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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A total f***ing life-ninja

harmonicasmallDitching stuff, beating debt, getting a life.

That’s the sub-heading I chose for my little blog when I set it up last year. It was these three areas where my life was falling woefully short: I was up to my eyes in consumer debt, drowning under crap and had little time, energy or money to get out of the house, meet people and have fun.

Now my piles of rubbish have subsided and my debts are a third of the size they were a few years back.

But there’s one area I’ve been neglecting: getting a life.

As a result, my life (and by extension, this blog) has been pretty po-faced and serious. Sitting at home poring over the latest zero percent credit card offers has been really important in busting my debt pile, but my god it’s been dull.

I’ve been reining in my spending for longer than I remember, which has put a serious dent in my social life. Restaurant trips, fitness classes, hobbies and nights out drinking all took a hammering.

Now things are going to change.

I’ve just finished a great little book called Level Up Your Life by Steve Kamb. He describes how he realised he was living vicariously through characters in action movies and computer games rather than getting out there and experiencing things for himself.

So he started his own ‘Epic Quest of Awesome’ by hiking the Inca Trail, living like James Bond for a weekend in Monte Carlo, and all sorts of other great things.

His passion for grabbing life by the balls was infectious.

As a self-confessed nerd, Kamb has peppered his book with references to action films and video games. He talks about harnessing the principles which make computer games so addictive (small challenges, frequent rewards) and using them to improve your life. This can push you to do things you otherwise wouldn’t, like exercising or mastering a new skill.

And it’s not just about doing awesome ‘bucket list’-style things.

I’ve now created my own ‘Epic Quest of Awesome’, with loads of challenges in areas like hobbies, travel, having fun, finance, learning and fitness.

Some examples (complete with my own cheesy titles):

WALKING DEAD: Take part in a real-life zombie adventure

I’ve enlisted my wife and a friend to join me on a 5k run with a twist in October, the twist being you’re chased by zombies. Most other friends recoiled in horror at the idea. All I can say is, they will be the first to the wall come the zombie apocalypse.

SHE’S ELECTRIC: Learn how to change light switches and change at least two

This is something I’d always been too afraid to do myself, for fear of it being ‘game over’. But a friend inspired me, I did lots of research into how to carry out the work safely and now I’ve updated three of our light switches and counting.

THE MUSICIAN: Play the harmonica in a band

I’ve bought a cheap harmonica and instruction book off t’internet and I’ve started teaching myself. At the minute, I well and truly suck (pun intended).

I’ve also been trying to say yes to new opportunities as often as I can, even if they are daunting.

For now, I’ve decided my challenges can’t break the bank or involve buying a lot of stuff, as it’d throw all my other hard work off-course. But that still leaves me with loads of other ways to have fun, meet new people and learn new skills.

As I keep enthusiastically proclaiming to my long-suffering wife this week, I’m going to be a total fucking life-ninja!