve been noticing a few bucket lists showing up here and there in social media, the usual “copy and paste” type where you check off all the things you’ve done or places you’re been. They’re often interesting enough to look at, but I’m not one to join in. It’s mainly because bucket lists are such a personal thing; I’ve never seen one that didn’t have at least a few items that had me wondering, “Why would I want to do that?” There are some things in life that aren’t meant for comparing, and a bucket list is one of them. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have one.

We only have so much time on earth. Exactly how much we never know, and I think it’s this awareness of our own mortality that provides us with the drive to do something with the time we have. Unfortunately, for some this never really develops beyond that vague sense that there are things they want to do and a limited timeframe in which to do it. This feeling on it’s own doesn’t really bring happiness; just a generalized restlessness and awareness of unfulfilled dreams. In some ways the thought that “Someday I want to do something” with my life is worse than having no dreams at all.

But my thoughts on this subject aren’t all gloom and sadness. I firmly believe that dreams don’t bring happiness; plans do. And having a bucket list can go a long way towards turning dreams into plans and plans into reality. But it has to be the right bucket list. More importantly it has to be your bucket list.

It seems like whenever the idea of a bucket list is brought up in the media, it’s usually something grandiose and prohibitively expensive. It’s African safaris and climbing Mount Everest, going to the Superbowl and swimming with dolphins. But most of us know that it’s simply not feasible to spend our life savings on a few experiences. So how do you start? Here are a few thing’s I’ve done in making my own list:

1) Look for Inspiration

I tend to be old school; I keep a pencil and a notebook on a shelf near my favourite spot on the couch. That way when I’m watching Amazing Race or something and I see a place that makes me think, “I want to go there!!” I can make a note of it before I forget. I’m a sucker for those gorgeous, photo rich travel books with titles like, “Destinations of a Lifetime” and “Wonders of the World” and I usually find some new ideas each time I look through one. Talk to people who’ve travelled and ask about their favourite places. There’s inspiration everywhere.

2) Be Specific

Don’t just have some vague goal like “go to the beach.” Think about why you want to go and what you want to do. Do you want to lie on a blanket in a quiet, secluded place and listen to the waves? Or does your dream look more like those fun, busy places you saw on those teen television shows set in California you watched as a kid in the 90’s? Are you thinking palm trees or grassy dunes?

3) But not too Specific

Okay, this may seem like a contradiction, but sometimes our mental picture of something on a bucket list is more about an experience than a place. Do you really dream about going to Paris or is your dream really to visit a chic city with great shopping and amazing sidewalk cafes? I always wanted to go horseback riding on the beach and for years I assumed it would have to wait until I went to some tropical location. Then one day while traveling in New Zealand my friend and I inquired about a company that offered rides in the countryside. The owner said he wasn’t offering the trail rides in the off season, but if we wanted to come by his farm we could take a couple of horses down to a nearby beach for a ride. The beach was beautiful and the horses were energetic and I suddenly realized that I was doing it. I was on the back of a horse, thundering across the sand! It was just the two of us and the wide open beach and it was even better than the goal I had imagined. So be specific about what it is that you really want to do, but be open about how to achieve it.

4) Take the Next Step

Want to jump out of a plane some day? That’s great, but how is just wanting it going to get you there? If you’re using the internet to read this that means that you’re only a few keystrokes away from being able to find out where the closest skydiving outfit is and how much they charge. Always dreamed of seeing the Grand Canyon? Pop over to a search engine and price out some flights! Want to swim with dolphins? Maybe there’s an aquarium near you that has a “trainer for the day” program. Is it expensive? Then figure out how many restaurant meals you’ll have to skip or pairs of shoes you’ll have to miss out on to make it happen.

5) Decide what you really want

Remember, you can do anything you want. You just can’t do everything you want. Is it really, truly a bucket list item, or just something you vaguely want to do? Well, let’s say there’s something you’ve always wanted to try; learning to surf, perhaps. You’ve found a place where you can take lessons, you’ve figured out the costs and you  know you have a week’s vacation next year. BUT, in order to save up the money you’ll have to give up your plan to buy new bedroom furniture and you’ll have to cut your entertainment budget right back for the next year or so. Also, you really only have the one week off coming up and you’d really like to go camping with your friends again like you did last summer. So what do you do? Do you go chase your dream or do you push it to the side and simmer with frustration?

What about a third option? If you look at the costs and sacrifices and decide it’s not worth it, then have the self awareness to realize that maybe it’s not really a bucket list item at this point in your life. It’s not that you don’t want to learn to surf, you just don’t want it enough to give up a bunch of other stuff that’s important to you. And that’s okay. It can always be revisited at another stage of your life.

6) Have fun with it!

As long as you’re working towards at least one item on your list at any given time, don’t be too worried about the rest of it. My list includes all kinds of crazy stuff and even if I live to be 100 I probably won’t have time to do it all. But there are also a lot of items checked off and several that I’m actively planning to achieve. And most importantly, it’s all mine. So go and make your own bucket list; keep on dreaming and planning!

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