A "bucket list" refers to a wish list of thing a person hopes to do before she dies. The phrase comes from the 2007 film "The Bucket List" in which two terminally ill men embark on a road trip with a wish list of things to do before they kick-the-bucket (thus the name).
Do you have a bucket list? I don't. Not an official one anyway. Not the kind I could hand you if you asked me. My good friends probably assume I have a bucket list because I am a Type-A list maker. Being a list-maker is in my genes. My mother is an Olympic gold medal list maker. She starts each day by checking "get out of bed" off her list. Writing a bucket list seems like something I would savor.
It is true that lists are my security blanket. I write down every task I have to do, no matter how small, and draw a perfect little box next to it. The box lets me know the status of each item on my list. An open box means the task has not been started. A check-mark in the box means that the task is in progress. An X in the box means that the task is complete. Co-workers laugh, but many have adopted my check-box system.
In full disclosure, my Type-A tendencies are not confined to list-making. They extend into daily scheduling as well. Even as a young child, I was fascinated with daily schedules. I actually found a copy of a schedule I'd created for my baby dolls when I was about eight years old - preserved for proof of my neurosis in my parent's attic. My dolls' schedule went something like this:
- Get up 8:00am
- Brush teeth 8:15
- Get dressed 8:30
- Eat Breakfast: 8:45am
- Play: 9:00am
Every minute of their imaginary day was fully accounted for.
My obsession for daily organization was (unfortunately) reinforced by a course my parents sent me to in high school. The course taught a system of daily organization that claimed to ensure college success. Sending me to this course was like sanctioning the use of matches to a pyromaniac.
At college, I hit the ground running scheduling every minute of my week before my alarm went off on Monday mornings. In my mind, spontaneity and flexibility were for underachievers.
During my sophomore year in college I had a charming yet underachieving boyfriend named Brad. Brad did his best to adhere to my strict schedule, but no one is perfect. One night he brought ice cream to the library as a study-break surprise. To his surprise, I refused to take my break until my designated break time at 8:30pm - by which time the ice cream had fully melted.
By over-scheduling my life, I'm sure that I've missed out on more than just ice cream. I've undoubtedly missed out on other kind-hearted gestures, and professional opportunities that were right under my nose had I looked up from my lists long enough to see them.
That's why at this stage in my life I refuse to make a bucket list, and it's why I encourage others to abandon their bucket lists too. You can replace your bucket list with a mindset. Here's the one I'm trying to live up to:
Be open to the opportunities that life presents to you.
It's short and sweet, yet super challenging. The mindset challenges you to:
- Be open to the possibility that success and sanity might come from opportunities that you could never script or predict.
- Be willing to accept that your greatest happiness might not result from your careful planning, no matter how well executed.
This challenge does not sanction passivity. It does not grant permission to forgo pro-active planning in either your personal and professional life. What it does do is encourage you to be open to possibilities that extend far beyond your own imagination or your self-imposed limitations.
If I had written a bucket list, traveling to Italy would not have been on it. With that said, I am enthusiastically planning a trip to Italy next summer with my daughter's Latin class. The trip is a perfect example of the power of an open mind. The trip is the perfect example of why I don't make a bucket list. The trip is a happy ending to the story of the college girl with the melted ice cream.