I was in line at the grocery check-out and noticed that all the lifestyle magazines featured bucket lists. You know, the 20 places in the world you must visit before you die, the restaurants you have to try, the ultimate experiences that define a well-lived life. And I thought, really? I must? And if I don’t, I’m somehow less of a person, living a pale rendition of ‘the good life’? Bucket lists are for suckers, here’s why…
I recognize that such lists are a great way to sell magazines, because we all suffer to some degree from FOMO; we’re curious to know what we may be missing. We want to compare favorably to our peers and tick all the boxes. Then I thought of all the people in small towns who don’t read these magazines and don’t think in terms of bucket lists. They don’t read these magazines because they’re satisfied with their lives.
It’s the ambitious people who are dissatisfied, those who seek challenge and validation, who need to know what their goals should be so that they can create a schedule to achieve them. I am such a person. I’m restless and driven to build. Yet I know better than to buy into the idea of a bucket list. Running with the bulls at Pamplona? Meh. An African safari? I’ve seen these animals up close at various zoos. The Great Pyramids? Two words: Discovery Channel. I know, “It’s different being there.” If you’ve done any of these things, I’m sure you enjoyed them and have the pictures to prove it.
Personally, I like mountaineering, yet I don’t feel compelled to complete the 7 Summits nor am I driven by making first ascents. When you take the ego out of an activity, you strip it down to its essence and enjoy it for its own sake, knowing that no one cares but you. I would never presume to tell someone that climbing a big mountain makes one’s life any more fulfilling. Ticking the boxes is for standardized testing.
Bucket lists are just another way we fool ourselves into feeling complete and have nothing to do with living a fulfilling, adventurous life. Choosing to run a marathon as a motivating goal is different from it being part of a bucket list, just so you can tick the box. Doing something for the sake of having said you’ve done it is a fool’s errand. Inspiration comes from within, when something resonates with your values. Checking things off a list is about as inspiring as grocery shopping.
I don’t have a bucket list, I have plans. But I choose to pursue them because they’re meaningful to me in terms of the person I’m becoming. They have nothing to do with who I should be, our any other external measure. So I’m not beholden to the publishing world or what my friends have done to direct me in my quest. More importantly, is that when we’re doing the things we enjoy most, we’re quietly moving toward the fulfillment of our goals; an ever-evolving success story that we alone write.
For all our purposeful goals and strategic planning, I know that all of this, like life itself, is folly. There are moments when I realize that I already have everything, and nothing really belongs to me anyway. I am just borrowing this life for a while, and when I can enjoy it to enrich the world around me, that’s perfect.
A complete life is one that’s fully experienced, chosen by ourselves, our joy shared with others. This is especially true when we can find fulfillment in life’s simple pleasures. There are moments when I would happily surrender this life, losing myself in the beauty of the ordinary. My wife’s head on my shoulder. The breeze off Puget Sound. Fresh blueberries. The sun on my face. A child smiles at me.
Just like this.