On being … bucket list-less

By Ingrid Sapona 

I imagine you’re familiar with the concept of a bucket list. For those who aren’t, it refers to things a person would like to do before they kick the proverbial bucket – in other words, before they die. Wikipedia says it was coined in 1999 by Justin Zackham, a screenwriter. Apparently, the first item on Zackham’s list was to write a film that gets produced by a major motion picture studio. He soon realized the idea of checking things off one’s bucket list was a good premise for a movie and so he wrote a screenplay about it. It became The Bucket List, the 2007 movie starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman. 

I honestly don’t remember if I saw the movie, but I doubt I did because the notion of having a bucket list doesn’t appeal to me. I’ve thought about why it is that the idea never captured my imagination. I do wonder if my reaction has anything to do with not wanting to think about my own death. Indeed, I find typing “my own death” even a bit disconcerting – I am definitely not yet one with the idea of my life being over, however inevitable a fact that is. 

Don’t get me wrong – I don’t reject the idea of a such a list because I can’t think of things I’d like to see or do. For example, seeing the fjords of Norway appeals to me, as does going to Antarctica. I would also love to master working with chocolate. For that matter, I’d like to become adept at making pasta from scratch and I’d like to write a play that gets produced. But would I feel unfulfilled if I die without doing these things? I don’t think so. 

So why write a column about a concept that I don’t much like? Well, it’s because it seems to come up a fair bit lately in my social circle. If the phrase “bucket list” doesn’t actually come up, a variation along the lines of: “better do X while you still can” does. Sound familiar? I realize such things are on my friends’ minds because many are in the process of transitioning from working full-time to semi-retirement or full retirement. 

I think what bugs me the most about the concept of a bucket list is the social pressure to articulate such a list for one’s self. It almost seems like having a bucket list has become a substitute for having career goals. I guess if you were diligent about establishing and checking off career milestones then shifting focus to a bucket list makes perfect sense. Come to think of it, maybe the fact that my approach to my career was more organic than planned explains my discomfort at the idea of having a bucket list. 

Looking back at the non-work things I’ve done that I’ve enjoyed most, the one thing they have in common is that they came about by happenstance, not by planning. For example, when I volunteered to be on the publications committee of a newly formed international law association, I never dreamed it would be my gateway to spectacular travel. Through that association I ended up at black tie galas in Buenos Aires, Madrid, Mexico City, Berlin, Santiago, and Monaco, where the guest of honour was Prince Albert. When I signed on to edit the journal, I certainly didn’t expect I’d meet royalty! 

Another source of unexpected delight came as a result of my responding to an ad by a travel app company looking for writers. It was 2011 and I didn’t really know what a mobile app was (I didn’t even have a cell phone at that point) but I thought it would be a great way to learn about apps. So, I pitched them the idea of an app about Ontario Wineries. It took some time to convince the company, but they finally agreed. In the process of creating the app I met interesting people in the wine business, I learned a lot about wine, and I discovered parts of the province that I might never have seen. 

These kinds of experiences enriched my life in ways I couldn’t have dreamt of and even if I had thought of them, I wouldn’t have been able to come up with a plan to make them happen. They happened organically and simply because I was open. To me that seems the key – being willing to try something without knowing what direction it might take you. So, as I head toward retirement – no bucket list for me. My plan is to do more of what I’ve always done: keep my eyes and ears open and take the plunge when things come up. 

©2024 Ingrid Sapona


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