Don’t wait to do the bucket list

Like most people, I have always believed that patience is a virtue and that the ability to delay gratification is a sign of maturity. The longer I live, however, the more I realize that the opposite is also true:

“Don’t wait to do the bucket list!

I’ve learned this lesson by finding myself, at age 83, unable to do some of my “bucket list” items because I’m no longer physically capable. For example, I always thought I’d go back and hike the Grand Canyon a third time because I enjoyed it so much the first two times. Now I realize, though, that it’s probably not going to happen. I’m just not up to it.

Declining health isn’t the only factor that can derail our bucket lists. Outside forces can also upset our plans and aspirations, as the Covid-19 pandemic taught us. It didn’t really matter if you’d saved all your life for a trip to Italy in 2020. When Covid-19 shut down travel, we didn’t go anywhere.

A woman I know postponed her dream of joining the Peace Corps until her children had moved out of the house. Then grandchildren started arriving, so she waited again. After that, her aging parents needed care. She has waited so long, she can no longer qualify for a long-term overseas commitment because she has her own health issues.

We probably all know people who waited until retirement to travel, or ride a motorcycle, or skydive, or pursue their art, or get to any of the other activities on their bucket list. But then, shortly after retiring they died of a heart attack.

Those who work with dying patients tell us that end-of-life regrets are more often about things we didn’t do, rather than things we attempted that turned out badly. In a book called Five Invitations: Discovering What Death Can Teach Us About Living Fully, Frank Ostaseski, a leader in the field of hospice care, offers us the first invitation:

Don’t Wait. 

He learned this from his dying patients. They understand that their time has run out, but the truth is that none of us know how long we’re going to live. We act like we’ll live forever, but so far that’s not been possible.

This means that, if something is important to you,

Give yourself permission to…do it now! We often tell ourselves that the conditions aren’t right, but sadly, they may never be right. I like the quote attributed to Doris Lessing:

“Whatever you’re meant to do, do it now. The conditions are always impossible.”

Even if you can’t quit your job and travel the world at the moment, there undoubtedly are steps you can take that will get you closer to your goal. Here are some suggestions:

Renew your passport.

Open a travel savings account and start making regular contributions to it.

Create a vision board of the places you want to visit.

Begin “traveling the world” of places close to home. It’s quite likely that people in foreign lands are saving all their lives to visit spots that are within a few hours’ drive from where you live every day.

Make mini-bucket lists.

We tend to think of bucket lists as “someday” goals and aspirations, full of big-ticket items like distant travel and exotic experiences. We put them all on one big list and then never get to them.

However, it’s unlikely that, in the last years of our lives, we’ll suddenly be able to accomplish ALL of the things we never had time, money, or energy for earlier.

Instead of that unworkable plan, why not give yourself mini-buckets list that you can accomplish every year, every month, and even every day? Here’s an example of a mini-bucket list for one year (this year!):

Start acquiring a new skill you’ve always wished you had: playing an instrument, becoming an amateur pastry chef, riding a horse, starting a fire without matches. You get to choose!

Hike a new trail once a month.

Spend 5 days in a new city this year.

Explore a new-to-you ethnic neighborhood.

Do something that scares you once a week.

Break bigger aspirations down into bite-size chunks. If you’ve always wanted to scuba dive, set goals towards that end that you can accomplish gradually. Today, I sign up for lessons; in six weeks, I take my certification exam; in three months I go on my first boat dive; in a year I take my first scuba vacation.

Give yourself permission to…Change your bucket list.

Where is it written that you can only have one bucket list?

A friend of ours met and married a man who shared her dream of traveling across the country by motor home. When they did, they fell in love with South Carolina. They made a new bucket list that starts with moving there. From their new home they will have many new locations to explore and experiences to enjoy. Their new bucket list starts now.

My friend who waited too long to join the Peace Corps also has a new bucket list: She wants to see each of her grandkids graduate from high school and then take each of them on a trip somewhere—just the two of them. Maybe river rafting. Maybe a short-term volunteer vacation through an organization like International Volunteer HQ instead of a two-year commitment like the Peace Corps. Or, maybe a hike down the Grand Canyon.

The best is yet to come.

Even if time has run out on the original bucket list you made when you were younger, if you believe that the best times of your life still lie ahead of you, you’ll continue to welcome new experiences and seek out new ways to grow and prosper. Let yourself imagine—and then discover—the next best thing that life has in store for you.

That’s #ModernWellness.


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