Monday, January 28, 2008

The Bucket List

Humph. Evidently its quite posh to have a life list these days, thanks to that crappy movie that just came out:

If you're the kind of person who would list among his or her paramount life goals, "Read a story about one's important life goals," congratulations. You're doing it now.

But maybe you're got other things on your mind. You want to play the guitar, or dream of throwing out the first pitch. You yearn to shake the damn truth out of Tom Cruise.

These are life's ultimate to-do lists, lists that transcend the clutter on your office desk and give meaning to your existence. One popular Web site,, lets users post their own lists, with items both frank and fanciful, such as: Donate blood. Kiss in the rain. Go to Italy.

Continuing with the recently opened film, "The Bucket List," in which two terminally ill old-timers (played by Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman) set out to achieve their own, such lists have taken on added urgency, one that's all the rage.

Witness the Travel Channel's new show "1,000 Places" (based on the best-seller "1,000 Places to See Before You Die: A Traveler's Life List") and a recent cover story in Smithsonian magazine, "28 Places To Visit Before You Die." (Ominous-sounding, yet fun!)

"I think everyone has a list like that," says Seattle real-estate lawyer Greg Lawless, via e-mail. "We just keep amending it as time goes on. For example, take my lifelong struggle with golf. In your teens you set as your goal playing in the PGA and perhaps winning a major championship. Over time that gets reduced to maybe someday you will shoot even par. Then that gets compromised to maybe someday you will hit the ball straight, until finally you define an attainable goal, that maybe someday your golf tees will match your bag."

Has he managed to reach any of these goals? "I will say I have successfully matched the color of my golf tees to the color of my bag," he says. "I'm not one of those people who says, 'I will be in the Olympics' or anything."

"I think most people haven't been asked what they want to do with their life since third grade," says Josh Petersen, co-founder and CEO of 43Things. "People are just on their paths, and they don't really think, is it really what they want to do?"

Yes, anyone can do it. If you're George W. Bush, your list might look something like this:

1. Be president of the United States of America. Mission Accomplished!

2. Finish that book about the goat.

3. Find Osama bin Laden.

4. Get my name on an aircraft carrier. Mission Accomplished!

5. Beat Laura at Scrabble.

Now that's progress

For life coach Kathryn Lengell, it started with a divorce. Twenty-five years ago, she found herself in a miserable California apartment, thinking: This is my life now. If I were to die tomorrow, what would be the biggest thing I would regret that I didn't do?

She wanted to walk a particular beach and enjoy a bottle of champagne when she was done. She wanted to go to Mexico. "I ended up going down there and meeting the national polo team and having the time of my life," she says. "I found that putting things on my list made them happen."

Lengell keeps the list, which she calls "My 50 Things To Experience Before I Die," on a piece of paper in her purse. In the last two years alone, she's crossed 17 items off the list: Walk on a glacier. Go to Ireland. Ride a hot-air balloon.

As she crosses them off, she adds more, becoming bolder by the years and defeating self-imposed limitations. Now, in addition to going crabbing and hiking to the base of the Grand Canyon, she wants to earn a doctorate. "I just dream these things up, and I know they're right for me," she says. "Zihuatanejo [Mexico] is just a-calling my name."

Local singer Ruby Bishop wants to go back to Spain. When she married in 2002, she and her late husband "had all kinds of plans," she says. "We were going to take the railroad across Canada, go to Niagara Falls and go to Maine and eat hot lobster until we couldn't."

But he died two years later, and now that he's gone, "There's some places that are just too beautiful to go by yourself."

Write it, and they will come

Petersen, of, says the producer and writer of "The Bucket List" actually contacted him and the site's other co-founders about 18 months ago. They talked about their own lists, about how simply putting their goals in writing had changed their lives.

"It's like the phenomenon of buying a red car — all of a sudden you see red cars all around," he says. "When you take the opportunity to write down your goals, there's a heightened awareness. It's not that there's more red cars; you just see things a little differently."

Real-estate agent Samantha MacIntosh agrees. Her list is titled, "My Hundred List for Having a Fabulous Life."

Writing the list and making it "real" was a giant step, she says, giving focus to dreams that once seemed lofty and unrealistic. She keeps hers in an album, complete with pictures. (Lengell, the life coach, writes her goals on a great big "intention board," also with visuals.)

MacIntosh and a friend regularly talk about their goals and the steps they've taken to achieve them. "What we're doing are often short-term things," she says. "But the big goals are the ones that really excite you. Why do all this [short-term] stuff if you're not having a fabulous life?"

Most of her goals involve travel, but some involve the kind of food she wants to eat when she gets there — for instance, fugu, the largely poisonous pufferfish from Japan.

Other things on the list: Play the harmonica. Go bungee-jumping. Learn three good magic tricks. "Another is, milk a cow. That's a very easy one. I just have to find a cow."

Claiming your time

Attorney Matt Kenney, of the Seattle law firm Danielson Harrigan, says he's always had a bucket list. Two decades ago, at age 47, he left one law firm to join the Peace Corps, which took him to the African nation of Niger.

"I lived out in the bush in a mud hut, spoke the language," he says. "It was a great experience."

In December, Kenney crossed two more items off his list — climbing Mount Kilimanjaro, and going on a safari. "We humped up Kilimanjaro, five of us, and reached the top on Dec. 9, which was my 68th birthday," he says. "Then when we came back down, we jumped into a couple of Land Cruisers and went out to the Serengeti."

Having a list "kinda keeps you going," Kenney says. "If they check me out tomorrow, I figure, whenever I had opportunities to do something, I did it. I'm not waiting until later to do anything."

Says MacIntosh, the real-estate agent: "We have a lot of time in some ways and in other ways not much at all. What are you gonna do with the time you have?"