Do I Need a Bucket List?  Do You?

Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman in The Bucket List (2007).

Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman in The Bucket List (2007).

A fellow writer friend once told me:

“When I finish and publish my novel [a long-standing project of hers that’s faced many setbacks along the way], my life will be complete.”

“You mean, that portion of your life will be complete,” I clarified.

“No,” she persisted, “I mean I’ll have achieved my life’s greatest goal.”

“Until you come up with the next great goal, that is, right?”

My friend, after all, is only 37 – a bit early to peak in life, if you ask me.

For many writers, the writing and publishing of a novel – whether traditionally or via self-publishing – can take years: years spent finding the time, finding the motivation, finding one’s voice and message, and, of course, finding the skill to effectively convey it all.

Such has certainly has been the case with me: for my WIP, in the time since I conceived of its earliest iteration until now, a full decade has passed.

Admittedly, this includes a six-year hiatus during which I did no writing at all, as well as the expansion of a projected single novel into a trilogy.  But I’m still not done yet.

I can sort of sympathize with my friend.

The long and longer of it

An inherent danger with any long-term projects or protracted plans is that their fulfillment, in taking so very long, can come to assume epic significance – that the day it finally happens is the day one’s life finally becomes of consequence.

Until that conversation with my friend – until I actually heard such thinking it spoken aloud – it never occurred to me how big, long goals can come to eclipse a lot of other ambitions, both the pursuit of them and the recognition of any progress all along being made.

Until the instant of that conversation with her, subconsciously, I thought much the same way she did: that once my book is published, I’ll be not just a writer, but an author, and everyone will know it, and my life will take on a newly-forged shine by which countless past upsets pale and crumble into dust.

All of this as if the completion of a goal I’ve been seriously pursuing for some fourteen years and counting mightn’t leave me feeling a bit lost and empty and lacking in identity.

This assuming the goal is indeed ever accomplished.  Shit happens, after all.

Do I need a bucket list?  I’m now fairly certain I do.  Having other goals waiting in the wings is important, for there is indeed life after a lifelong pursuit.  My six-year hiatus from writing – the time well wasted that it was – was key in teaching me that, as well as that a life goal can end in an instant, whether by choice or circumstance, whether to a positive, negative, or neither-positive-nor-negative outcome.

Life is a whole progression of ambitions that are dreamed up, achieved or abandoned, and then exchanged for new objectives.

My conversation with my friend reminded me that despite how single-minded I am about writing and getting published and being read right now, I have non-writing life goals as well.

My bucket list, which I’d never really put much thought into before, is now literally an ongoing list:

Homer bucket list

  • Publish at least six books (two trilogies)
  • Make a meaningful visit to every Canadian province (I’m currently 7 for 10)
  • Visit at least one Canadian territory (I’m currently 0 for 3)
  • Live abroad for a little while
  • Own my own home
  • Drive a muscle car (e.g. a Mustang GT or a Camaro) on a long-distance trip (I had the chance to do this two years ago in Arizona but I cheaped out on the car rental cost and am still kicking myself over it!)
  • Sing in a gospel choir
  • Get my black belt (I made it as far as green in Goju Ryu Karate, but god knows how much I actually remember)
  • Learn staff fighting (I have watching Xena Warrior Princess to thank for this one)
  • Get my motorcycle license ride a bike on the open road
  • Visit Australia (happening this year!)
  • Visit Africa
  • Visit the Sahara or the Arabian Desert (I am seriously fascinated by deserts; they are like spiritual places to me)
  • Fly first class (ideally for free)
  • Stay in a 5-star hotel
  • Go to a rave and dance all night (sans drugs)
  • Fly in a hot air balloon
  • Learn another language spoken by a large portion of the world (either Mandarin, Hindi, or Spanish)
  • Speak before a large audience on an important topic
  • Get better at tennis
  • Get better at orienteering
  • Learn to fold an origami rose

Most of these things aren’t aren’t mutually exclusive to writing.  They do, however, require I remain vigilant for opportunities that may present themselves unexpectedly.

And keep in mind that actual plans of attainment are necessary to elevate a bucket list into one of genuine goals rather than just fun and fanciful wishes.

