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…
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.