For years I have instinctively recoiled from “bucket lists” but had not really considered why until last week when I read a blog post by my friend Karen Caplan. She wrote that since the Hollywood film by the same name came out, every CEO or spouse she knows seems to have created one. But her own perception of them changed when she got an email from a client who, after developing cancer, urged others to develop meaningful bucket lists “before life deals them a shot and they have no time for the things they always wanted to [do].”
I appreciate Bugatti and Bulgari as much as the next girl, but ownership of brand name stuff is not, for me, at the heart of a life well-lived. There’s a lot of talk these days about shifting from the accumulation of things to seeking great experiences (climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, sailing to Ireland in your grandfather’s sloop, learning to bake like your Aunt), but if you’re just checking items off your lists, it seems to me that you’re still focused on accumulation, rather than the deep appreciation of each day, the mindful awareness of an apple pie right out of the oven or the moment of deep joy you feel when sharing laughter with a friend. Finishing another list (as opposed to noticing each rare moment) is not how I want to spend my life.
Karen’s blog underscores the self-absorbed nature of traditional bucket lists that makes me so uneasy. She writes:
Besides the regular items like “Visit Morocco,” and “See the Great Wall of China,” what about including things like, “Helping out at a homeless shelter several times a year; ” “Mentor a student or another colleague for THEIR benefit.”
Bucket lists, or any listing you are asked to imagine in executive seminars and leadership classes, are intended to help you consider a higher purpose. If a list furthers such reflection, I’m all for it. But Karen is right, it’s in the consideration of other that is too often missing from bucket lists. Looking back over my shoulder, I see a rich history of experiences and moments that would constitute a good bucket list. Looking ahead, I hope I appreciate the cup of coffee I share with a friend tomorrow and I get to spend with employees picking fruit for the local food bank, as much as I savor the anticipation of my next trip to Rome—and the purchase of that Bugatti!