a wild and precious list


Once in a while I hear people say things that stop me in my tracks. I have a wait-a-minute-shake-my-head kind of reaction that sounds like:


Are you kidding me?

Did you really say that?

It just happened again as I heard someone talking about her one new year’s resolution that will be her major focus for 2016.

Here’s what she said:

I’m really excited because it’s the last thing on my bucket list.


Are you kidding me?

Did you really say that?

You see the person who said this was probably in her 40s – maybe in her early 50s max. If this woman was 90 years old, I might not have had such a strong reaction. But how is it possible to have ticked off all of the things on your bucket list so early in life?

Oh wait, I know.

It’s because we set the bar so low for this one life we get.

The idea of a bucket list predated the movie in which Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson run around doing crazy stuff before they lose their battles with cancer. What we think of as a bucket list was probably first documented in 1909 by a man named John Goddard.

At age 15 he came up with a life list of 127 goals he wanted to experience and achieve in his lifetime. He passed away in 2013 at age 89 having done an incredible number of things in his life including exploring the Nile River, climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, learning to play the flute and violin, riding an elephant and a camel, running a five-minute mile, reading the complete works of Shakespeare, Mark Twain and Hemmingway among a bunch of other stuff.

Did he check everything off his list?

No. He never visited the moon. He did not own a horse nor did he star in a Tarzan movie. He missed a few other things that were on his list. But he did live an interesting, passionate, engaged life.

What he didn’t do was quit in mid-life. He didn’t retire to his couch with lots of years left to live. He didn’t stop dreaming or stepping out of his comfort zone.

But lots of people are not like John Goddard, including the woman I heard say her bucket list was complete this year.

We talk ourselves out of all kinds of things we secretly would love to do. We tell ourselves we don’t have enough money or energy or courage to go after whatever adventures intrigue us. We don’t plan ahead to create the circumstances that make our bucket list items more attainable.

That might sound a little contradictory coming from someone like me who encourages people to spend less time thinking about the future and more time being present in the moment. But it’s not really. Planning for the future is a fine thing. A long as we spend enough time in the present moment so that we actually experience whatever bucket list item is happening at the time.

A never-ending bucket list doesn’t mean we are not content with the life we have. It means being fully aware that life has an endless supply of cool and wonderful sights and sounds and tastes to indulge. It has countless adventures to tackle and experiences to embrace. Life is too great an opportunity to let it pass by unimagined. What life doesn’t have is an endless supply of time to enjoy it.

If you have a bucket list, that’s good. Keep adding to it. If you don’t, then start one. The great poet Mary Oliver asks the provocative question, “What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” Your bucket list is a pretty good start at the answer.

So what’s on your bucket list?


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St. Albert Gazette

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