Writing My Life

Becoming an 'empty nester' encouraged me think about building a bucket list

I started building my bucket list when my daughters left for college. To be terribly melodramatic about it, a way to mark the death of one life and the beginning of a very different life as an empty nester. My daughters are one year apart and the youngest skipped a year of high school so my nest went from two little birdies to empty in one day. As I watched them walk off together to explore the Oklahoma State University campus in search of their classes, I realized it was time for me to do my own searching.  Raising successful adults had been my primary quest for 18 years; it was time for me to explore different experiences and goals. A bucket list seemed the way to motivate myself, to change gears and immerse myself in the new stage of life.

I add a charm to my bracelet to represent bucket list items achieved. I hope to add a few more this summer

6 Tips for Building A Bucket List

I had watched Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson live out their goals in the movie “The Bucket List,” but I wasn’t really sure how to begin. Unlike them, I wasn’t facing an imminent death, but from the moment we’re born we’re all heading in that direction. For the first time since my oldest was born I had some free time, so I started thinking about the best way to use the time. How do you even begin to create your bucket list?  After some brainstorming, I came up with some ideas to get started.

1. Think about your childhood.

What made you happy when you were 10 years old? What did you dream about as a child? For me, my happiest times as a child were when I was swimming or riding my bike. This translated into swimming in an open water competition as one of my goals (check) and riding my bike 100 miles in one day, a goal I will most likely abandon. I made it 85 miles one day, but I’ve come to the realization I don’t love biking nearly as much as I did as a kid.

For many people the activities that made you happy as a child may still bring you joy. Were you an animal lover? Volunteer to foster animals for a rescue group or start a pet-sitting business. Was reading your love but you went from novels to magazines in the busy years of raising kids? Join a book club or volunteer through the library to teach an adult to read.  Rediscover a lost passion.

2. Don’t be afraid to make a goal that scares you, one you’re not really sure you can achieve.

For me, it was to complete a Half Ironman Triathlon, which consists of a 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike and 13.1-mile run. As a mediocre athlete well into my 50s, the thought of this goal scared me so much I couldn’t even allow myself to talk about it, let alone write it down. After two years of visions of the finish line relentlessly invading my thoughts, I wrote it down, and a year later and I did it!

Eleanor Roosevelt is one of my favorite women in history and among her famous quotes is You must do the thing you think you cannot do. (1960) —Eleanor Roosevelt. Challenge yourself toward new goals.

My husband and me after we finished our first half Ironman, one of the tougher items on my bucket list. I was exhausted, burned and had blisters on my feet but I was so happy!

3. Is there an intellectual accomplishment you’ve always wanted to attain?

Maybe you always wanted to finish that college degree, read War and Peace, or write a blog. Writing it on your bucket list is the first step in accomplishing it!

Next, figure out the action steps to make it happen. One of the items on my bucket list was to have an article published. Almost three years ago, I attended a weekend writing retreat, which was exactly what I needed to have the nerve to hit the send button to TulsaKids. I was terrified, unsure of my abilities and fearful of rejection, but if you don’t venture out, you will definitely not succeed. No one likes rejection, but I would rather have tried and failed than to get to the end of my life and wonder, what if?

One of the other items on my list was to earn my PhD. I went to one day of classes and had the epiphany: I didn’t want it badly enough. It’s okay to back off if you realize you want to cross something off the list!

4. Is there somewhere you’ve always wanted to go?

Finances may limit some dreams, but write them down anyway; you might find a way to make it happen. One of my travel goals was to take a two-day road trip by myself. That was a fairly easy, cheap and a very enjoyable item to check off. Ok, I guess I have to be honest, I did get a little lost on my way to Mount Magazine, Arkansas, but once I arrived, it was two days of pure, solitary bliss!

On the other end of the spectrum, I’ve had Australia on my list for ten years. At this point, it’s still not feasible financially, but I believe I will eventually find a way to make it happen! Now that I have a grandchild (and assume I’ll have more) I’ve added some grandparent-grandchild trips to the list: Great Wolf Lodge, Disneyworld and a beach trip to the Caribbean.

5. Try to include a wide range of goals.

My list includes things such as: see a Neil Diamond concert, watch my daughters receive their college degrees, live on the beach for a month (anyone have a place they want to loan me?!), run a marathon, swim a marathon, write a book, make contact with a long-lost college friend, become a grandmother, take tennis lessons and read Wuthering Heights.

I’ve been able to mark quite a few off this list; some are easy to accomplish, some difficult. Some are physical, some intellectual, some relationship oriented. Some cost nothing, others seem to require winning the lottery. Write them all down, this is the place to dream.

6. As you accomplish each item on the list, check it off and write down the date.

I commemorate each bucket list item completed by adding a representative charm to my bucket list bracelet. Continue to keep your mind open to new dreams, keep adding things as they come up. It’s also okay to delete an item if your ideas and priorities change. Even if I find a way to go to Australia, my distaste for heights may outweigh my desire to climb the Sydney Harbor Bridge, so that goal is one that might be deleted. The birth of my grandson led me to brainstorming new adventures that will include him in the future. The bucket list is a fluid project.

I look at this stage in life as a new chapter, and we get to be the authors. Of course, there are external factors we can’t control, but with some luck and dreaming big, we can write new and exciting experiences into the book of our lives! Make your bucket list and live your life with as few regrets as possible!

“You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.” –  C.S. Lewis

Categories: Grand Life