A bucket list is usually reserved for the dying. A list of things you need to do before you kick your proverbial bucket and run out of time. But why? Why do we wait till we’re dying to feel alive? Why not start living now, instead, while we can still do something about it? I “bucket list”, as a verb: it’s not just a dusty group of experiences I keep in mind for whenever my time might be coming near; no, I BUCKET LIST, ACTIVELY. Meaning that I actively choose to live my life on purpose and with intention.
I am a self-proclaimed and admitted yolo-er, carpe diem subscriber, fomo-enthusiast, and bucket list engineer. My life mottos are “to enjoy life” (from my grandpa, the sensei in doing what makes you happy in life and in helping others find their own enjoyment) and “live bolder” (meaning, wherever you are in life, hunker down and do a little more, feel a little more alive, sink your teeth into your reality and savor the nectar of it). Many of my friends and family don’t really know me any other way, but I assure you that my disposition has been a conscious, intentional creation requiring years of practice and self-reflection to build and maintain.
My first 17 years of life, I was happily sheltered. My only concerns were studying, volleyball double days, SATs, and getting into a good college. I was the prototype model minority Asian 1st generation kid in the South Bay, going to prep school, playing piano, crying about how A-‘s would ruin my life, and studying into the wee hours of the night. Yes, I was that annoying kid. And then my dad died suddenly, and I realized sh*t, life is short. My dad died exactly a week after his 48th birthday. Being 31 myself now, I realize more and more the gravity of how young 48 is — how many of his dreams, hopes, and plans (and those of my mom, with him) turned to dust that week.
From that quantum moment in my life, I began to see things differently. There are no guarantees in life. Sure, life’s an opportunity to do anything we want; but our time (and energy) is limited. There’s a great Jack Kornfield saying often attributed to Buddha: “The problem is, you think you have time….” We go through life thinking we follow a set trajectory — go to school, be good, get married, buy a house, have kids. We almost autopilot through, and are encouraged to by society and family wanting us to live stable, safe, happy lives. This approach often works out. But, sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes, it leaves you overnight a single mom trying to raise two kids, or with a stage 3 cancerous growth to explain the pain you’ve felt for a few months, or with any other curve ball this crazy life might throw at you. Nothing is a sure bet, unfortunately. My takeaway from losing my dad so young was that nothing is a given, and that I had to make the most of my minutes on this earth, because you never know.
And that was the birth of my yolo (“You only live once”) attitude and approach towards life. This didn’t mature into full-blown fomo (“Fear of missing out”) until later in college at UCLA. I was on a plane ride back from China, talking to the random seat mate to my left. She said something to me that has changed the trajectory of my life ever since: “You’re at a cross-roads. You’ve got to decide if you want your life to be achievement-oriented or experience-oriented. Whatever you choose, choose it with all your heart, and go for it.” And my little 19-year-old heart quietly affirmed to this stranger “Experience. I want experiences that take my breath away.” And that was that. From then on, I stopped trying to gain accolades and started focusing more on what activities, trips, hobbies, and people would enrich my own experience. I shifted my focus from trying to be the best (a naturally competitive view, always looking to others for validation of your own status) to being my happiest (an introspective approach, focusing on my needs, wants, hopes and dreams, and how to bring them into my reality). The result was my bucket listing.
Again, many people think of a bucket list as something you make when you’re faced head on with death, but, why wait? Why do we need to stay on autopilot until that last moment? Why not engage with yourself and make that list now, while you’re young, and have the time, money, energy, or freedom to do any of those things? Why wait till a terminal illness scare, or some other catastrophe reminds you of your own mortality? And so, I keep a very active, ever-evolving bucket list. I check off at least 3 things a year, and my list changes as I do.
Bucket lists definitely are not all epic, once-in-a-lifetime kind of experiences. They can be simple or closer to home, like marrying your high school sweetheart (which was the one item on a good friend’s bucket list, which he’s happily accomplished 🙂 ), making pasta from scratch, singing karaoke in public, kissing in the rain, getting a tattoo, etc. Bucket list experiences make you feel more alive, and remind you that you are indeed living your life, and it’s not just passing you by. I believe in the power of having a bucket list, because it helps each of us articulate and achieve what matters to us. For me, I want to live a life of adventure, and setting discrete goals as bucket list items allows me to hone in and build this crazy, daring life of my dreams. I’ve run with the bulls, learned to scuba dive and dove with sharks, climbed half dome in Yosemite, and learned Italian and moved to Italy. And I don’t know if I would have made the space to do many of these things if I hadn’t made them bucket list items that I wanted to check off. Life gets busy, and without that list to remind me of what I wanted out of my life, I could easily see how another list could have taken over: grades, job, money, mortgage, car insurance. The list of life must-dos is always there; for me, my bucket list remidns me that my “to do’s” checklist is not the only list that matters. Those obligations, while necessary for life maintenance, do not and should not make up my life. So, I save the money and make the time to tackle and check off my much more fun and rewarding bucket list.
We each are living our own lives, and so, what we want to do with them will naturally differ. That’s the great thing about bucket lists — they’re totally unique, just like us. I will be posting my “how to bucketlist” guide as I adventure through this year on this blog, in case anyone finds it useful. A life coach of mine once asked what my message is, what I want to accomplish. My gut answer was that I want people to live bolder — to get more out of their lives, whatever that might mean to them. There’s no time like now, and you’re never going to have this moment in your life again. Get out there and live your life, on purpose.
Do you have a bucket list? If so, what’s on it? If not, let’s make you one. It’s your life, what do you want to do?
Thought up: in Montclair, CA talking with my good friend while moving his gym equipment into his new home
Written up: from my mom’s couch in Singapore, right before we headed out to Bugis St. market