Do you have a bucket list?  What’s on your bucket list?  What’s the most recent thing you’ve been able to check off it?  Tell me about it in the comments.

(Image source #1 and #2)

20 thoughts on “Do I Need a Bucket List?  Do You?

  1. That’s a great list Janna – I love reading other people’s wish lists. I feel rather odd in that there is little that I feel strongly impelled to achieve. I’m happy being single and therefore able to live my life doing stuff I enjoy at my own pace. Maybe not having a bucket list leads to a certain contentment with one’s lot?
    I’ve no wish to travel, though my fear of flying has a part to play here. If I could be beamed over to the southern United States, or onto the starting line of Route 66 on a motor bike then I’d make an exception 🙂


    • As I was forming my list, I surprised myself by how much travel is included. I always considered myself a non-traveller (very much in opposition to my Sagittarius birth sign) but perhaps I was wrong. I think we can learn a lot about ourselves by what we include on our life lists. I bet if you really put your mind to it, you could come up with a list – one that might surprise you as well! Although I agree not having one could suggest contentment if one already has enough going on to keep life interesting.


      • I always wanted to do a lot more traveling – and then I became disabled, and that possibility got limited to places where I can get around. Sightseeing was out – without the ability to walk and stand, you are reduced to being pushed around by someone else, and that means the spouse for many of us, and it is a huge amount of work.

        I’m getting new legs tomorrow – things which are supposed to help mine work better – and the rehab man said the word ‘hiking’! If I get that ability back, I will be the happiest person on the planet – and I can do some of that traveling. It is hope stuck in my throat, and keeping me from sleeping.

        Do the traveling you can while you can. Go rent a muscle car – and drive SOMEWHERE. Learn a language – make a plan to become at least minimally competent in Spanish. Commit a bit of time over the next three years to it – and then take a trip to use your new skills.

        My bucket list? Get the novel I’ve been working on for 14 years published this Fall. Then go do the next two (the story morphed into a trilogy while I was writing it). Turn the other book – the one everyone said picked up nicely after about the first third – into a nice historical mystery (because its setting in time is now over 25 years ago. Oops.) – and finish the sequel I was halfway through when the current WIP fell into my lap.

        Keep learning – something new everyday, like my grandmother always said. Polish my French – go back to Paris (if I truly can walk); alone, or with daughter, or with hubby – but get back there at least once more. Keep writing – stories seem to beget more stories, don’t they?

        Go hiking in the mountains around Seattle where I loved to hike in college – if the rehab man is right.

        Earn money again from my work – being on disability is galling even if you have to be: we all want to be productive.

        Keep poking the medical research community to figure out this stupid illness (CFS).

        Keep poking the medical research community to figure out what took the later years of my grandmother, mother, and mother-in-law – and happens in 50% of those who make it to the age of 85: dementia in all its nasty forms.

        Do something for world literacy, world poverty, and world hunger – even if all I can mange is ‘send money.’

        Sing more (already got the Gospel Choir checked off – and it was a blast).

        Get back on a horse.

        Learn to fly an airplane?

        Be even happier.


      • Great list, Alicia! Learn to fly an airplane? I thought about putting that on mine as well, but ultimately decided to keep my list to things I could genuinely see myself doing. Maybe “sit in an airplane cockpit and briefly take the controls” would be more realistic for me. I do hope your new legs give you back some of your lost mobility! Regardless, your bucket list is wonderfully inspiring, and I’ve a feeling you’ll nonetheless tackle it with great enthusiasm and full spirit!


  2. “… once my book is published, I’ll be not just a writer, but an author, and everyone will know it, and my life will take on a newly-forged shine by which countless past upsets pale and crumble into dust.”

    I el-oh-elled at that line. Recall our recent exchange on the motivation for traditional publishing? If you had written that line beforehand, we both could have saved a lot of time typing.

    I have no doubt whatsoever the first time in the history of humanity one person has put these three things on the same bucket list:

    * Drive a muscle car on a long-distance trip
    * Sing in a gospel choir
    * Learn staff fighting

    You’re an elongated orange fiery head away from being The Flaming Carrot. Google it if that makes no sense.

