When I was growing up, I didn’t have the foggiest idea of what to do with my life.
I went from wanting to be a veterinarian (because I loved animals) to wanting to be a cashier (because it looked like a fun job) to everything in between.
The thought of one day being an adult and having to face important forks in the road made me dissolve into a puddle of anxiety.
I tried not to think about it, but as the years passed, it became clear that I wouldn’t be able to avoid making big decisions forever. One day, I would have to choose where to go to college, what to major in, where to live, who to marry, and what to do with my life.
That terrified me.
By the time I finished high school, panic had set in: I was off to college, but I still didn’t know what to major in. And since I didn’t know how to stand up for myself, I let well-meaning relatives decide my path for me.
As you can imagine, letting others take over was not a great start to adulthood. I was so confused and stressed by all the unsolicited advice that I didn’t take the time to sit down with myself and decide — on my own — what I truly wanted.
Today, I am currently attending my fifth college or university. Yes, my fifth. It’s been a long journey, but I’m finally seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. In December, if all goes well, I’ll graduate with my second undergrad degree.
I’ve grown a lot since high school, but even though I’m way more assertive than I used to be, a part of me still wondered recently if I should go to grad school next or not (mostly because graduate degrees are the norm in my family).
But today, I saw my life goals differently than before.
For the first time, I wrote a bucket list of all the things I want to do before I die. And in writing that list, something struck me:
I hadn’t written anything about getting a master’s.
In that moment, I realized I had been worrying more about what other people would think of me if I didn’t go to grad school than what I would think of myself.
Of course, I may still end up going to grad school at some point. But if I do go, I want to go for the right reasons — not because others expect me to go.
When I looked at all the things I had written on my list, I couldn’t help but notice that all the items were things that matter deeply to me.
For once, I had decided what I wanted out of life on my own, and that felt good.
Now, I’m sure a lot of people would roll their eyes and laugh at me for not writing anything about becoming a millionaire by age 30 or owning a bright red Ferrari.
I’m okay with that. Not everyone has the goals I do, and that’s normal.
Having a bucket list isn’t about what other people will think of it. It’s deeply personal. It’s about doing what you know you would regret not having done when you’re old.
I used to think it wasn’t important to write down personal goals for my life. I just assumed it was pointless because they were in my head anyway.
But I was wrong.
When you write things down, you’re taking the first step toward making your goals real. You’re giving yourself a blueprint for how you want your life to go, and that gives you enormous power and purpose.
That blueprint to your life is what will carry you through the discouragements and stress you’ll experience along the way, because you’ll know that your current problems aren’t the end.
In the words of Mike Dooley:
“If you know what you want, if you’ve made up your mind, if you can see it, feel it, and move toward it in some way every single day, it has to happen.”
Even though I don’t care about driving sports cars or having more money than I know what to do with, I do care about volunteering in an orphanage, writing a book, hiking the Alps, and learning to ride a horse.
To me, those are a few things I would regret not doing, and by writing them down, I’m making it way more likely that I’ll actually do them.
In fact, according to one study, you’re 42% more likely to accomplish your goals if you write them down.
The great thing is, there are no rules for making a bucket list. If something is important to you and you can’t stop thinking about it, it deserves a place on your list — no matter what others think.
Writing a bucket list really woke me up — in a way nothing else has.
It made me realize that my life is passing quickly and that I won’t be around forever — that I need to get busy living the life I want, because the alternative is living the life others expect. And who wants that?
If you’re dissatisfied with your life right now, maybe it’s because you’re not going after things that matter to you. Maybe it’s because you’re spending so much time trying to make other people happy, like I used to, that you’ve lost track of what gives you motivation and a sense of purpose.
Just remember: there’s no reason why you can’t go in the direction you want, but you have to choose to travel that way every day and believe you can get to where you want to be.
Writing a bucket list is the first step to making your goals a reality — and ensuring you won’t have big regrets decades from now.