The reverse bucket list

Hillside in sepiaThere’s a dark side to wanting to improve your life.

It’s a depressing one, but it’s one I want to talk about today.

Many people get to a point where it hits them: this isn’t the life they want to live. For me, I realised stress and debt were pulling me down.

You might then start to wonder how your life, once so carefree and full of spontaneity, friendship and joy, somehow became all about the daily grind, paying the bills and doing the chores.

You might start to question everything: what you do for a living, how you spend your time, what your home looks like or even where you live.

You might start, as I did, researching different ways to live. You might start reading about people who retire in their 30s after saving like mad and drastically cutting their expenditures. You might start reading about people who sell almost everything they own and start travelling around the world, living out of a backpack. You might start reading about people who make their fortunes by setting up their own businesses after leaving low-paid jobs. You might start reading about people who, conversely, packed in highly-paid but soulless jobs to pursue their creative passions despite earning peanuts by doing so.

Many, if not all, of these ways of living might sound very appealing indeed, even the ones which directly contradict each other. You fantasise about every life but your own.

Wanting to make big changes to your life is a worthwhile goal. But it can have the effect of making you even less happy with your day-to-day reality. Very few of us can just flick a switch and retire early, or go travelling, or create a lucrative business empire. These things will take years, if not decades, so if your goal really is happiness, you need to find a quicker way of getting there.

This week, I tried something a little different. I called it my ‘reverse bucket list’. I didn’t make a list of all the high-falutin’ goals I wanted to achieve or things I wanted to do. Instead I listed loads of cool, interesting and impressive things I’ve already done.

This included flying in a helicopter, experiencing an earthquake, partying at a cherry blossom festival in Tokyo, watching an event at the Olympics, getting my MA, kayaking around an island, taking part in jury service, dying my hair purple and (one I can add from just last week) sitting in the cockpit of a commercial airliner.

It wasn’t an exercise in boasting. Other people will have done different cool things – perhaps things that would terrify me, like getting a tattoo or skydiving or even (gulp) having children.

Instead, it was a reminder that life isn’t something that starts when I’ve got that dream job, or I’ve quit the rat-race, or I’ve moved abroad, or sold all my stuff. It’s happening now and it can be bloody awesome.


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24 thoughts on “The reverse bucket list

  1. Christine says:

    This is a really interesting post, and I’ve seen something similar. I’ve been changing my life for 4 years. I’ve been working on debt, health and decluttering, and I’ve reached major milestones in all of them, but that feeling of achievement is so brief before moving on to the next even bigger goal. I’m making great progress (according to people around me), but it’s hard to make big changes and not spend the entire time feeling dissatisfied with where I am now. I’m thinking about your reverse bucket list idea and what I would list for myself.

    1. Hi Christine, thanks for the comment. In a way, it’s heartening to hear the post resonated with others. I definitely empathise with that all-too-brief feeling of achievement when you hit goals. I’d be interested to hear whether the ‘reverse bucket list’ helps you at all, keep me posted either way!

      1. Christine says:

        I really find it reassuring to hear that other people struggle with the same things. I think I sometimes (too frequently!) believe that most other people have everything in life figured out, and that I’m abnormal for still needing to work on these areas. But the small daily things are in many ways the hardest, and in reality most people are also working on some of them.

        I thought of some things that I’d done that were cool or impressive, but it was emotionally mixed. I did those things 10 -15 years ago and in between then and now I went through some difficult times. I felt more like I -used to be- impressive than that I -am- impressive. The closest thing for me would probably be listing the things I’ve successfully changed in the last few years. I definitely don’t think about those as often as I should. I also think I would find it useful to think about what I’ve done this week that’s slightly cool/impressive. It wouldn’t be on the same scale, but it would be current.

        1. Thanks for the response Christine: sounds like you’re doing great to me. Your idea of listing the week’s achievements sounds a really good one. Maybe it’s a case of re-evaluating what’s impressive, during different stages of life and in the wake of different challenges?

  2. This is very very hard. It is also why a lot of people don’t succeed at the big crazy goals they want. Big Crazy Goals require a lot of work for a long time. If you are miserable during that time you are unlikely to keep going. So you are 100% right we need to work towards our Big Crazy Goals but also be happy and content with how things are now.

    Mindfulness helps with this for me, as does my gratitude journal. My husband and I have also tried implementing some of the things we want to do once we’re retired into our lives now. If we know it will increase our happiness why wait if we can do it now? We never know what tomorrow might bring so we have to be happy in the present and not rely completely on our happiness in the future.

    1. Thanks for this advice, Courtney. It’s a difficult balance between making sure you’re happy in the present, yet not complacent. I’ve never really tried a gratitude journal but I’ve heard good things so perhaps I should give it a go. (I have a mixed experience with mindfulness) I love the idea of incorporating things you’d like to do once retired into your day-to-day life, that’s great advice.

  3. All big changes start with one small change. The human inertia is so much that most of us don’t even want to make the first small change. It took me over 4 years of thinking and procrastinating to start my blog, despite many people encouraging me to do, based on value they said I added to their lives. Inertia is the biggest enemy, bucket list or not.

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