Why I Don’t Have a Bucket List

Why I Don't Have a Bucket List 2

by guest blogger Renee James, humorist and blogger

Every so often, words or phrases seem to implant themselves in my mind and not let go. Over the past few weeks, the phrase that keeps appearing and reappearing for me is “bucket list.” Or, as I like to call it, “Your Basic ‘Type A’ Marching Orders.”

Maybe it’s because it’s summer, when many people enjoy travel and vacations, away from daily routines. Those experiences are perfect “bucket list” fodder. Or it may be because I’m getting older, and more and more friends appear to be upturning some imaginary hourglass every chance they get, terrified as they see sand piling up on the bottom. Maybe everyone I know is living a madcap existence full of fun and adventure, and they are rapidly depleting their bucket lists as they pile up experiences and milestones. Luckily, it’s the 21st century, so I get a front-row seat to their lives.

I don’t have a bucket list. There, I’ve said it. I’ve never understood how people enthusiastically draft their own lists, much less embrace those “100 Books You Must Read” or “100 Songs You Must Download” or “100 Trips You Must Take” before you die lists.* The pressure! No, thank you. I have quite enough to do without some nameless, faceless entity handing me another 100, 200, or 300 tasks.

I might be some kind of freak, but I do hold out hope that there are at least a few other bucket-free adults out there who are willing to go on record with me. Like every marginalized group in America—and let’s face it, who isn’t part of a marginalized group in America?—we could have our own support group: BLFFs (bucket-list-free friends).

It might be the Capricorn in me: practical, logical, sensible—and that’s my wild side. Capricorns tend not to get “carried away by fantasies” and are risk averse, rarely taking on anything that could upset their lives. I know, a party just waiting to happen. All this would mean so much more to me if I believed in astrology (but I’m too practical, logical, and sensible for that).

I’m far from an adrenaline junkie or someone with the attention span of a gnat. Activities like falling out of airplanes or climbing mountains as high as a plane’s cruising altitude sound horrible, and flitting from one activity to the next then to the next has never enticed me. Yet, I love travel and appreciate the beauty that this gorgeous planet and the people on it offer us; I savor a good story; I enjoy lots of different types of music. But have I written, or am I consulting, a list of places I need to run around and see for the next—fingers crossed—decade or two or three? Keeping a stack of books by my bedside? Racking up hours of recorded music for “someday?” Nope.

It’s not that I’ve seen everything, been everywhere, and done it all—far from true. I have dreams. It’s just that I don’t hold any of them dear enough to make them mandatory. (Is “mandatory dream” an oxymoron?) For me, a “bucket list” wouldn’t be inspiring. Rather, it would mock me, a relentless reminder of everything I hadn’t accomplished. An eternal “to-do” list while—bonus!—the meter’s running. What a nightmare.

And then there’s that tiny shred of competitiveness that creeps into this whole thing. People seem to crave that moment when they publicize the fact that they’ve crossed one more thing off their bucket list. Almost as if the announcement is the highlight, not the thing itself. Abstruse question of the day: If you experience something you’ve long desired to and don’t post it on Facebook, did it really happen?

But the truth is, it’s not the list itself that terrifies me. Suppose, in a moment of irrational exuberance, I were to create one. Suppose I checked off every blessed thing on it. Super. But I know myself. I’m positive I’d experience a ghastly “Is that all there is?” feeling. Can you imagine? Instead of basking in the glow, I’d find myself wondering why it all mattered so damn much. Yes, maybe I did treasure the moments, but really? This was what I had to do and where I had to be before calling it a life?

Maybe that makes me fearful and rigid. Paralyzed into inactivity. Maybe. But as I think about it—and that’s usually what happens when I try to capture these random yet troubling thoughts—I remind myself once again that perspective, while not everything, counts for a lot. Having a list doesn’t have to be a bad thing or result in endless brooding and self-doubt. It’s possible the point of the list is not to gaze outward and “demand”; it’s possible it may be to gaze outward and “offer.” In fact, I’m starting to hope I leave behind a list with everything not quite done, because they are things worth doing over and over again. I have a feeling that very few of those items—if any—will require a passport or a checkbook.

* Another reason I love The Guardian newspaper: The paper published a piece by Richard Osman, titled, “The 100 Top Things You Honestly Don’t Need to Do Before You Die.” It’s perfect.

