The Unedited Truth About Living A Life By A ‘Bucket List’


I make lists. A lot of them. They’re not in any particular order or very organised (at all) – they’re scribbled on Post-Its and on blank pages in random notebooks. One of them is a bucket list, but don’t ask me to find it for you. Not that that’s a problem – that list is almost a part of me, an external projection of what I want from life, no matter how random or bizarre the items are.

Here is a small sample of the items written on the yellowing piece of lined paper:

Take a tour of Harvard.
Learn German.
Be on top of the Eiffel Tower when it lights up on the hour.

I started writing things like this down when I was 16, and I like how I can’t remember why I wanted to do some of them – but I still feel obligated to my teenage self to diligently carry out the tasks that I set.

This year, I reached a milestone. I turned 21, and I moved to a different country to study. It was also the first in my life that I had enough money, time and gusto to get serious about checking off some of the items.

And so I worked my way across a few countries, ticking things off as I went:

The Reichstag building in Berlin.
See my team win a football match.
The House of Terror in Budapest.
Hike to the top of the Italian hilltop town of Assisi.

I did all of them, and it was a strange feeling. There was excitement and a genuine feeling that you’re accomplishing goals that you have worked so hard towards. There’s also a curious convulsion of nostalgia that comes when I think of the person I was when I added that item to the list. But mostly you feel unbelievably content that you kept a promise to your younger self. It was exhilarating.

For about a day. After that, the emptiness starts to seep in through the cracks that you didn’t even know were there.

I came back to my home in Melbourne after my unforgettable jaunt around sun-soaked villages, but I also came back to an unexpected vacuum. I felt stagnant and without a direction. Although technically I should be quite comfortable with kicking the bucket right about now, that’s not how it works in real life. Suddenly, I was faced with something that I used to be so good at: making a new list.

I was in a limbo – chuffed with what I had done, but directionless. What is worse: having a heart that is heavy with the fear of missing out, or having one that contains nothing at all?

And so if making a bucket list is your thing, let me tell you this: if you are building a life based on these dreams, on these visions and motivations, be prepared to fall when they are no longer there. Be prepared for everything to go back to the way it was, because permanent change cannot come about from simply ticking off just another box. It is in the soul-searching and the writing of the list that you really learn about yourself, that you really learn the layers of your soul and what experiences your heart yearns for. The doing is essential, don’t get me wrong, but there’s something special about writing these things down. But perhaps that is only my inner list-maker talking.