In 2007 Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman starred in the now iconic movie, The Bucket List, and ever since the term Bucket List has become not only the nearly universally accepted metaphor for things you should do before you die, but during the same time it has evolved into an almost generic adjective used to describe the types of places, events, experiences, and accomplishments that one must visit, be a part of, or undertake in order to lead a truly full life. Google Bucket List and you will get over 74 million results and a cornucopia of ideas for things that would qualify as worthy of the description. Bucket List travel destinations include The Pyramids of Egypt, Macchu Picchu in Peru, The Great Wall of China, or India’s Taj Mahal. The events usually include Mardi Gras or Carnivale, Oktoberfest in Germany, and New Year’s Eve in Time’s Square. The experiences might be diving the Great Barrier Reef, going sky-diving or bungee-jumping, standing atop the Eiffel Tower, or being a part of the annual Running of the Bulls in Pamplona Spain. And finally any self-respecting list would be incomplete without at least a few major accomplishments like scaling Mount Everest, earning an advanced degree, learning to play the guitar, or acting in a Broadway Play.
As golfers, however, we typically have our own brand of once-in-a-lifetime experiences and while they may look a bit different than the average person’s, they include things that are just as spectacular, important, personal, or even possibly spiritual to us as those others are to everyone else. Like historic courses? Playing St. Andrews , Carnoustie, Pebble Beach, or Cypress Point could be on any golfer’s list. For others, joining a country club, taking a lesson from a top 100 instructor, or playing a round with a golfing icon like Jack Nicklaus, Phil Mickelson, or Tiger Woods might rank higher. More of a spectator? Going friends or family to watch The Masters, the Ryder Cup, or any other Major Championship is certainly bucket list worthy, while making a hole-in-one, playing to a single-digit handicap, winning the Club Championship, or some other similar event are definitely things that would make just about any golfer’s career a bit more fulfilling once it’s all said and done.
Now I think The Bucket List was a really good movie, but the reason I believe it succeeded in touching so many people and became so iconic is that it caused us to be introspective, to ask ourselves questions, and to often question some of our societies commonly held conventions about what is truly important in life. For me, it really begs the question why it so often takes a terminal illness or the death of a loved one (or a Hollywood movie) for us to stop for a moment and think about these things or try to figure them out. There are lots of reasons, but one of the biggest is that regardless of our age a great many of us tend to suffer from the stubbornly persistent delusion that each and every night we to go to sleep we will rise as predictably as the sun the next morning. And so as a result, we kick the proverbial can(bucket) down the road, believing in a mystical someday, a day when we will have more free time, more money, or both. The problem is, before we know it that someday is here and we’ve never even taken the time to figure out which things are most important to us, or even if we have, we’ve never really made a plan for making them happen.
In truth, thinking about these types of things really isn’t all that bad and it can actually be fun and invigorating to ponder our Bucket Lists (with the possible exception of the whole death part) because it’s typically a rumination about the types of goals, dreams and other things that for the most part get us out of bed every morning and motivate us to work hard, take care of ourselves, and plan for the future. We’ve all likely had at least a few of these ideas tucked away somewhere in the back of our minds, even if we haven’t gone through the exercise of actually putting together a list. It’s those three or four things that, if asked about, you can rattle off the top of your head (or at least could come up with without too much thought), but you’ve just never gone so far as to write them down or put the wheels in motion that will make them happen.
So with that in mind here is my suggestion, and while it may seem obvious at this point, I think it’s worthwhile to go through the exercise. First you must resolve to stop kicking that proverbial Bucket List down the road and get started now. Start with the list, and make it an exercise that you do with those who are closest to you, those whom you would most likely be sharing those experiences with. You’ll likely begin with with your spouse or your family, but it can also be a fun thing to do with a group of buddies while sharing an adult beverage around the 19th hole. Throw everything out there, even those things that might at first sound ridiculous, and once you’ve each got at least 20 or 30 things on the list start sorting them into experiences you can share, and ones that are more individual or personal. The next thing you do is to find out which things (most likely on your shared list) that you have in common and put together a shared list for everyone involved. Then you do something really radical and rank them in order from easiest to hardest, with the most difficult or challenging things to do at the top and this is where you focus first and what you start to formulate a plan to make happen and happen sooner rather than later.
Now I understand that at this point it will be awfully tempting to reach for the low-hanging fruit and to defer the most difficult, and starting with the most challenging things first might on the surface sound a little crazy, but there are three really good reasons why you should do so. First of all, larger goals are more motivating and more likely to get you to take action to accomplish. Especially on the group side where you have the extra momentum of a shared goal and the likely resulting peer pressure to help insure that you follow through. You and your golfing buddies might not manage to give up a weekend altogether to go to the AT&T, but you will set aside vacation time, start saving money, and doing extra special honey-do’s all year long if it means a hall pass to take a boys trip to next year’s Masters. Secondly, in today’s fast-paced world it’s unfortunately common for many spouses who’ve been together for decades even to have never really spent extended quality time together. I know one couple who spent their 20’s, 30’s, 40’s, and 50’s working hard and raising a family, all the while looking forward to a year of traveling the U.S. by motorhome upon retirement. Well they finally got there and headed out on the road, making it all of 6 weeks before returning to sell the motorhome after realizing they absolutely couldn’t stand spending that much time alone together and ultimately liked doing very different things.
Invest time in answering those all important questions now, rather than kicking your Bucket List down the road, and while I can’t guarantee you’ll like the answer, I can guarantee that it’ll be a much more bitter pill to swallow 10, 20, or 30 years from now if you don’t. And finally, if you focus first on those experiences, events, and goals that are at the top of your list, or the most difficult to do you really won’t regret it, even if it leaves you scrambling to come up with all new goals, because those are the ones that you will likely most regret not having done when it comes time to walk down the ol’ 18th fairway of life. So start today, and once have them I’d love to hear what’s on your list.