You Don’t Need That Bucket List

Run a marathon.
Go on an African safari.
Hike the Appalachian Trail.
Write a book.
Stay in a Tahitian overwater bungalow.

These are just a few items that many people have on their bucket lists. Maybe you have a list of similar dreams. Well, I’m challenging you to crumple up that bucket list. Then throw it in the trash. You likely don’t want to do what’s on it. Even if you do, you don’t need it anyway.


Let’s address those goals. Why are they on your list? Would you find joy in the experiences based on their own merits? Or are you more concerned with how you will feel after completing your list? New acquaintances may not think you are more interesting now that you are well-traveled. Another soul may never finish reading the book you spent years revising. Crossing off that item on your bucket list may not provide the satisfaction you desired.

Now ask yourself, “What if this experience doesn’t go perfectly?” Here is an inherent problem with bucket lists. The expectations often result in disappointment. Professionals photographed the location with ideal conditions. They edited those photographs to make the scenes surreal. Then they expertly crafted descriptions or stories to appeal to your wanderlust. What if it rains most of the week outside of your Tahitian bungalow? What if the Great Wall of China feels far too crowded when you visit? What if you come in last in the marathon? Will you be satisfied with your choice or will you regret the experience?


A bucket list can cause you to live in anticipation of the future. You may start to dream of what could be, not what is. You may refuse what life has to offer now in favor of what the future may hold out. Perhaps a friend invites you to take part in a more humble experience, such as zip-lining through a local forest. But since you plan to zip-line over the Panamanian rainforest one day, you decline. As a result, you miss out on an opportunity to deepen your connection with your friend, and you defer joy into the future.

When you travel, you’ll be just another tourist. Your bucket list of things to do in a city or country are the highlights that someone else has curated. To reach a certain number of landmarks, you may miss out on the culture and cuisine a region has to offer. Taking suggestions from locals on where to eat, where to stay, and what to do can result in experiences that eclipse anything you could’ve devised on your own.


Bucket lists can often become an obligation. Telling your friends and family about your list may cause you to feel like you can’t back out now. You’ve talked about climbing Kilimanjaro for nine years. Next year is the year! You’re just not into it anymore. You’ve climbed other mountains. You prefer running over mountain climbing now. You ran a half marathon last year, and you would prefer to train for a marathon next year. Can’t you change your mind? Yes, you can. Bucket lists are limiting. People change.

Where you get satisfaction may also have changed. Often at younger ages, we can be selfish. Thrill-seeking is prevalent. We have little desire to bring joy to others. Perhaps since you added an item to your list, you’re married. Your spouse has little interest in participating in one of your bucket list items. Do you yield your desire to accomplish that goal in favor of pleasing your spouse? Do you put aside that goal of going on an African safari to instead help starving children on that very continent?


It’s true that there are goals that are long term. But you don’t need to commit to completing those lofty goals in the here and now. Take a step in that direction. Assess how you feel. Then take the next. That way you end up doing what you want to do now, not what you wanted to do in past years and now feel obligated to complete.

Some say a bucket list can help you focus. That may be the case if you only have one or two items on your list. That is not the case for most people. They probably have many. And they also don’t know how they’re going to accomplish any of these feats. Developing an interest in a goal takes time. The path brightens. Setting a goal in itself doesn’t create the focus needed to accomplish it.

You don’t need a bucket list. Set smaller goals to accomplish each day. When you find a passion in life, stay in the present. When opportunities come up, take advantage of them. Keep thinking about what your next action may be. Strive to bring joy to others and raise the bar higher each step along the way. You’ll build a lasting legacy and a life you’ll look back on with pride.

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