If I Had Created a Bucket List at 16 …

Thanks to Freshly Pressed, I recently read an interesting blog by a 16-year-old in which she shared her ambitious bucket list.  It got me thinking about the aspirations I had when I was her age and compelled me to share this cautionary tale.

Unlike Morgan, I didn’t have a clear set of goals when I was in high school. “Vague” is the word I would use to describe my view of the future back then. Yet, even this vague vision included having a successful career and a loving family of my own.

I had no idea what form my career would take, but it definitely involved becoming a high-powered business woman, a la Melanie Griffith in Working Girl. I even chose Business Accounting as my major in college.

A few accounting classes and many tears later, I ditched that dream and changed my major to English. My parents applauded the decision. “We’ve been waiting for you to figure this out,” they admitted.

Apparently, their vision of my future involved writing. Understandably so. As a child, my Christmas presents were pens and pencils and beautiful notebooks I would effortlessly fill with poems. Later, they became an outlet for teenage angst. But writing, for me, was an escape, not a career choice.

It wasn’t until I took a playwriting class in college that I tried my hand at writing for an audience. The experience was fantastic. It’s still one of my favorite memories of all time. Still, despite much encouragement, I didn’t pursue a career in the arts.

Why not?

After the playwriting class, I took a screenwriting class, and it became painfully clear that I was out of ideas. All of my passion had been expressed in my little one-act play and now there was nothing left. I looked around the room at my classmates. Some of them were incredibly talented. Some of them weren’t. All of them were overflowing with ideas. All of them had an insatiable desire to write them down. I did not. And that’s when I realized that, yes, I could write, but I was not a writer.

Still, I loved words. I was good with words. Words were my friends. So I pursued a career as an editor. And now, thankfully, I can check “successful career” off my bucket list.

Except, I didn’t feel successful. My career as an editor was not the glamorous kind that everyone imagines. My career was spent sitting in a grey cubicle for too many hours as I watched my life quickly pass me by.

To make matters worse, at 34, I still hadn’t found my soul mate or given birth to any children. If I had created that bucket list when I was 16, I would have burned it.

So what I’d like to say to Morgan, if she reads this, is that setting goals is valuable, but it’s even more valuable to recognize when those goals need to change. Yes, pursue the path you envision, but remain open to possibilities you never imagined. Most importantly, if, for some reason, your life doesn’t take the path you thought it would, never ever consider yourself a failure.

When I was 16 or 20 or 25 or even 30, I never would have dreamed I would leave the stability of 12-year career to become a snowboard instructor and then, eventually, move to Korea for an undetermined amount of time. That turn of events would not have been on my bucket list. Yet, those are the best decisions I have ever made.

I also would not have imagined I would still be unmarried and without children at age 40. Sometimes that’s a hard pill to swallow, but I realize it’s also a blessing. Not only has my untethered status been a catalyst for change in my life, it has given me the freedom to create a new list of amazing things to accomplish before I kick the bucket — things my 16-year-old self never could have imagined.

So what would be on my bucket list today? Well, it would reflect a desire to combine travel, writing, photography and humanitarian work to make positive change in the world. Of course, I don’t currently have a clear idea what form this desire will take. (I am me, after all.) But I know I will make it happen somehow.

And of course, I still want to find my soul mate. It’s getting harder and harder to keep the faith on that one, but I’m doing my best. As for children, I’m not so sure that one’s in the cards for me, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s this: You never know what the future holds.


18 thoughts on “If I Had Created a Bucket List at 16 …

  1. My 16 year old bucket list is embarrassing. 🙂

    “…yes, I could write, but I was not a writer.”

    Yes! This! I love words and love to write, but I don’t have that certain something that I just HAVE to say– and haven’t been sure what to do with that. It sounds like my next step would be to learn to snowboard so that I can become a snowboarding instructor?

  2. I created my first list when I was 16 and I’ve expanded on it since. I think that it is important that we reevaluate our goals and adapt them to the person who we have become.

  3. This is so bizarre. I was thinking about this just earlier today. So at 16 I had just 3 things on my list, Go to uni, backpack around the world, do a parachute jump.

    I will be 28 next month, in October I shall be attending my graduation ceremony, I have finally completed the first thing on my list, go to uni. Backpacking is out of the question with two kids, and I’m not that fussed now – much rather stay in hotels. As for the parachute jump, never, ever, not in a million years….

    I would now add to the list, own a house, have two cars (me and hubby share and its a right pain), oh, and send the kids to private school.(Hardly a bucket list but it certainly what I hope to achieve in the near future) I think my prorities have changed somewhat from my sixteen year old self. I think we call that life!

    Thanks for a great post, I really enjoyed it!

  4. My FB status update for today says it all. “If you don’t know where you’re going, you might end up somewhere else.” That can be a good thing. Don’t let your bucket list keep you from taking interesting side trips.

  5. Oh my gosh….this one made me swell up with tears as I beamed a smile.

    I can recall SO many of our conversations when we were 16: “I’m going to be a ___”; “By the time I’m 30, I’ll ______”. “Oh my gosh, I can’t even IMAGINE what being 40 years old would be like….it’s….soooo….old.” =)

    And, here we are. 40.

    Your dad’s comment / FB status is very similar to one I read at 25: “If you don’t know where you’re going, any road will do” (from Napolean Hill’s book, Think And Grow Rich. Good book.)

    While I completely agree with not allowing a Bucket List to keep you from interesting side trips, creating such a list can be the first step to setting goals. Goals define where we choose “to be” by a specific time….whether financial, spiritual, with health, with relationships, with business, or family. Setting goals (turning wishes into tangible, visible, and even a physical proclamation by writing them down) gives us something to focus on. What we focus on, we tend to attract; what we focus on, tends to grow.

