Why everybody needs a bucket list

Most working people who either voluntarily or involuntarily retire face a difficult period of adjustment. Without the career that defined them for decades, and with grown up children who no longer need nurturing and guidance, they are uncomfortably transformed into “old folks” with seemingly nothing important to do. Well-meaning friends and family encourage them to take up pastimes that more often than not fail to ignite a real passion: painting, yoga, hobbies, shuffleboard. Even volunteer work, for all it provides a sense of usefulness, leaves them not totally satisfied. The more they search for something “worthwhile” to do the more frustrated they get.

Frustrating, that is, until they go to work for the one person they’ve never really had any time for up till now: themselves. Until they realize how richly satisfying and immensely fulfilling it can be to do something just for themselves. Until they make a list of all the things they’ve always wanted to do and never had the opportunity to do. And then start doing them.

In the vernacular today it’s known today as a bucket list, a catalog of things you want to do before you kick the bucket. It was popularized by a hit movie by the same name starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman as two terminally ill men fulfilling dreams before they died. But the idea has been around for decades, filling the media with feel-good human interest stories of people scaling mountains, sailing oceans, walking the Great Wall, or maybe just playing the carillon in a great cathedral.

A bucket list is deeply personal, and for this reason it’s difficult for many people to compile one. For years they’re pushed selfish desires or instincts out of their mind, and often refused even to acknowledge them. They need to go off somewhere alone with a pencil and pad of paper, relax, reflect and dream. It helps to pretend that time is limited, as it was with Nicholson and Freeman, because in truth it is.

Don’t worry about how small or grandiose your adventures are. They could be as simple as paying back a long-ago loan you forgot about, as complicated as organizing a photo safari. Some of them are physically hard to do; some may stretch your resources and your family’s patience, but put them on the list anyway. To do anything worthwhile you first have to learn how to dream, then to risk.

It’s a good idea to follow the advice you gave your children when they were applying for college. Pick some that are easy and some that are reaches. By doing adventures that are well within your reach you can maintain your enthusiasm and determination to tackle some of the more demanding ones.

But remember, whatever you do, even if you don’t do one thing on your list, you have given yourself the biggest gift of all: you’ve filled the last chapters of your life with hope and aspirations.

For some starter ideas you might want to check out the Bucket List for Couples.