Life Lists: Having the Courage to Dream

Thursday, December 1st, 2011

A woman named Maggie did not invent the concept of Life Lists, but she did make them a thing on the Internet. She launched an Internet meme when she published her own Life List, and then she hosted a “summit” that evolved into a conference.

Although I’ve seen a few of my friends participate in these events and make their own life lists, I was reluctant to make my own. In fact, I wrote a post once about why I thought making a bucket list was a bad idea:

“I use lists every day to organize work and personal projects both big and small. I manage my days, weeks, and months with a series of interlinked and automatically updating lists and calendars. My appreciation for lists teeters on the edge of obsession, and it is all too easy for me to lose myself in the accomplishment of an experience rather than the experiencing of it.”

I decided that having a list would turn my life into something to be accomplished rather than experienced and so I was never going to make one.

Of course, as soon as you say you’re never going to do something, the Universe does everything in its power to make an ass of you.

Bucket and life lists began flittering across my radar with increased frequency. Someone would ask me in a tweet if I had one; someone else would mention experiencing something that’s always been on theirs. A bunch of people went off to California and attended that conference about Life Lists and started talking about it a lot. Still, I resisted, chalking it up to a passing fad I refused to jump on the tail end of like some kind of totally irrelevant groupie.

I was much too evolved for Life Lists, basically.

And then I read a post from Alice Bradley, who attended Camp Mighty but who usually writes about things that are funny and not necessarily life listy. Her words, which spoke to the vulnerability inherent in creating a life list, struck a nerve. Especially these:

“But also, creating a life list means sharing your goofball dreams and grandiose aspirations with OTHER PEOPLE and OTHER PEOPLE will probably roll their eyes or explain why it can’t be done, and in these ways they will crush your tender inside parts. This is neither common sense nor science, but in fact is my deepest held belief which might be why I should go back to therapy a lot?

I read somewhere, though, that in order to have extraordinary experiences, you have to be okay with discomfort. This has been true for me with just about everything else. I get on planes and stand in front of audiences and those things make me shaky and weak, but they’re so worth it.”

Wait a minute. I want to be a person who has extraordinary experiences. I value the things that make you shaky and weak but are “so worth it”.

I still did not make a life list.

A few days later, I stumbled on the blog A Dangerous Business for the first time. It’s a travel blog written by a woman in Ohio who writes about how people with day jobs can still travel. (Love it!) On the front page is a link to her bucket list, which is long, awe inspiring, and broken down into personal, professional, and location-based dreams.

It was a beautiful list. It was a list to make a list-maker like myself swoon.

I coveted that list.

I started making my own Life List.

Live in an apartment in New York City…

Visit Paris…

Experience Holi in India…

Wait! How can I live in Manhattan and travel around the world? I would have to travel around the world first and then settle in Manhattan. It wouldn’t make sense to get settled into an apartment and then uproot us again, which means I need to start planning our next trip pretty much immediately.

Take Emma to a Green Bay Packers game…

How can I do that if I’m not living in the Midwest? Should we move back to Iowa? Maybe we should live there for a year, save money, travel around Asia, move to Manhattan – but then when will we do Europe?

Wear a dress I made…

I need to buy a sewing machine!

Have a magazine article published…

Appear on national TV…

Ugh. That’s so narcissistic and self important!

And on and on it went. Every time I wrote a dream down, my mind went to work reminding me of all the reasons that dream was ridiculous or unattainable. Also, I noticed that I was having trouble coming up with a long list. Perhaps, I thought, I had reached the point in my pursuit of happiness where I didn’t need a long list of extraordinary experiences because I had learned to relish the simple joy of every day life.

Or I was a big chicken shit.

And I was sorely out of practice dreaming beyond my ability to plan.

That’s not who I want to be. I want to dream courageously. I want to be unafraid of hoping, and not because I haven’t hoped or haven’t been disappointed, but simply because I had the guts to reach in the first place. I want to be the kind of person who throws out crazy ideas into the world and knows that some will become reality and some might not – and be totally OK with that.

I do not want to be afraid to die with an unfinished list.

But I also don’t want to be too afraid to have made one in the first place.

My Life List

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  1. I have always thought i will make a list one day. I have all of these ideas floating around in my head and I know that I want to try to do them, but to put them down on paper would make them seem real and if they weren't real then I could never be disappointed by these fleeting thought of things I might do someday.I will make my list and be sure to share it with you when it is finished. It will be done before the end of this year.

  2. gorillabuns says:

    Actually, I think your bucket list can be attained if you really put your mind to it. Sadly, I'm too lazy of a person who can come with too many excuses to not even make it to the bank in time due to my foggy brain. In the past out of pure self-lust, I've attained a few bucket list check-off because many said I couldn't do so. I so hate being told I can't do something. I like proving people wrong.

