The Bucket List

“One day, you will wake up and there wouldn’t be anymore time to do the things you’ve always wanted. Do it now.” – Paulo Coelho

A living, breathing alligator right next to me. O-M-G, I could hardly believe it! If I stretched out my hand I could’ve almost touched it – no cage, no protective glass, just the low metal side of the flimsy-looking air-boat we sat in.

Alligator in Florida Everglades

First the eye – large, oily black, sleepy looking; then a square snout and light colored ridges on a leathery back melting into the dark, green-scummed water.

As soon as we got back on terra firma, I flipped open my phone (yeah, flip phones were still in vogue) and was yapping away to my brother. “We’ve been chasing gators!” I squealed.

Hours later, still on an adrenaline high, the world was a wonderfully exciting place. Even now so many years later, I smile at the memory of that one-hour adventure in the Florida Everglades.

Looking out over the grand Canyon. I had no idea it could ever have been so vast!

So many other thrilling memories; gazing over the vastness of The Grand Canyon;  skydiving in Tennessee (so what if it was indoors?); walking on a glacier in Alaska (it was the middle of July); pressing my nose up to the view window of a submarine trying to get a clear view of the colored coral reefs off the shores of Barbados; looking down on my neighborhood from the passenger seat of a helicopter; riding on the back of a camel (Okay, I admit it was at a zoo but who cares – a camel is a camel, right); sailing in a hot air balloon over the September cornfields of Southern Indiana; petting baby alligators in Alabama; and the list goes on.

My view from the hot-air balloon.

So what is a bucket list? Most people define it as an agenda of things they want to do before they die – “kick the bucket.” Then they set about concocting an exhaustive list.

I suggest a more flexible approach.

My Bucket List

There is always a full reservoir of possible experiences for my bucket list floating around in my head (yeah I know, pretty big head). Depending on my status (mainly medical and financial) I focus in on 3 experiences at any one time – experiences that make sense for my current version of me. (It wouldn’t have made sense for me to visit the Empire State building the year I had toe-surgery). Once I cross that item off my short list, I slot another one from the reservoir into place.

Guidelines for a pressure-free bucket list

1.  Keep it short. “100 things to do before I die.” Whoa! Way too intimidating for me.

The real purpose of a bucket list (as I see it) is to remind yourself to live, not just exist. You certainly don’t want your reminders to devolve into yet another to-do-list you feel obligated to complete – a mad rush to finish things so you can cross them off. Where’s the fun in that?

A 3-item list is all I am willing to handle at any one time. You choose your magic number.

The purpose of a bucket list is to push you to live a story worth writing about. To push your limits & do things with your life that you only dreamed of.   

Joel Runyon

2. Verbalize your list. A life coach might insist that you write your list down – put it on paper, because doing that helps you commit to it. I believe the important thing is to verbalize it – put it in words and share it with someone meaningful. I keep a mental list – an image of a sheet of notepaper with my list written on it (I can never lose or misplace it).

For umpteen years I had been promising to write a memoir. For umpteen years it had been in my bucket list reservoir. Last year I said it out loud, shared it with my close friends – no turning back now. I made the commitment, slid it into slot number 2 of my short list and got started. It is now a tangible goal I am excited about.

3. Keep it flexible. Life changes . . . and changes . . . and changes. Can  you imagine being stuck with a bucket list entry you made before the divorce? I suppose you could rent a spouse for the occasion but that would be a whole different story. You should feel free to alter your list as you need to. After all, It’s your life and your list.

But don’t forget always to ask yourself, if the experience/activity is something you really want to do or something you think you should want to do? Your mother’s “what if all your friends jumped off a bridge” question.

I never even saw one tail- far less the whale

4. Keep an open mind. Suppose you are all booked and psyched up for your whale-watching tour . . . but someone forgets to tell the whales you were coming!!! What then?

Don’t go into your experience with tunnel vision. You may miss out on what could have been a real adventure. If the whales stood you up find a hotter date!

And sometimes, one experience may lead way to another that you had not even considered for your list. Go ahead. Add it to your reservoir. Or if it is something that makes you slap your hands to your face and go “ooh, ooh, ooh,” then it goes straight to your short list. Like my opportunity to pet baby alligators.

5. Set deadlines.  “When I retire,” doesn’t count. Neither does “one -of-these days”, or “once I find a good husband/wife.”

I just love celebrating my birthdays.

For me, every birthday is cause for a major celebration so I like to work with my birthdays. A deadline for a bucket list experience may be “before my 55th birthday.” I may even get specific enough to set a deadline of “before the end of the year,” or “this summer”

Deadlines keep you motivated but I think you should keep them soft. That simply means that you can change your deadline if you must – lessens the pressure.


Does your bucket list experience end once you’ve crossed it off the list? Hell no!!! Its only just begun! You get to relive it for as long as your memory of it remains alive – endless hours of happy memories.

A Reverse bucket list

Yep, I keep one of those too – in photographs. Every time you scan your reverse bucket list you get a whiff of the awe and excitement you felt during the actual experience.

A bucket list is a list of the  memorable things you would like to do. A reverse bucket list is simply a list of the indelible things you have already done.

And I bet there would be things on your reverse bucket list that were never even on your original list – the spontaneous events. Sometimes they make you smile the biggest.

There is nothing quite like that list of all the wonderful places you’ve visited (you don’t have to be a world traveler. I am sure there are wonderful places right there in your hometown) and the exciting things you’ve done (jumping out of a plane at 12,000 feet is not compulsory) to remind you of how wonderful and blessed your life has been and to encourage you to keep on making beautiful memories.

Now Your Turn

What have you crossed off your bucket list recently?



Dedicated to Terri

Author: Juliette

A graduate of The University of Louisville, Juliette holds an M.Ed. and has been a teacher for over 35 years, specializing in Language arts, Reading and Math. She received two life-saving liver transplants in 2005 and now lives happily with her husband of 19 years in Louisville, Kentucky.

4 thoughts on “The Bucket List”

  1. Oh my goodness!!!
    This takes the cake. Thank you for filling my life and mind with good thoughts, beautiful dreams, and a recall of indelible memories.
    Write more…and more…and more!! Cant wait for the next.
    Beautifully done. I could hear your voice in these words.

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