How to Keep Your Bucket List In Perspective

During my late teens and early twenties, my worldview was unabashedly black and white. As is common in university students, I had little understanding of others’ viewpoints or experiences. Much of this stemmed from my fear of, and lack of curiosity regarding, the unknown. [Read this post to see how an experience with my mentor made a simple food choice a life changing lesson.]

As time has passed, my stubbornness has endured, but it has also been tempered. My unexpected life has provided numerous twists and turns, and not all of them were positive. However, I am grateful that there is no defined list with which to now compare reality with my previous dreams and aspirations. Those previous goals reside in my mind, where they can be molded and put into context. With the recent phenomenon of “bucket lists,” it is worth examining how to keep yours in perspective.

The History of Bucket Lists

As much as people’s usage of the term “bucket list” varies, so do the possible origins of the phrase. You might be familiar with the 2007 film The Bucket List starring Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson. Surprising to some, this was not the first time the term was used. A 2011 article from Slate.com provides some history, but it is not definitive. In May 2015, The Wall Street Journal looked at “bucket list” in direct relation to the aforementioned film. The Macmillan Dictionary blog and others also chipped in with their takes on the phrase’s history.

What is fairly certain from all of these sources is the premise behind the term bucket list is a list of goals to achieve or experience before kicking the bucket! Having grown in popularity, this is not the standard usage today, but you must admit that the idea of bucket lists can be at least a little bit fatalistic.

Anxiety and Lists

With a personal history of anxiety, I have a volatile relationship with lists in general. I certainly store a mental inventory of important tasks, as well as a smattering of sticky note scribbles. Keeping a well-thought, organized list of goals, for me, is a recipe for disaster. The more beholden to a pre-determined set of expectations I become, the more likely that I will experience stress and self-doubt when items are left incomplete. To add fuel to the fire, I have an annoying compulsion to append lists, rewrite them, or create sub-categories. Like Sisyphus rolling his rock uphill, it is never ending.

I have consciously gone in the other direction and it is wonderfully freeing. My email, text inboxes, and one small piece of paper serve as my to-do lists. Once tasks are completed, the emails and texts are deleted, and the pieces of paper are thrown away. Using lists for only the most important, time-sensitive needs has allowed me to live more in the moment. By refocusing the real purpose of your lists, you allow your brain to think freely and independently of something predetermined. Embracing the unknown, living with it, and being open to the unexpected are great first steps which no list can define for you.

Bucket Lists and Social Media

Theodore Roosevelt stated, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” His quote is as important now as it has ever been. Although it is unhealthy, we are naturally inclined to compare ourselves to one another. What many did not anticipate was the degree to which the Internet, specifically social media, would affect our own feelings of the self. There are numerous studies that contend a negative link between social media and mental health. Schools are beginning to take steps to address this phenomenon, as are parents.

Bucket lists are more prevalent by the day. A recent Google search for the term “bucket list” yielded 311 million results. The first five results included the words “before you die” in the description. Anyone who has worked with Search Engine Optimization (SEO) knows that this is not a coincidence. People are purposefully choosing those words because they know it will put their content at the top of the search results. Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, and the like are filled with bucket list references. But don’t fret, there are 26 million Google results for bucket list templates!

Your Bucket List in Perspective

As implied, none of the lists utilized in my past made much of a difference in what has transpired in my life. A majority of the positive and negative events have been unforeseen. If you thrive with lists, as recommended by many health and business professionals, it might make complete sense to write a bucket list. I am suggesting that you understand why you have compiled it and what role it will have in your decision-making. It is also my contention that awareness of how social media is affecting your lists is paramount. A well-conceived list of goals has repeatedly proven to be healthy and rewarding. Perspective comes when we look within ourselves. By all means, complete that bucket list, but leave plenty of space in the bucket for the unexpected!

~Kevin

In My Unexpected Life, I share stories, thoughts, and simple ideas to entertain and possibly inspire others to become more connected with each other in conversation, food, travel, and more…no matter how big or small those experiences may be.

18 comments

  1. I love this post, even though the idea behind it is simple, working on leaving space for the unexpected can definitely give some positives to life. Also I definitely agree that it’s extremely important to not lose to social comparisons. Thanks for your great advice.

    Laura / https://www.laustworld.com

  2. I find this a very deep and thorough article, that puts the “bucket list” into a new perspective. Interesting, as I am not a fan of the term myself. I once read (on social media, naturally): “the point of the bucket list is to tick the things off”. I couldn’t disagree more! Especially when it comes to travelling: I don’t want to tick off whole countries as if they were a shopping list.

    You got me thinking, Kevin. Again.

    1. Thanks for your thoughts, as always, Anthony! I am not a fan of the term and especially the ticking places and experiences off a list phenomenon, as you so aptly mentioned. I was genuinely surprised when the search engine had so many “before you die” references. I think we probably look at these lists similarly.

  3. Nice article! I personally never use bucket lists and instead just try to do whatever I’m interested in at the moment. I think for some people that it’s a good idea but I also dislike the act of showing it off on social media, which unfortunately quite a lot of people do! “leave plenty of space in the bucket for the unexpected” was a great quote to end it.

    1. Thanks for your thoughts, Michael! The social media part is quite difficult for me to see. I think that, in some ways, people are falling victim to social media pressure, but also to SEO optimization which rewards using repetitive terms like that in order to get clicks.

  4. I can see how lists can cause anxiety, but being a planner, it has the opposite effect on me! As I get older, I find it easier to forget things, so lists definitely help in that regard. Looking at things I’ve crossed off a list also gives me a sense of accomplishment. I am also learning, however, to deviate from the lists more and more. Fun topic, Kevin!

  5. Going to quote one of my favourite modern rock lyricist here:

    “Over thinking, over analyzing separates the body from the mind
    Withering my intuition, missing opportunities and I must
    Feed my will to feel my moment drawing way outside the lines”

    That said, I don’t urge to live my life as a leaf soaring with the wind, but I could not live my life without some room for intuition. I’ve tried it. It kills me. Good blog!

  6. I have to admit I’m partial to a bucket list, but rather season by season and year by year.

    My Mum was a keen traveller and had so many plans on retiring, she died 8 months to the day of her retirement, it has taught me life is short and I really have a need to fill it.

    But sometimes, the unexpected can be the best adventure of them all x

  7. Personally I do not have a true bucket list – places I’d like to go, but not like I have to. I had a friend who did a 40 before 40 list. Thought that was pretty cool.

  8. I’m personally a Bucket List lover! I love lists in general since for me, they actually relieve anxiety. I’m always worried I’ll forget something so by writing it down, I instantly feel better knowing that now I can’t forget! I certainly see your point about them doing the opposite for you because my husband is the same way. I don’t only live by my lists though, I’m always open to new things (which sometimes then end up on my lists haha). Thanks for sharing your perspective on this topic!

    1. You are definitely correct that some people find that lists relieve stress. I watched a documentary a few weeks ago that spoke of different types of stress, and I imagine it is SO much different for every person. My wife loves lists, so I definitely see both sides of the coin.

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