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Not-a-bucket list

Updated: Jan 4

There's more to life than the things we want to do before we kick the proverbial bucket.

Aurora Borealis Northern Lights over Iceland
Northern Lights over Iceland

I should probably be writing a story about one of my recent travels - walking with cheetahs in South Africa, having an honest discussion about daily life in Zimbabwe, wandering the ruin bars in Budapest, road tripping through Iceland, finally catching the Northern Lights - and so on. I will tell those stories in time, but I’m struggling to look backwards right now. I can’t seem to put my head in a place to write about any of that until I write about this.

I’m in a looking-forward mode while I think about where to go next. New Years in Colombia? Patagonia and wine tasting in Argentina? Igloos in Lapland? Hiking and horseback riding in the Azores? Snorkeling in Australia's Great Barrier Reef? Visiting a new friend in New Zealand? Bali? (Because Bali.) And just like that, my mind has traveled around the globe as it so often does. Which is what led me to think about my not-a-bucket list.

Maybe these thoughts have been encouraged by an article that’s been burning in my brain over the last few days, "I Will Not Wait to Die to Begin to Live". It talks about not waiting for tragedy to strike before beginning to live the life you truly want. The life you want could include anything - from finding a new job, to ending an unhappy relationship, traveling the world, or doing whatever it is that you’ve been meaning to do when the time is right. (Side note: the time will never be "right".)

Living the life you want could also be about doing the little things you never get around to, like calling the people you love or going for a walk on a nice day. This idea hit close to home. Maybe it struck me because I’ve been mulling over this idea of not waiting. There’s a sense of restlessness that I can’t seem to wrangle. It all goes back to the not-a-bucket list.

Like so many of us, I have a list of places I’d like to visit someday. This list constantly changes as my mind wanders the world, thinking about new places I'd like to explore and experiences I'd like to have. I even add places to the list that I’ve already visited because there was so much I didn't get to see when I was there. But to me, this is not a bucket list.

A bucket list is a checklist of things you want to do before you die. The idea of a bucket list helps us dream big and work towards overcoming obstacles, but I think it misses a fundamental point.

It’s not about checking off experiences and places on a list. Hike to Machu Picchu - did that, check. See the Northern Lights - yep, check. No. It’s about seeing the world from another perspective and making room for opportunities. It’s about discovering places within places. The place on “the list” is just the beginning. Every experience has something to teach us, something unfamiliar to try to understand. Each place we visit can be returned to and feel completely new all over again. These feelings cannot be evaluated on a checklist.

Sometimes it’s not worth visiting that important monument on “the list” because when you arrived in town, you discovered an unusual neighborhood and you decided to wander and explore instead. Bucket lists don’t leave room for serendipity.

It's not about the things you want to do before you die, but the things you need to do to live. The places that call out to you. The living experiences that feed your soul. Instead of checking off items on a bucket list and moving to the next one, we should do the things we need to do to feel alive, whether they're big things or everyday things. Go where you need to go. Say what you need to say. Make time for the people and experiences that matter.

Wrangle the restlessness.

Maybe travel isn’t on your list. Maybe it’s about being there for your family or finding a job you enjoy. Whatever brings you happiness, whatever you need - find it and embrace it. We’re not here forever. Don’t wait for the right time.

As I try to figure out where to go next, I’ll leave room for the unknown. I’ll go on the next journey, not because I want to do it before I die, but because I need to do it to live. And I am not waiting to live.

Until next time, happy travels!


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