The Bucket List Trap

I do not have a bucket list. Not because I don't have goals. Not because I am not ambitious. But because I simply have no desire to do the kinds of things people put on bucket lists. Things like skydiving. Nope. No, thank you. I am fine right here on the ground. Or climbing Mt. Everest (sounds cold) or swinging (sounds unfaithful) or visiting the Galapagos Islands (okay, at one point this was included on a sort of pseudo-bucket list I had, but then I became an adult and learned about money, and realized I'd probably be pretty physically uncomfortable on a remote island, anyway). In general, I am reasonably convinced that my life will be complete if I never jump out of a plane or bungee jump, and besides, there is no one particular thing I want to do or one particular place I want to go.

Unrealistic expectations lead to disappointment, and the feeling that your actually very purpose-filled life was somehow less than satisfying--all because you never made it to Alaska or Australia.

Don't get me wrong; I'm no slouch. I have a Bachelor's degree in German and spent five consecutive months abroad; I have completed five half marathons; I hold a Master's degree in Creative Writing; I am one step away from becoming a certified life coach; I am certified in Canine CPR and First Aid; two years ago, I was named Teacher of the Year at the high school where I teach; I maintain Mind the Dog Writing Blog at; my writing has been published in national magazines and literary magazines, as well as online; I have visited almost every state in the country; and I am currently working on the fifth draft of my first novel.

But I would be lying to you if I said I set out with all these specific goals neatly numbered and laid out on an ever-lengthening bucket list. The problem with a bucket list is this: Unrealistic expectations lead to disappointment, and the feeling that your actually very purpose-filled life was somehow less than satisfying--all because you never made it to Alaska or Australia. The other problem is: People change, and when we change, our goals need to change, too. Bucket lists, however, can be rather rigid little prison cells, locking people into feeling like they need to achieve or experience certain things that maybe they no longer care to do or see or feel at all anymore. If at 40 you still haven't found the opportunity to achieve something your 19-year-old self placed on your bucket list, but you find you no longer care, why should you feel compelled to act on it? What obligates you? Only that inflexible little list.

Be proactive about your dreams without imposing goals or creating unnecessary pressure.

I am not, actually, opposed to the idea of a bucket list. In fact, there have been many instances in my life when I rather wished I had one. The idea is essentially a good one, the ultimate goal being to live life to its fullest, but while this works for some people, it also ends up causing dissatisfaction for others. The better course of action for those people is to proactively pursue dreams without imposing goals or putting unnecessary pressure on themselves. I am not saying people should shy away from goals. What I am saying, is that instead of preparing a lifelong to-do list when you have no idea if your life (or health) will actually last long enough to complete it, I recommend two things:

First, make a general plan. For example, don't tell yourself your life will be meaningless unless you ride a camel in the Egyptian desert and eat sushi on the banks of the Yangtze River. Instead, broaden your goal a little bit: You want to travel. That goal is much more realistic--and it doesn't preclude any sub-goals--like riding that camel or eating that sushi. But it doesn't mandate them either. By not being locked into a specific experience in a specific place, you open yourself up to a myriad of experiences you might never have even imagined for your life--things that might be even more fulfilling and enlightening and growth-inducing than what you might have listed on your bucket list.

The ultimate goal of a bucket list is to live life to its fullest, and while this works for many people, it also ends up causing dissatisfaction for others.

Second, take advantage of opportunities as they arise. In effect--make your bucket list as you go. I never planned to go to Germany, Italy, Canada, or Austria. But when the opportunity arose, I took it. I never thought I'd get to go to Key West, but I've taken a selfie at mile marker 0 and stood on the Southernmost Point. In my early twenties, I made peace with the fact that I would probably never get married. Within a week after making that peace, I met the man who became my husband. When I graduated from college and started working full-time, I said I would never go back to school again. Three years later, I felt the urge to get my Master's degree. I certainly never imagined I would be invited to write as a contributor for this platform--but you can bet I jumped at the chance when it came along.

Not being locked into having a specific experience in a specific place opens you up to a myriad of experiences you might never have even imagined for your life

I never mapped out any specific, concrete goals for myself. I had some general ideas: I knew I wanted to go to college, travel, write. But despite my lack of a specific, lifelong to-do list, I think I'm successful and accomplished enough--or at least on my way there. Instead of believing your life will be complete only once you've checked off the items on a glorified to-do list, embrace life as it comes; live as the inspiration strikes you; follow your dreams, but allow them to change and grow with you. Don't tie yourself or your life's value to a list.

All that said, truth be told, I do currently have two concrete, bucket list-esque goals nagging at me, chanting "hypocrite, hypocrite..", as I write this piece: I want to finish my novel, and I want to see it published. Maybe I will. Maybe I won't. But my life's worth won't be measured by it.


Published by Amanda Sue Creasey


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