To Do and Not To Do: The Non-Bucket List 4


I am proposing an alternative to the Bucket List. You know those lists people make of things they dream of doing before they “kick the bucket”. A term popularized by a mediocre 2007 movie showcasing aging stars Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson, the Bucket List has come in for criticism of late.

It partakes of a commodification of cultural experience, in which every expedition made, and every artwork encountered, is reduced to an item on a checklist to be got through, rather than being worthy of repeated or extended engagement… This is the YOLO-ization of cultural experience, whereby the pursuit of fleeting novelty is granted greater value than a patient dedication to an enduring attention—an attention which might ultimately enlarge the self, and not just pad one’s experiential résumé. The notion of the bucket list legitimizes this diminished conception of the value of repeated exposure to art and culture. Rather, it privileges a restless consumption, a hungry appetite for the new. I’ve seen Stonehenge. Next?

– Rebecca Mead, “Kicking the Bucket List”, New Yorker11 September 2014

Tourists knocking Stonehenge off their Bucket Lists

“Knocked Stonehenge off the Bucket List!” – as US President Obama recently quipped on a quick trip to England (photo by David Hurn/Magnum in New Yorker crit)

My problem with Bucket Lists is that they’re not only about the experience, often some daredevil deed requiring a lot of logistics, but also about bragging when you cross an item off. People tweet about what they’ve done or seen, they share photos of their feats on Facebook.

Inspiration to dream up items for your Bucket List is said to come from considering what you’d want to do if you knew you were going to die tomorrow.

Managed to do two last year: 85. Ride a helicopter and 72. Conquer a fear (heights) at the same time. Also went further as it was a heli-ski trip so got dropped on the peak of the Cret-Sur in the Alps and skied down. Unbelievable, unsurpassing! I can now die happy!

– comment on Personal Excellence, “What’s on Your Bucket List? 101 Things To Do Before You Die?”

Comedian Jerry Seinfeld recently reached Bucket Listmaking age (60) – but told talk show host David Letterman that he’s decided not to make one.

I certainly wouldn’t choose to spend my last day on earth bungee-jumping, or in a queue to see the Taj Mahal. Yet it does seem worthwhile to spend some time considering what you want out of life. To figure out what you value most and would like to do more of – while you still can. I don’t think it’s a bad idea to make a list of things that could make the last part of your life more enjoyable and fulfilling.

In fact, I’ve already started making my list. I come from a long line of listmakers, who carried on making lists well into old age. On scraps of paper, backs of envelopes, in notebooks. Writing something down seems to etch it into my memory. I do more listmaking now than ever since my flagging memory needs all the help it can get.

My proposed alternative to the Bucket List is not a bunch of activities to be experienced and crossed off, one by one. Mine is a list of ways of being in the world. At this point in my life it seems useful to focus on my interactions with the people and places around me. Because I don’t feel the same now about family and friends as I did I years ago. Having realized who I cherish most, I make more effort to connect with them.

I even relate differently to nature now, since activities like walking and gardening have been shown to be valuable to health and mood. So now I need to discover more of the things I should be doing – and often even more importantly, not doing – in response to these changes that have come with age.

When we were young we got a lot of attention. Sometimes it even felt like too much and we found it annoying. Like when young women complained about being hit on by men.

As we get older that problem disappears because we get less attention than before. For women the contrast is especially sharp. A female who’s no longer young and hot doesn’t get noticed like she used to, unless she’s some kind of celeb or impressively rich. Is this a bad thing?

Google “how not to care what others think” and you get 28.5-million results in half a second, from peer advice to psychological studies.

slogan to empower LGBTQ from US National Youth Pride Services site

Slogan to empower LGBT youth not to care what others think about them, on National Youth Pride Services site

We know we care too much about what other people think of us. We always have, since we were kids. It got worse in our teens and as young adults.

Now that My New Old Self is starting to feel invisible, can this be turned to advantage? I hope so. That’s why I’m making my list of things To Do and Not To Do – for the Rest of My Life. (Not: Before I Die. As if I’d make a list of things to do After I Die!)

I have come up with the first item on my list, comprised of two parts.

  1. a.) To Do: Get used to being ignored.
    I’m trying to accept it, maybe even enjoy it. As with a tree falling in the forest unheard: how can you feel fat or ugly or stupid if no one’s noticing you? It can be liberating to observe the world without being observed.
  2. b.) Not To Do: Worry about what other people think of you.
    Since they’re probably not thinking about you at all. Another thing not to do is to try to impress people. Especially younger people, who like totally don’t notice you anyway.

The older I get, the easier it should be to quit worrying about what others think. I’m hoping that by doing – and not doing – the things on my list, I may eventually experience the kind of happiness promised by those Bucket Lists. Now I’m busy dreaming up more items for my To Do and Not To Do (for the rest of my life) List.


4 thoughts on “To Do and Not To Do: The Non-Bucket List

  1. Reply M R Nov 7,2014 9:48 am

    I’ve reached this so-called threshold and I’ve never felt freer in my life. I have the usual obligations still but for the first time ever I can do what I’d like to do for a whole year. When in one’s lifetime dies that happen for most of us. So, maybe not a bucket list but an “an always wanted to do list” is what it could be called. Especially when this is the time in life when some seriously morbid things lurk all over. If you’re well, why not do those things you’ve dreamt about a good part of your life. Sure, learning to ignore what people think of you is important but by now you usually realise that already. You’ve wasted far too much time measuring yourself or weighing yourself against the best and brightest in life. Now time is the most valuable thing in the world, more than money, but even this is something you shouldn’t be too preoccupied with because it leads to a new obsession to get things done ” before I die”. I guess to finally accept calmly what remains of the day is really what would be harmonius. Listen to the birds, watch the kids, see the things you kept putting off, and, if you’re lucky and fit enough do those things you always wanted to do, but not be driven by it as a last gasp must-do. That’s what I’m thinking now.

  2. Reply Brendon Hatcher Dec 3,2014 4:14 pm

    I agree!

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