I left a restrictive, controlling marriage ten years ago this year. I had spent almost sixteen years being told what I could and could not do, down to what comic books I could and could not read. Eventually, I realized this was not healthy and left to build a new life. I decided at that point to do what I wanted to do, whenever I wanted to do it and never allow myself to be in a situation where the choices I had were not my own.
And I’ve spent the last ten years doing just that.
And as I get older, I hear people – my age and younger – constantly talking about their bucket list, whether personally or professionally. “Oh, that’s on my bucket list. I’ll do it some day.”
What I want to ask is – why? Why put it on a bucket list that makes you focus on doing something with the arbitrary threat of death? Why even put it on that list and assign it the value of “some day”? Why not now? Why do I have to ponder death to make me do whatever is on that list?
I don’t have a bucket list. Starting my life over made me focus on what I wanted and where I wanted to go, both personally and professionally. Then I just did it. I pursued the things I wanted to pursue. Now. Right now. Didn’t put things on a list that made them unattainable. I just did them. I still do.
They’re not always successful and, occasionally, I should have maybe put certain things on a list and never done them. But each success or failure was my own, on my own terms and I learned something from each and every one of them. As I tackled each one of those things I always wanted to do and finished them, they either led to or cleared the way for something else I always wanted to do. It created a wild and weird and wonderful life that I live every single day.
My friend, Tracy, is someone I admire because, like me, she just gets shit done. She decided she wanted to learn how to play bass guitar. She saved up, bought one, took some lessons, practiced, and did it. I had the distinct privilege of watching her first performance recently, where she got up on stage and rocked like she had been doing it for years. I know her really well so I could see the few moments of uncertainty and where she was working hard to do it right. But she got up there and she did it. She’s not twenty, she’s not rich. It was a struggle for her to buy the bass and for her to practice while living with her parents, who questioned her sanity with her new adventure. But she just did it. Her new adventure is learning to make furniture because, well, she always wanted to do that. And off she goes.
If I had put making my own comic book on my “bucket list”, I probably would not have dove headfirst into it and be working on the second volume right now. Sure, I really had very little idea of what I was doing, but I had some amazing mentors who supported my crazy adventure and made sure I got it done right.
If I had put going to China on my “bucket list” instead of making a determination that I was going to go as soon as possible, I might not have been looking at jobs on Craigslist and discovered the job that just recently took me to China, all expenses paid, for three weeks, to teach comic books.
I wonder if the bucket list idea gives us permission to never do the things we’ve put on that list. It’s a great thing to dream about what we want to do, but we rarely give ourselves permission to make those things real. It’s a bucket list. You’re supposed to do those things before you die. Which means I have thirty years before I have to even think about it.
But do we?
We’ve all lost people prematurely. We’ve all maybe even had our own health scares that bring that end date closer in a very scary way. In that moment, do we want to wonder what we missed on our bucket list? That big list of the things that we never quite got around to because we never gave ourselves permission to dream. When I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012, I thought about what my bucket list would be, what things I would put on it because, well, I was thinking about the potential of my own mortality and felt that I should make one of those stupid things.
Well, screw that.
Take that bucket list and tear it up. Give yourself permission to chase your dreams right now, this second, this moment, this day. Take advantage of the fact that you’re alive now and that you’re capable now and that you’re just freakin’ here right now.
And if it doesn’t lead anywhere, so what? I love Adele’s song, “Chasing Pavements” – “should I give up/or should I keep on chasing pavements/even if they lead nowhere.”
Yes. Toss the bucket list. Chase the pavements. Buy the guitar or the paint brush or the plane ticket to Machu Picchu. Okay, the last one might take some planning. Then start saving for that plane ticket. Look yourself in the eyes and say, “I give you permission to do whatever the hell you want.” Then do it.
You’ll be glad you did.