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Children’s Beach Toys – Buckets, Spade And Shovel
Children's beach toys - buckets, spade and shovel

Time to Kill the Bucket List!

You’ve heard of a bucket list, right?

It’s basically a list of all the goals you want to achieve, dreams you want to fulfill, and life experiences you desire to have before you die.

The concept has existed for a while but was popularized in a movie of the same name starring Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson.

One of the more famous bucket lists was developed by John Goddard. At age 15, he made a list of 127 things he wanted to do or experience before he died. And as you can see, he crossed off many of the items before he died a few years ago.

Time for The Bucket List to Die

To say that the bucket list is popular would be an understatement. A quick google search turns up over 30 million results!

And yet, I think it’s time to kill the idea of the bucket list.

See, I’ve been thinking about bucket lists a lot recently because the idea has appeared in a couple of books that I recently read.

And both times I found my brain shouting “no, no, no!”

Now, you may be wondering what’s wrong with putting together a list of goals to achieve and life experiences to have.

Here are three problems that I see with the bucket list.

1. A Bucket List Is Inherently Selfish and Self-Indulgent

Okay, maybe it’s not inherently selfish and self-indulgent.

I’m sure it would be possible to come up with a bucket list that wasn’t that way. But for some reason, bucket lists invariably turn out self-indulgent.

For example, did you look at the bucket list above by John Goddard? Almost every single one of his 127 items is about himself.

Or take a look this monstrous list of over 800 items that just screams “me, me, me.”

Granted, there’s a small section called “Connect + Relationships”. But even that’s dominated by items like “Meet Someone Famous” or “Attend a High School Reunion”.

Or how about a study commissioned by outdoor clothing company Helly Hansen of the top things people want to do before they die. Here are the most popular 50 items. More of the same.

Is that really all people think life is about? Indulging in their personal fantasies?

Look, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with having fun, with doing adventurous things, with following a few selfish pursuits. I’ve certainly done plenty of that myself and encourage my clients to do the same.

But life can and should be about much more than that.

It should be about contribution, it should be about connection, it should be about personal and spiritual growth.

Yet those sort of things rarely make it onto a bucket list.

2. Bucket Lists Are Overwhelming

Most bucket lists are long. Very long.

Most of the lists I’ve seen have at least 100 items. And as you can see above, some of them have over 800!

I suppose there are a few people – such as the aforementioned John Goddard – who have sufficient self-motivation to work through a list of over 100 items.

But that’s not most people that I know. Most people I know start feeling overwhelmed when their to-do-list is larger than five or ten items.

And what happens to people when they start feeling overwhelmed?

They end up procrastinating. Rather then do the things on their list, they end up wasting time on things they really don’t want to do. Just because they find them less overwhelming.

So for many people a bucket list isn’t empowering and doesn’t actually move them in a positive direction in their life.

If anything, a bucket list can have the opposite effect, leading people to feel discouraged and disempowered when they realize that they’re not actually making progress on their list.

3. Bucket Lists Have No Greater Plan or Bigger Vision

If you looked at any of the bucket lists above, you’ll see that they’re a very random list of items.

Sure, they’re organized into categories. But that’s it.

There’s no greater plan or bigger vision for what the person wants their life to be about, for what they want their life to stand for, for who they want to be or what energy they want to bring into the world.

And ask yourself this: Do you really want to spend your life chasing after a bunch of random items on a list? How satisfying is that really?

Most people I know who spend their life chasing, chasing, chasing, aren’t very happy or satisfied with their lives. Because ultimately the chase is endless and they’re just crossing items off a list without actually experiencing the moments of their lives.

Far better, in my opinion, to have an organized plan or vision for your life rather than a random list of items.

Two Better Alternatives for Building a Meaningful Life

As I mentioned recently, I go on daily walks with Brandy, mine and my wife’s boxer. These walks are my time to think and reflect.

And while I was on one of these walks, I started thinking about what I would propose as alternatives to the bucket list.

I came up with two ideas that I want to propose, ideas that I think will move you more in the direction of living a meaningful life.

With each of my ideas, I plan on discussing what the idea is, the value of the idea, and how you can implement it in your life.

Except there’s a catch. I’m not going to talk about them in this post.

I’ll discuss one idea in a post next week and the other idea the following week. Stay tuned…

(I’d love to hear your thoughts on this post, regardless of whether you agree or disagree with me!)


This Post Has 6 Comments
  1. I’m torn on this subject. While I don’t recall ever having a physical bucket list, I do think that doing such a list could help one focus in on what is important to them. A bucket list doesn’t HAVE to be narcissistic. It could be 50 ways to make a difference in the world before you die, for example. That said, I completely understand your point about a list overwhelming someone and making them feel like a failure if they can’t get many things crossed off the list.

    1. I hear what you’re saying Sheri and agree that a bucket list doesn’t have to be narcissistic. Most of the ones I’ve seen though are definitely that way. Your idea of “50 ways to make a difference in the world” is similar to one of my forthcoming ideas!

  2. I have instinctively shied away from bucket lists: Partly because I’ve already been so many places and done so many things, and partly because it’s so static (God knows my list at 32 was vastly different than now at 46, on the cusp of Crone) and doesn’t allow for change. Plus, it would lead me to yearning and tension away from living now!

    1. As a fellow 46 year old, I hear you! Of course, one could always change or update their bucket list as they got older. I also wonder if something like a bucket list appeals to a younger crowd and that as one gets older they find less value in it?

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