What’s Not on My Bucket List

Cartagena at sunset

Six months ago a friend of mine got sick. She was just thirty years old; a vibrant, joyful, beautiful woman. She had a smile that would brighten anyone’s day.

She had cancer.

She died last weekend. Her brief and painful struggle with cancer ended, leaving grieving friends and family. So quick. So unchangeable.

Her sickness and death has made all those close to her think about the value of life, and how we want to use our fragile lives.

These days I hear so much talk about bucket lists and the things people feel they should do before they die. These lists are full of places to visit, foods to try, achievements to pursue.

As I mentally compile my list, I imagine what I would plan to do if I were told I would die within six months. What things would I want to try for the first time? What things would I like to do for the last time?

But really, I find few things on my list.

It’s not because I don’t enjoy travelling, eating or learning. I’ve filled my life with those things. As an expat travel writer I’ve had my adventures. I have shared my bed with scorpions and spent time in a South American jail. I have sailed on canoes out to deserted islands in the Caribbean. I have swum in red jade rivers down by the border of the Amazon jungle.

But I don’t have a bucket list full of those things. My bucket list is not focused on the outward, physical world around me. It’s not about what travel destination I should have visited, it’s not about what adventure I should have tried, it’s not about what bizarre food I should have eaten.

My bucket list is inward.

It’s about love. It’s about appreciating people around me. It’s about opening my heart enough to overlook weaknesses, forgive wrongs, and enjoy the uniqueness of each person.

It’s about giving, about enriching other people’s lives with a word of comfort, a bit of wisdom and a lot of empathy. It’s about keeping in touch with loves ones whether they are near or far away.

It’s about contentment, loving each day despite the difficulties that come up.

In the end I don’t think it will matter if I drank wine in Paris, or ate pizza in Napoli, or swam on the shores of a Greek island. Perhaps I will do those things, but they aren’t the important things.

The value of my life will not be counted by the stamps in my passport or the amount of countries I visited or the exotic cuisine I ate. The important thing will be how I lived on the inside, how I loved and trusted others, how I was enriched by them and how they were enriched by me.

That’s because my bucket list isn’t about dying. It’s about living fully.


19 responses to “What’s Not on My Bucket List

  1. The typical travel, etc. However, I now have a five month old daughter, and I’ve noticed my wants and needs are beginning to shift and change. Like you said, it’s more about looking inward now–building and strengthening interpersonal relationships and making sure those closest to me feel loved and valued. I might rework my list to reflect that. :-)


    • Good goals include both, which is what I think you’re saying. Travel, food, learning is so exciting. But it’s not what makes our lives worth living – or what creates a happy childhood.


  2. I really enjoyed this! Your bucket list is awesome. I am a 15 year cancer survivor, diagnosed at 34. I can tell you that before cancer, I thought I’d have this gigantic list, but once diagnosed all I really wanted was to be with my family doing “every day” things.


  3. I hear so many talk of their bucket list and as a near the half century mark I admit some thoughts go to the end of life and what I would like to do prior to that day. I agree with you that living my life and loving and doing is more important than an arbitrary list of goals.


    • That’s the point – some people seem to have that “arbitrary list of goals” that sometimes might not even be that important to them, but is what they think they should be doing. I do have my little list of places to visit and things to do, but fulfilling that doesn’t define how worthwhile my life has been.


      • Oh yes, there are definitely places I would love to see and some things I have not done yet. For instance this summer I want to go somewhere to ride a Zip Line. Then there is being a grandparent and all that comes with that joy.


      • I’ve seen a lot about those zip lines, but have never done it. And I think that’s the idea – have goals, but not to the point that they dominate who we are or how we’re supposed to live our lives.


  4. As someone in end stage of a chronic cancer, I have found the bucket list a lot as you describe it… not only is it a more poignant event in this fashion but also sometimes people don’t understand that just because you have a limited time you don’t necessarily have unlimited energy or resources to make these things happen…


    • That’s exactly what I thought – with limited energy, I don’t think I would want to travel. I’m so sorry that you’re dealing with such a terrible point in your life. During your journey with the sickness, what have you found is the most important to you? Has that changed over time? What do you recommend to those that aren’t yet dealing with that moment in their lives?


  5. I don’t have a bucket list. I just set out to make the most of every day. Sometimes that means walking the dog, and sometimes it means walking with penguins in the Antarctic. It’s all precious.


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