  3. Amanda says:

    I was once told that the point of a bucket list (or life list) isn't to actually ever cross everything off. It's the goal of crossing everything off that's really the point!You know that saying about how "it's not the destination, but they journey" that matters? That's how I feel about my bucket list. I don't think I'll ever be able to cross everything off. But simply adding to that list and dreaming about all these adventures that I haven't had yet — well, that's half the fun of it! (Though, it certainly does feel awesome to be able to cross things off!)Also, thanks so much for the shout-out! I really appreciated, and am so glad that you were inspired by my site and bucket list!

  4. Marsha says:

    I love the idea of making the list but I just have not gotten around to it. I am not a list person, they kind of scare me. I feel like if I put it down on paper then I will actually have to do it. I am lazy (scared) like that a lot. There are so many places that I want to visit but I am not a good traveler, I am afraid to fly. So I feel like I need to conquer that fear first, before I can make my list. (But I know that is a silly reason not to make a list.)Thank you for this gentle push. I am going to start thinking about my life list.

  5. naomi says:

    I love, love, love lists! I love making them, crossing them off. I love losing them, recreating them and daydreaming about them. Bucket lists to me are all about the WRITING down of them. The acknowledging that my dreams and ambitions mean enough TO write them down. Loved this post (as I do all of yours, dear Britt!)

  6. i've never been much of a planner, i have never had goals…mostly i just hang on and enjoy the ride of life. things just seem to happen in my life for a reason, when they are supposed to happen. sounds so foreign to just about everyone, but it works for me. so i don't have a life list. there is nothing i *must* do before i die in order to die happy and fulfilled. there is only one thing i truly want, so perhaps my life list consists of one item: vacation in alaska. i really, really would love to experience alaska. and i will.

  7. Megan says:

    What I love about these list aren't the big dreams – anyone can name those things. What I find interesting are the smaller things, like your cashmere sweater. That was something I wanted as well. Now I own two. I'll keep an eye out for a really good sale (which is the only way I'll buy them) for you.See what happens when you publish your list? Other people help make your dreams come true!

  8. Nanna says:

    The fact that you can uncover your insecurities like this , in this place, inspires me. You're something, child.And…I want to vacation in Alaska with Becky.

  9. nanna,it would truly be a pleasure to have you along on my alaskan adventure. start saving your pennies. i have decided that a trip to alaska will happen within ten years, but probably more like within five.

  10. hi. back again. i forgot to give you shit about not doing what the universe tells us in our daily emails: dream and leave the details up to it. sure, you can help with the planning, but dream big, mighty one. it will come.

  11. Lisa says:

    I've never made a life list before, because I also would be all MUST CROSS THINGS OFF THE LIST, but now that you put it that way I think I'll make one.See what you did?Also I'd love to help you with the spa retreat one ;)Also also… I just got a new sewing machine and when you are settled into a place I will send you my old one (which isn't actually old at all) if you like to help get you started on your dress one.

  12. Amanda says:

    You go, girl! I keep thinking I should make a list, that I want to make a list, but I never do for many of the same reasons you listed.

  13. Carly says:

    You don't need a sewing machine….there are places you can go in and use theirs. You have to pay of course. Or you are welcome to borrow mine next time you come to the 'burgh, I'll even deliver it ;) And I totally don't think it's narcissistic and self-important to want to appear on TV. Think of all the people you'll reach with whatever message you bring to TV. I want to be a famous hip hop artist. That's the first time I've ever written it in a public forum too. NOW who's narcissistic and self-important. Hahahahaha.

  14. Lynda says:

    When you are ready to photograph the Golden Gate Bridge, let me know. I can tell you a few good places in and outside of San Francisco where the view is spectacular.

  15. Shannon says:

    I love the way Karen from Chookooloonks takes on the Life List. She says it's not a race to do before you die, or a list to make you feel inadequate. It's a range of possibilities. I wrote about mine here: Life List

  16. Audra says:

    Britt this is the quote of the day for me: "Of course, as soon as you say you

  17. Audra says:

    By the way, the girls at Stitch Cleveland in Lakewood, Ohio would love to help you make your dress. You can use their sewing machines, serger, etc… So sorry I didn't start reading this until after you left NE Ohio.

  18. the muskrat says:

    I paid for an ecourse on time management once, and the second lesson involved doing this, and because I resisted taking the time to do it (for some of the reasons you list above), I have yet to complete the course. This is stupid. I guess I feel it's silly and selfish to spend an hour writing down a list like this. But, maybe it isn't.Oh, and Deb has ecourses you can take to scratch off that dress-making goal! Dave from Blogography is taking her class next month, in fact.

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