Renee-JamesRenee A. James works at Rodale Inc. and wrote an award-winning op-ed column for The Morning Call, the Allentown, Pennsylvania, newspaper, for almost 10 years. Her essays were included in the humor anthology, 101 Damnations: A Humorists’ Tour of Personal Hells (Thomas Dunne Books, 2002), and are also found online at Jewish World Review and The Daily Caller. She invites you to Like her Facebook page, where she celebrates—and broods about—life on a regular basis, mostly as a voice in the crowd that shouts, “Really? You’re kidding me, right?” (or wants to, anyway), and she welcomes your suggestions, comments, and feedback to the mix.


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9 Responses to Why I Don’t Have a Bucket List

  1. Karla July 10, 2015 at 6:08 am #

    I totally agree. How important can they be to you if you have to have a list? And a list that you have to work your way through just sounds like work!

  2. renee July 10, 2015 at 8:37 am #

    Thank you, Karla. My new BLFF! We’re not alone!

  3. Cindy Ratzlaff July 10, 2015 at 8:56 am #

    Ha! I don’t have a list either but I do seem to have a knack for finding myself in situations that seem like they “should” have been on a list and then mentally ticking them off that non-existent list! Every time I read something by you Renee, I end up thinking about it for days.

  4. Alice Green July 10, 2015 at 9:10 am #

    I don’t have a bucket list and never will, but I don’t mind that others do have one for their own enjoyment. The folks I know who have one, are not ‘driven’ by it. It’s a fun thing for them to enjoy with others and to have things to look forward to in their busy lives. We all are different and have different things in life that make our lives worth living. If someone finds making and following up on a bucket list, a joy for them, I see no reason why they shouldn’t do it, and just as I wouldn’t want them to put me down for the things I do in my life to make me happy, I would never put them down for that either. If we all thought alike and we all only wanted the same things as everyone else, life and friends would get quite boring, I think.

  5. Maria Luci July 10, 2015 at 9:15 am #

    I don’t have a bucket list, I have a “Wow, I Did That” list that I add items to (mentally) once I’ve accomplished something big or seen something amazing or gone somewhere exciting. That way, to me, it feels like I’m adding to my life rather than subtracting from it. 🙂

  6. renee July 10, 2015 at 9:26 am #

    Adding to life: Yes! A checklist? Sure, for some, and God bless.

    I guess I just don’t understand the pervasiveness, as if it’s inevitable that everyone has one. As I said at the start, “bucket list” seems to be popping up everywhere these days, in what I read and hear.

  7. Claire Kowalchik July 10, 2015 at 12:21 pm #

    Bucket lists tend to focus attention on the “grand” experiences, right? Like hiking in Alaska’s Denali National Park, marveling over Michelangelo’s ceiling in the Sistine Chapel, vacationing in the Greek Isles–all things I would love to do. But my concern, and one of the reasons I don’t have a bucket list, is that it might take my eyes off the experiences that are closer to my heart (schmaltzy but sincere), like the day I spent with my boys at our hotel in Williamsburg recently: a game of basketball punctuated by laughter (mine and theirs) over my unskilled play, followed by swim races in the pool, topped off with burgers and fries. That day was perfect, and I smile now, just thinking about it.

  8. renee July 10, 2015 at 12:39 pm #

    Exactly why my perpetually “undone” list won’t involve a checkbook or a passport, Claire.

    The little things are the big things.

  9. Donna in Delaware July 10, 2015 at 1:46 pm #

    I, like you and others Renee, “Don’t Have A Bucket List!” I find it useless. If you know in your mind that you want to visit some place, then go do it! I know where I’ve been, I know where I want to go next, do I really need a list? Okay, maybe some people want to hold on to those memories (that is what scrapbooks are for) and have trouble with that, so writing down things is good and necessary for them. For those who don’t, well, as you say Renee, it’ll remind you of what you haven’t accomplished and all of your unfulfilled dreams, and that an cause depression in some people.

    Just go with the flow, is what I say. When you get the urge and finances to go, then go!Certainly some things need planning, so do it when the need arises, why stress yourself?

    Don’t worry, be happy and content until such time you need to get away. Planning for an anticipated trip is so much fun, just don’t get carried away with expectations because as I have learned, things don’t always go the way that you anticipate. Stay focused, stay grounded and don’t have your expectations too high, you’ll do yourself a world of good. Just let it happen. Trust me, this way you won’t be disappointed.

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