As the end to my working years begins to come hazily into view, conversations with younger co-workers naturally and frequently include the question, “What are you going to do when you retire?” Feeling not very smart or helpful, I usually mumble something about taking care of household chores that have been put off for later. However, that one question about what I will do when I transition into life’s next season always leaves me secretly thinking that someday I should sit down and create a “bucket list” of things I would like to do when I am no longer spending every day in the office.
I first came across the concept of developing a bucket list after seeing the 2008 movie of the same name. The film recounts the story of two terminally ill men (portrayed by Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman) who, wanting to make the most of their remaining time, set off on a trip together with the goal of accomplishing a wish list of things to do before they “kick the bucket.”
Recently I sat down with a blank piece of paper to write the first draft of a personal bucket list and discovered something really amazing. With pen in hand and imagination in overdrive, I stared at the blank piece of paper in front of me and waited for inspiration to write what I wanted to do in the future. Suddenly a flood of fun, interesting, and challenging things I had already done in my life came rushing back to me. As one event from my past after another ran through my mind, the smile on my face broadened. It suddenly occurred to me the events and activities I remembered so fondly were exactly the kinds of things that I would put in a bucket list—if I had not already done them.
So I repurposed my blank sheet of paper and began writing a short sentence about each memorable event, place, or activity in the order I remembered them. I called it my completed bucket list. As my completed bucket list grew and grew, I decided to transcribe it to a document on my computer so it would be easier to bundle these fond memories into categories and timeframes. As of this writing, my completed bucket list contains 211 memories of events, achievements, and challenges I successfully overcame—many of which, mind you, I had not thought about for decades. For example, as I reflected on the list, it occurred to me that at five years old, I never wondered about my future or gave it any thought at all though I certainly could not have known what events would lie before me. But I now realize the comfortable naivety we enjoy in youth is based on a sense of hopefulness and faith that everything will turn out all right—and it did. Similarly, when I was a young man of 21 and just about to marry the girl with whom I would share the rest of my life, I certainly did not know what the future would hold. But then too, I was strengthened by the hope and faith that is so typical of “immortal” youth—and everything turned out all right.
Today, my completed bucket list is full of job changes, new skills learned, births of children and grandchildren, as well as the deaths of loved ones. Although I had no way of knowing how, what, or when any of these things would occur, here I am today, older but still possessing the hopefulness and faith of youth. And although in the future, as in the past, there will be times when I will temporarily became doubtful and uncertain about the future, my completed bucket list provides tangible evidence that hope and faith are justified—because in its own way, everything has always turned out all right.
Perhaps the biggest lesson learned from recording these memories of past events was how good the list made me feel about my life and how confident it made me feel about the future. At a time when busyness is the norm, and our to do lists keep us running from event to event, I was reminded that many of life’s greatest treasures are those stored in our head and our heart—in the experiences, good and bad, that shape us into the people we are today. With this newfound appreciation for past experiences, I’m more enthusiastic than ever about what I will add to the list in the future.
You too, can benefit from creating a completed bucket list of all the amazing things you have already done. Not sure how to start? Consider writing about something you have learned how to do or about places you have visited and remarkable things you have seen. As you write about each new event, activity, or challenge you have successfully overcome, you may be surprised at how easily other items worthy of your completed bucket list will come to mind. Then, when you have written your list, take time to review its contents. Treasure each listing and learn from your past. It will show that you are really a pretty amazing person for having made it this far—and that you have an amazing future before you. Enjoy the journey!