Why your bucket list is screwing you over

I was writing my first ‘do-this-in-my-lifetime’ lists before I had ever heard the concept of a bucket list or it was popularized through the 2007 Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman film.  It makes me smile how serious I was as a teenager – a note I wrote at 13 was entitled ‘Getting My Life Sorted’.  More on that in another post 🙂

Most bucket lists in my experience are generally filled with sightseeing and experiences.  Have a look at Bucketlist.org for a snapshot of what people are into (yes, that does include sex while skydiving – check the insurance disclaimers on that one!)  And this makes sense – because the people for whom a bucket list (like that) is perhaps most transformational are people who are living more conforming, routinized lives or who haven’t indulged in risk-taking, travel or experiences (e.g. perhaps people who have led dutiful lives and/or whose dominant instinct is self-preservation – for more on the latter, see the Enneagram Institute).

I don’t underestimate the sense of freedom and excitement that can come from doing the things you have always put off, or said no to, or just haven’t been open to.  And, typically, it’s a developmental move for people to realize that people and experiences are more important than money and stuff.  Jonathan Fields nails this in his interview with Gretchen Rubin.

But for most of the community I move in, who get that perspective and have relatively self-authoring lives (not conforming to a parental or obvious societal life script) and have done a bunch of travel and experiences, I am going to suggest that the value of a bucket list is relatively marginal.  Granted, in theory you can put anything on a bucket list including contributing to solve global poverty;  in reality though, most are geared towards one-off cool experiences and things which lend themselves to definitive checking off.

So, for guys like us, placing a lot of store in a list of further travel-esque experiences is not smart allocation of resources nor a fast path to more fulfillment or contribution.  Here is a list that is better use of your time.

It is a ‘getting-round-to’ list.  It’s developmental for people to stop living their life from ‘should’ – ‘shoulding all over yourself’ as the oft-repeated NLP / Tony Robbins quip goes.  And, sometimes, and a longer dissection of the inner critic aside, our ‘shoulds’ are pointing to something which would also be good for us – losing weight, being more punctual, putting aside more quality time for loved ones, finding peace with someone we fell out with, addressing excessive anxiety.

The return-on-investment (ROI) for generative time spent on developing and integrating more capacity in these areas is something you will benefit from every day.  Literally.  If I think about the amount of inner critic and anxiety my lack of punctuality (more accurately often, my tendency to over-schedule) has created – I don’t miss having that in my life.

There is a more general point on development here.  Higher levels of development are less about specific finishing-line goals and more about developing capacities, whether attunement to others’ emotional states, a deeper ability to conduct self-inquiry or willpower to follow through more consistently.   These are not process goals – which I generally warn clients against (unless consciously chosen over outcome goals) – like going to the gym 3 times per week – they are still outcome goals, but ones which tend to involve a longer process and where the process itself teaches us a lot.  Of course, even for finishing-line (aka ‘horizontal’ in developmental literature) goals you can have a similar orientation at their deepest level.   Personal development legend Jim Rohn used to encourage people to become millionaires not for having the money but for who they would become in the process.

This ‘getting-round-to’ list for me includes:  telling people that I love them, getting my hamstring health sorted, being more willing to be own my truth with people (especially those I feel little spaciousness with), not deprioritizing sleep when there’s something interesting to engage in (conversation, movie), fully committing to my weekly review, being able to name and take remedying action when I have become locked in my head and not noticing where a lack of structure is leaving me uninspired.

Brandon Lee – Bruce Lee’s son who died in an accident while filming the movie The Crow – has a great quote from Paul Bowles’ Sheltering Sky on his tombstone, which I have put on a wall at home.  ‘Because we don’t know when we will die, we get to think of life as an inexhaustible well, yet everything happens only a certain number of times, and a very small number, really…And yet it all seems limitless.’

We tend to have no set plan for any of these get-round-to list items – and may have never written them down in the way of other goals and to-do’s.   So, carpe diem, go write that list.  What would a next action be on one of those?

About Jack Butler

Jack Butler is a social entrepreneur, coach, workshop leader and speaker. His latest venture provides full spectrum human development through coaching, programmes and other development resources for leaders and entrepreneurs. He founded Future Foundations (www.future-foundations.co.uk), a leading youth personal development training organization. He is a professional member of the International Enneagram Association and a former fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. Jack was the IAB 2007 Young Entrepreneur of the Year runner-up and took a double first class degree in Social and Political Sciences from the University of Cambridge. Jack spends his time between London and Brighton in the UK and Boulder, CO and the Bay Area in the US. In his spare time, he enjoys physical challenges (3 Peaks Challenge 2010, Tresco Marathon 2006) and supporting The Simultaneous Policy Organisation (www.simpol.org.uk). He is a Partner in Passion and Purpose of the Grubb Guild, a voracious reader of personal, cultural and spiritual development, and likes to inquire, journal, travel and write.

One Response to Why your bucket list is screwing you over

  1. beingjackbutler August 21, 2014 at 7:05 pm #

    Thanks for taking the time to read this far.

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