The Surprising Justification For Keeping Your Bucket List

flickr - tranbina
flickr – tranbina

I never intended to write a Bucket List.  The idea itself oozed morbidity and darkness.  Besides, the thought of accomplishing anything more than packing my lunch for tomorrow was all but overwhelming.

At 17, I was buried in a pile of college applications and SAT scores as I halfheartedly attempted to determine the path for the-rest-of-my-life (a phrase I was all too tired of hearing). As I walked out of high school overwhelmed by yet another essay on Holden Caulfield, I spotted the most glorious vehicle any teenage heart could desire. A jeep so red it stuck out amongst the sea of navy and silver Hondas. Never mind the rust stains covering the hood and how one tire was clearly leaking air. It. Was. So. Cool.  My ’93 Toyota was barely running as it was and the jeep was all I could think about. I flipped to the last page of my already-overly-stuffed agenda and wrote down:

– Buy a jeep (10-5-2005)

There. My life plan was moving along just fine.

I closed the notebook and drove home. As the stress continued to pile on throughout the year, I found myself adding to The List whenever I needed an outlet. Join a book club. Run a half marathon. Adopt a puppy. It became some sort of escape. If anything, it proved I was at least contemplating my future.

As the months passed and I began to pack for college, I instinctively ripped out The List and shoved it into an overfilled crate. It was the first thing I tacked up onto the wall. It became a physical reminder of the motivation and strength I needed to reach for more than what I had accomplished thus far. Though at 18, it wasn’t much to brag about.

At 19, I declared my college major in teaching. Teaching ran in my family and I simply decided to follow suit.  But my heart was elsewhere. I constantly felt conflicted that I had made the wrong choice.  I was consumed by my creative writing courses while my education classes left me passionless. I never wanted to forget my love of writing so I added “Publish a book (4-12-2007)” in bold letters. And then underlined it. Twice.

At 21, I ended a five year relationship with my first real love. I watched helplessly as all the plans we had made disintegrated in front of me.  There went any house-buying-child-rearing-dreams I had naively been counting on. As a life-saving effort to start anew, I quickly wrote down “Move to a major city (12-13-2009).” And in parenthesis next to it, “(for a new beginning)”.

At 23, having recently moved to Washington, D.C. (Move to a major city, check) I quickly began to suffocate under the pressure of a fast-paced metropolis, a life drastically contrasting my small town roots. I had downplayed how difficult the transition would be. Desperate for a way out, I scrawled down “travel to a faraway island (9-13-2011)”.

The List began to take a new form as I started my first year in the real world. I abandoned the paper after some time (by now it was hardly legible and torn in all but one corner) and typed The List up on my phone. It suddenly became critical to have it with me at all times, never knowing when the urge to change my life course would strike. As I carefully transferred the list item by item, I couldn’t help but reminisce on the goals that had once taken priority.

As I reflected upon all the seemingly ludicrous dreams I had made at various points in time, it became clear that The List was more a diary-esque collection of pivotal moments rather than an agenda of tasks to complete. Each number represented a defining period in my life, one that held the potential to completely alter the direction I was going in.

While many of the items still remained, some minor and some that carried more weight:

– Hold a handstand (5-5-2012)

– Travel Route 1 coast to coast (6-27-2012)

– Fall in love with my best friend (8-10-2012)

The List was still far from being completed.

It was when a few of these items never came to fruition that I realized they were either unreasonable wishes or I simply no longer desired them. A red jeep was not suitable for this snowy D.C. weather and my summer breaks spent on an island in Greece (travel to a faraway island, check) prevented me from adopting a puppy.  But still. The List held the exact date I was yearning for something other than what I had, an integral part of my ‘growing up’.

The items were not meant to be absentmindedly checked off, completed, and forgotten forever (though that was certainly their purpose when I began The List almost a decade ago). But, rather, each task marked a transitional point in my life. My way of coping with life’s uncontrollable events had always been to strive for something more, to make something out of myself to surpass these so-called ‘set-backs’.  It no longer mattered whether or not I actually crossed the items off, it only mattered that I had made the effort to write them down in the times I felt hopelessly weak…to find some positive light in recording what I had wanted during that moment, in that place, at that time.

While The List offered guidance and direction to get over life’s unforeseen challenges, it gave me the most valuable thing I hadn’t expected: a track record for all the obstacles I had already overcome, the strength and perseverance I had had within me this entire time. It wasn’t so much a compilation of all the things I was going to do, but a confirmation that I was capable of doing them. Some self-assurance, perhaps. It turns out that I was successful on my own terms. No list required. Thought Catalog Logo Mark

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