We’ve all heard about bucket lists. Generally, it’s a list of high-reaching, lofty, and wonderfully amazing things to do or see before you die. There’s a movie about it. There are books about it. There are even lists that tell you what to put on your bucket list. It’s fun—maybe even exhilarating—to fantasize about imaginative, daring, or even exotic adventures you could experience before you die. The problem with most of these bucket lists is that unless you are a person with unlimited money, freedom, or time, it gets difficult to ever check off any of your to-dos. The bucket list becomes fun to create but overwhelming to carry out. Eventually, enthusiasm wanes because you’ve created an unattainable list of goals and discouragement sets in. So you go back to punching that time card, day in and day out while the goals you dreamt of fall to the wayside.
I believe you should dream big but start small. My motto is, “Kick the list before the bucket.” In other words, build a list that you can conquer. Set high but manageable goals for yourself. There’s nothing wrong with visiting the pyramids … swimming with sharks … or sailing the Galapagos Islands, but the likelihood of being able to travel to all those places is difficult for most people. There’s nothing wrong with seeing the world, meeting new people, and experiencing different cultures if traveling is something that interests you, but also take the time to decide what you want to strive for in other areas of your life.
What do you want to do in your career?
Do you want to have a family?
Have you set any financial goals?
Consider things such as your health, personal development, and relationships as other areas of your life that have importance and could benefit from goal setting. Remember, small steps can make a big impact.
When I was twenty-two, I decided that I was going to do a handful of things in my life:
1. Move out of Ohio
2. Live in Europe
3. Get married
4. Have children
5. Write a book
At the age of thirty-six, I can say that I have accomplished them all and then some. Sure, I have more unique, interesting aspirations on my long list, but my short list of more feasible goals are checked and have been completed in a relatively short amount of time.
Also, take time to think about how you can take some very ambitious goals and make them simpler to tackle. For example, I’ve always wanted to work at an orangutan rescue camp in Borneo, sort of like Jane Goodall or Dian Fossey. Knowing that would be tough to do in the foreseeable future, I looked at alternate ways to accomplish my dream that would still fulfill my love of working with endangered apes in an up-close-and-personal atmosphere. Instead, I worked every weekend as a volunteer providing enrichment activities and speaking sign language to two orangutans and a gorilla at the Monkey Jungle, in Florida. It was an unforgettable experience despite not being in Borneo. I feel I took a step forward even if it was not in the way I originally planned.
Having a list gives you a feeling of control and an understanding of where you are headed. I am a huge fan of lists. I get such a good feeling from crossing something off—even if it’s just something as simple as paying the bills. Without lists, I wouldn’t feel like I was getting anywhere in life.
Challenge yourself in 2011. Pick five areas of your life and set a goal in each. Make sure that they are things that you can control and can be accomplished within a realistic timeframe. For example, start with five, ten, or fifteen years. Most importantly, make your goals measurable.
Don’t just say, “I want to be happy.” Instead say, “I will spend every other Saturday with my family,” or whatever will help get you closer to that happiness. Don’t be too hard on yourself or make the goal too difficult to attain.
Once you identify your special list, I think you will be amazed at what you can achieve.
Now start kicking that list …
(Parents note: Ask your kids to do it too! Pick three to five goals and focus on a shorter time frame. It’s a great way to keep them interested in working toward a goal and can teach some important lessons in patience, hard work, and dedication along the way.)