It dawned on me recently, after years of reading self-help books that the carefully crafted, much revisited and endlessly scribbled-out bucket-list I have been lugging about in my head is, well, not actually my list.
It is a list of shoulds, oughts and could-do’s. A scroll of items to buy and to experience all suggested by the media, magazines, and advertising in general.
Have a designer handbag
Travel to Venice
Read the entire works of Shakespeare
Now I may have got confused. Perhaps I should have been writing down goals but I can’t think of any of those either.
And you know what? It’s OK not to have the technicolour, major motion-picture dream. In all likelihood, you won’t be gliding around San Tropez in a speedboat whilst dazzled in equal amounts by the sun glinting off the sea and your diamond jewellery.
I’ve begun to realise that holding on to lists like this don’t actually make me happy – and I see them all the time on social media. “40 things to do before you’re 40” or “100 places to see before you die” as if life can be reduced to some sort of checklist. Been there. Done that. Got the t-shirt. Tick. Tick. Tick.
But did it make you happy? Was that list full of things you really wanted to do? I find my bucket-list has become more of a millstone around my neck than a bright shiny vision board.
Sometimes the circumstances of our life mean that we won’t achieve stuff on our bucket list. Our health may not be up to it. We may find ourselves alone, or broke, or, frankly concentrating on having a life rather than dreaming one up.
And then why should we beat ourselves up for not getting those ticks? How helpful is it to our mental health, our confidence, our self-esteem to measure the passing of our life by the kinds of activity that wouldn’t look out of place in one of those experience voucher company’s catalogues?
Want to bungee jump off the Bridge of Sighs? Instagram yourself Diana-style in front of the Taj Mahal? Fabulous but what about family, relationships, spirituality, being a happy person, a kind person?
Listen, I’m not judging anyone for having a bucket list – I have enough of them to fill a small skip. I’m just saying that rather than waste an hour doing one of those ghastly self-help exercises where you brain dump everything you want to ‘be, do, have’ & etc, go and do something more worthwhile instead.
Life, I’m slowly beginning to realise, is about shared experience. Bucket-lists are so very ‘me-me-me’ aren’t they?
Of course, you do need goals in life. A sense of your overall destination. But, as the Scottish novelist and poet Robert Louis Stevenson said, “To travel hopefully is a better thing than to arrive”.
I reckon actually completing your bucket list must be a strange thing indeed.
Because then what? Is there a bucket list for those who have completed bucket lists? Is that some sort of commercial nirvana where there is literally nowhere else to travel and no frippery left to buy?
Will you waft about like the Beckhams or the Olivers or the Ramseys? Buying up 16th-century mansions whilst desperately holding on to your fame and fortune and wondering why the wheel of fortune is, as the Tarot cards foretell, so precarious?
Will you seek solitary confinement on your own island? That must be an absolute riot at Christmas.
Have your bucket list if you must but don’t define yourself by it.
Your legacy will be how people remember you. Not that you managed to read Titus Andronicus and didn’t fall out of a gondola.