It seems that everyone has a bucket list these days, but what’s a “bucket list?” Like many words and phrases that enrich our language, its history is the subject of conjecture. June Thomas, writing in Slate, traces it to the phrase, “to kick the bucket,” a euphemism for “dying” in use at least since 1785, and gives this quote from Patrick M. Carlisle’s 2004 book, Unfair & Unbalanced: The Lunatic Magniloquence of Henry E. Panky: “So, anyway, a Great Man, in his querulous twilight years, who doesn’t want to go gently into that blacky black night. He wants to cut loose, dance on the razor’s edge, pry the lid off his bucket list!”
The term “Bucket List” was brought into popular usage by Rob Reiner’s 2007 film, The Bucket List, starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman, which follows two terminally ill men on a road trip with their wish list of things to do before they "kick the bucket."
Your bucket list is personal experiences or achievements that you hope to have or accomplish during your lifetime. Bucket list items are different from goals or even dreams, with bucket list items having a more emotional component than goals, which tend to be more pragmatic, and dreams, which lack the action component of both. Bucket list items can be goals, but they are your personal, innermost goals, as distinguished from your business or career goals. And bucket list items are certainly more than dreams. They are things you personally intend to do.
Many of us set life goals and these goals grow or change over time. Those personal, intimate things we anticipate doing make them “bucket list items.” Some items may be simple; others may be more extravagant and not easily attainable. With focus and determination, we can cross many off our list to make room for more.
I asked clients, colleagues and students to share their bucket lists. It is an exhilarating and uplifting exercise. Bucket list wishes fall into categories as you will see. Some are secrets and fantasies, but make for good day dreams that hopefully will materialize.
Jeff George, President & CEO of Alcon, one of the most disciplined and hardworking executives I know, is equally goal oriented when it comes to bucket lists. He reflects “I've trekked through Nepal and hiked above Everest base camp, have been to Angor Wat, toured much of Vietnam, been on African family safaris, hung out with my wife at club 55 in St Tropez, and lived in China 20 years ago." Yet he is not done. "Still on my bucket list are to visit Machu Picchu, the Galapagos, a Brazilian rainforest, the clay soldiers in Xian China, and Bora Bora.”
Rob Perez, former CEO of Cubist Pharmaceuticals, who has a well-earned reputation of generosity and compassion, waxed philosophically commenting “having a bucket list is not easy for me, since I'm kind of a simple guy who has already been blessed with just about everything I have ever wanted.” Mr. Perez added that he hopes to see his kids marry extraordinary and loving partners, and be part of the lives of his future grandkids. He also hopes to make a positive difference in the lives of many people, especially those born without advantage or privilege, and to own an LA beach house where family and friends can gather.
Here’s a sampling of crossed-off items as well as those still to be achieved. I applaud the curious, fearless explorers, and equally admire the thoughtful, selfless, introspective spirit of others.
Hiking Machu Picchu seems to be a top bucket list item, as is hiking the Appalachian Trail or into a volcano. Completing an Ironman Triathlon or marathon, diving the Great Barrier Reef, and bungee jumping were all high on the list. One crazy colleague wants to fly in a wing suit! My partner Jane Howze has played Golf Magazine’s Top 100 golf courses and was featured in the magazine, yet still has more courses on her bucket list.
Places to go
A friend recently visited every national park. Others’ bucket lists include traveling the Amazon, cruising the Caribbean on a private yacht, diving a wreck and swimming with the stingrays in Grand Cayman, motorcycling in every continent, and biking through Europe. Some wanted to visit family hometowns and learn more about their ancestry. Yet others hope to visit the mountains and sea of Montenegro, vacation in the Greek Isles, Bali, and the Maldives, backpack through Southeast Asia, visit a rainforest, and see the whales in Alaska. One colleague dreams of visiting Israel and Jerusalem’s Western Wall.
Stuart Jablon, President of Backyard Farms, wants to “see the aurora borealis (northern lights) and all of the planets from a high-powered telescope at an observatory.” Bucket lists are full of events to be attended: the World Series, The Oscars, Super Bowl, U.S. Open, World Cup, NCAA Final Four, an SEC conference football game, and an Olympic Opening Ceremony. A baseball enthusiast looks forward to attending a major league baseball game in every U.S. stadium and “sitting in the dugout during a Mets game.”
Arts and Sciences
Some want to venture into the arts and sciences, playing a certain theatre role; publishing a book; producing a music album. My niece, Debbie Eckert, Research Assistant Professor of Biochemistry at the University Of Utah School Of Medicine, is fulfilling her dream by striving to treat and prevent AIDS and other infectious diseases.
Many bucket lists include family vacations. Italy, Spain, Portugal, Cuba, the Galapagos Islands, and an African safari were the most popular destinations. One colleague’s heartfelt hope was “to bring my family to America to give them a better life.”
Learning a new skill; trying new things
Rossana Gray, VP, Head, HR NA for Sandoz said her bucket list includes “a couple of months in the Greek Isles and Tuscany, living in the center of town to experience the local culture without a schedule.” An accomplished sales executive in the food industry dreams of “working 10-12 hour days in Italy for six months in an authentic Italian kitchen.” Other colleagues desire to learn to play a musical instrument, surf, fly, scuba dive, and sail, become EMT certified, pursue a brewery apprenticeship with Trappist monks, and try exotic foods from pig feet to cow tongue.
Almost everyone with whom I visited mentioned some cause, disease or suffering that they wanted to see advanced or alleviated. Many hope to make a difference in the world by giving of themselves financially or through volunteering. Some said they’d like to start a foundation or serve a non-profit that has personal meaning.
Seeking emotional and spiritual well being
One client reflected that “I want to write a letter to everyone I love, tell them how much I love them and how they have touched my life.” Other interesting responses included: marry barefoot on an exotic beach; “live in a Shaolin Monastery, a Chan Buddhist temple in China, for three months with no outside contact in order to focus on a single purpose;” attend a Burning Man event to embrace "radical self-expression;" have dinner with a famous or inspirational icon; research family history; write the stories and actualize "A Place of Pearls;" and the more extreme “I want to have my DNA tested for ancestral mix.”
Bucket Lists provide laughs
Of course, I can’t write this blog without some comic relief. One human resources executive for a leading private equity firm lists “learning to bake bread that doesn’t have the texture of a hockey puck.” This executive’s bucket list also includes “finish the stone wall we have been building forever” and “design an attractive chicken coop and raise chickens.” A successful endocrinologist and mother of six simply wants to “clean out and organize my closets which is an ongoing goal but never happens!” One savvy investor said “I want to nearly outlive my retirement funds!”
And my own bucket list?
My list changes and grows constantly with a few exceptions that will never waver. I want to live life to its fullest every day which means building and cherishing lifelong relationships, and exploring the world and experiencing all that it has to offer. But aside from those lofty goals I want to enjoy my precious boys, raise them to make significant contributions to this world, and see them fulfill their personal and professional dreams. As an added bonus, some day I hope to be one cool doting Grandma.
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