Bucket list: four questions that will help you do it right

Bucket lists get a bad name. Outside of a small fan group they are often seen as eccentric whims of spoilt Millenials sipping avocado smoothies on their gap year. Could you be doing your bucket lists wrong and, more importantly, is there a way of doing it right?

I created my first bucket list when I turned 27. Called 30 before 30, it listed all the things I wanted to do, try and achieve before I enter the fourth decade of my life. Over the next three years, I talked to numerous friends (and strangers) about the idea and soon a pattern of responses started to emerge. Here are fours things I was most often asked or criticised for and my thought in response to each:

Why do you need a list?

Like larks and owls, there are people who think lists are a waste of time and there is the rest of us. If to-do lists, shopping lists, watchlists and so on are foreign concepts to you, just move to the next point. However, most people I spoke to didn’t mind organising information in this way per se but had issues with using it for personal challenges, dream or aspirations.

A goal not written down is just a dream

Personally, I believe that the act of writing things down is the most important step in turning a dream into a goal. By creating a list, you make a commitment to your aspirations. Congratulations — now you have goals you can act on.

Why do you want to do all these things anyway?

An appetite for new experiences varies from person to person, still, most of us can note down at least a dozen things they would like to accomplish. By trying things out, you slowly learn what sort of things bring you the most joy and narrow your focus as you go along. To give an example, I always wanted to try surfing, and so I did and it wasn’t for me. The opposite happened with skiing — I was curious but suspected it will be cold and wet, but it turned out to be one of the most amazing things sports I’ve tried. If I didn’t have a list (=a plan), I might have never found this out.

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How can you know you won’t enjoy something if you never tried anything like it? And wouldn’t it be a shame to live out your life and never discover that passion that would have given it the ultimate meaning?

Aren’t you just chasing someone’s else dreams?

Let’s be clear — I did not download my list of the Internet, nor did I get it from a book on a thousand things you must do before you die. I wrote it (this took several months) based on what I know myself to like or dislike, what friends recommended and what came up time and time again as an idea but never got acted upon.

Of course, in some way everything I do, think, dream and aspire to is influenced by someone’s else idea of a good life. We are social creatures and that’s OK. But you have to carve your own path it that sea of possibilities; just because someone had that same dream before doesn’t mean it’s not your own.

Aren’t you doing these things for the sake of ticking the boxes instead of enjoying them fully?

Again, if you are — there is a good chance you need to re-think your strategy. Be honest with yourself and create a list of things that you genuinely want to do in the present, not just like to have done in the past. If you wonder what it would be like to try a skydive — add it to your list. But if you just want to be the kind of person who can say they have ticked a skydive off their bucket list — you might want to revisit your motivation.

My 30 before 30 list was far from perfect. To start with, it didn’t actually have thirty items on it until almost a year into the project. I also didn’t tick off every item; some things became less relevant, others didn’t yet happen because life got in the way and, yes, a couple probably shouldn’t have been there in the first place for the reasons mentioned above.

But, all in all, it helped me step out of my comfort zone and become more proactive in chasing my dreams. The bucket list also helped learn what sort of things rock my boat (spoiler alert, the boats didn’t do it), so I started my thirties by making a brand new list that will help me pursue these newly discovered passions. Luckily, this time I have an entire decade for it.

UX designer at Nationwide Building Society. Runner. Minimalist. Environmentalist. Rationalist.