    Sadly, this post makes me realize I don’t have a bucket list. Aside from being a wealthy novelist, there’s not much I yearn to do outside of unattainable fantasy stuff, like playing drums on a world tour or producing an American version of a certain BBC show I’ve been pushing on you recently (only because I think you would be fascinated by it).

    I’d like to spend some time in Italy and maybe go get the last three credits I need for a BA in Art History. What I really want is the revenue to not need a bucket list!

    p.s. I got bumped up from coach once. I could get used to that.


    • Well, I looked up The Flaming Carrot but still don’t quite get the reference. (You know what they say about having to explain your own jokes.) I’m guess you meant to say my interests are inconsistent, but I instead prefer to consider myself “diversified” (if it works for a financial portfolio, it’ll work for me too!)

      I’m also practical to a fault, so it would never occur to me to include something wildly fanciful on my life list. I consider everything I’ve listed wholly doable, for all that I may not actually get to them all in this life. I think a good bucket list should be somewhat SMART (as in SMART goals) so that the path toward fulfilling it is both clear and encouraging. I also think one can learn a lot about him-/herself through the achievable goals s/he includes on his/her list. As I was saying to Roy below, I learned, for example, that travel is more important to me than I realized.

      You have an almost-BA in Art History? I did not know that!


      • Not at all. The Flaming Carrot is a superhero who plays the sax in a jazz band, owns a laundromat, and rides a pogo stick around. I’m saying you’re unique!

        Playing drums on a world tour is fanciful, true, but not outlandish, as I play the instrument well and have lots of experience performing original music live. I just never broke out of clubs because the stars did not align. Who knows? Perhaps I can write a bestseller (unlikely, but not beyond the realm of possibility) and then use that as a gateway to music success. Fire up that photoshop machine, kids! I need to look about 20 years younger.

        I have 30 credits in Art History from my university. I need three more for a (second) BA, but the credits must come from a course that they only offer on Wednesday mornings. Big Universities don’t give a hoot about adult commuter students, even though of us with boastworthy GPAs.

        By the way, I’m putting “Get Janna to watch Doctor Who” on my bucket list. Embrace the inner geek!


  3. Janna – inspiring post indeed. I do look forward to hearing about your Australian trip this year. Perhaps you can tick off some more of those bucket list items whilst you are there?? It has one huge red desert throughout its entire center……and I do believe they have mustangs available for hire. Orienteering will be a must in the southern hemisphere. Australians are also renowned for their love of outdoor festivals and raves……


    • Anita, thanks so much for the comment! Yes, I think that Down Under will be ripe with opportunities to shorten my list. I’m super excited to go and the best part will be having someone very special to share some of these adventures with me!


  4. No, I don’t have a true bucket list. It’s more about skills and abilities –I guess. Bike for a long time, return back to B.C. from Alberta to retire, continue to learn in my career (for another decade), blogging, etc. It’s pretty loose –maybe it’s because I have achieved a certain amount..


  5. “Speak before a large audience on an important topic”
    I like that one!

    Indeed, after a big goal is achieved it can seem as if things lose their color around you. I know many felt like that after graduation. In Denmark it’s common to have a sabbatical year for working and traveling and so there are people who fall into a feeling of … being lost. Without goals.
    It’s good for their motivation once they start studying again, I tell you!

    On my own bucketlist is always a need to become more knowledgeable. To become better at acquiring (correct) knowledge so I won’t become dull in conversations. LOL.
    – Learn a minimum of programming so I can understand what’s going on on my website.
    – Become good at pole dancing
    – Get into a workout-3-times-a-week routine and keep it going for years.
    – Be able to live by the income from my books.
    – Get my blog properly up and running as it did before I switched to a private website
    – Live and work in another country.
    – Get a bachelor in chemical engineering and possibly a master’s.

    It goes on 😀 Fun challenge


    • I just need to figure out what that important topic is!

      Great list. You’ve got a lot there to keep you busy; good thing you’ve got something fun like pole dancing to balance out all the work and study. 🙂

      But how cool is that that people get to have a sabbatical year in Denmark! I’ve never done anything like that.


      • Well, the politicians do hate our sabbatical year. They call it “goof year” and stuff like that but all statistics tell that the students who had a sabbatical year change major way less and are more likely to complete it in numerical time.


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