    I’m grateful I had the chance to catch this blog today. The big smile on my face while reading was for the memories of our conversations from – geesh – 24 years ago. (Da-yamn!) The tears were because I related – I think everyone can – to the thoughts this message provokes; the “what if’s?”, the “should I have’s?”, the “if only I would have’s”…questions, I believe, are diseased because they hold us back by making us focus on the past rather than today, tomorrow, or next year. And, what we focus on grows.

    In the last 24 years, I’ve found that writing goals often (and eventually) played a key role in helping me arrive at my desired destination. However, the “journey from point A to point B” was so completely different – EVERY time – than what I could have possibly imagined. CHOOSE where you want to go, but let life and the universe decide the course. That’s my take. Makes and keeps life interesting. =)

    I love your new Bucket List. Keep adding to it. And, go that extra step – add a timeline. Then, cut out pictures which represent what you want / want to do, and glue them to a dream board you look at daily. Sounds cliche’ and simple, but it works.

    I love you, too, and I’m THRILLED you’re able to check off something I’d secretly put on your Bucket List many, many years ago… “Become a Writer”. Because YES, you are. xoxox

    • Oh, TP, you are always so supportive and encouraging. I’m lucky to know and love you. As for the dream board, I’ve thought about creating one many times but never took the time to actually do it. It’s a good idea. I promise to make one soon. Love ya! P.S. You should be a writer, yourself.

    • Well, a soulmate, to me, is a perfect match. Soulmates are two people who really “see” each other and still love and accept each other despite all their flaws. It’s possible to have friend soulmates and family soulmates, too, I think. I have both … I’m just missing the love soulmate. You know because you know. With that person you are 100% yourself and you feel love, connection and acceptance even when things are tough. Maybe it’s a fantasy, but I believe it’s possible and I won’t settle for less. Life is too short to waste time on mediocre or bad relationships that tear you down instead of build you up.

      • And just to be clear; I wasn’t being rhetorical. It’s a question that holds a great deal of meaning for me at this point in my life. That’s why I was interested in your point of view.

        I find myself again growing interested in having that kind of companionship that comes with the big, long term, love relationship – in a way that I wasn’t for years after divorcing (with my own growth and healing, and the busyness of raising kids). The thing is, I’ve dated five women in the last five or six years and two or three are women I could see as that long term partner – a soulmate, perhaps? And the relationships all ended, primarily, for logistical reasons; mostly having to do with geography. So let’s say I wanted to settle down with my “soulmate” – which one? They’re all awesome women, and just my type – smart, interesting, capable. Is one a soulmate? Could any be? Do I wait because maybe I’ll be struck more obviously by “that feeling” at a later time by someone else? If I were to choose to pursue one, how should I choose? The most available at the time I make that decision? The prettiest? The one who seems like they’d be most compatible with my current lifestyle? The best lover? You see the dilemma.

        It reminds me of a conversation I had on a train once, a couple decades ago, with some Old Dude; you know the type, married 60 years or whatever. He’d seen Jen and I embracing and acting like young lovers do upon departing and brought it up in conversation when I happened to sit next to him. Talk turned to thoughts of marriage and I asked the almost requisite, “but how do you know it’s the One?”. Old Dude’s answer went a lot like this:

        It’s not a matter of knowing, it’s a matter of deciding. You find a good woman and you decide to make her the One. Then, you act in accordance with that decision. There’s no magic; you will be attracted to other women through your life. You stay true to the One because you decide to. It’s that simple.

        And, twenty years and one marriage later, I think he’s right. It’s just that it’s equally as simple in concept as it is difficult in practice! But I really do like the thought that love is a choice accompanied by a lifetime of actions, rather than a feeling. It feels more powerful and persistent to me.

        So, is “soulmate” a fantasy? I dunno, but it’s certainly a possibility! Maybe one of those women is my soulmate, maybe Jen is, maybe it’s someone else altogether. Maybe Old Dude’s my soulmate – showing up for a brief conversation every life, nudging my obstinate ass toward Enlightenment. But I wouldn’t trade any of those experiences for the promise of an easier path; they’ve made me me. And egotistical though it may be, I like me pretty well.

  6. Your bucket list blog got me thinking about my life and how my dreams have turned out. I thought I’d share it with you. You might learn some things you didn’t know.

    When I was an elementary school child, my best friend lived across the street. Peter Robinson was the son and brother of Naval Academy grads. His whole life was centered on the goal of going to Annapolis. As his best friend, I grew to share his love of the Navy. To me, it was the only branch of the military I would ever consider.

    Peter went to military prep school and eventually to Annapolis. He did not graduate. He was the first to experience a broken dream.

    When I got to Oregon, I tried to sign up for Navy ROTC. I was told that the only naval ROTC in the state was at O.S.U. I wasn’t about to be a Beaver, so I signed up for Air Force ROTC. I figured it was second best, and certainly better than the Army. That was the end of my Navy dream.

    When I was selected to compete for a full ROTC scholarship, I had to go through a faculty interview. I told them the story of how I chose the Air Force because it was second best. I got the scholarship. It was full tuition, books and $50 a month spending money for my entire senior year. I was told the faculty found my frank honesty “refreshing.”

    Part of the application process also required writing an essay about why I was deserving of the scholarship. I recall specifically telling my readers that I had no desire, whatsoever, to be an airline pilot. My intent was to make the Air Force my career.

    I remember another college dream. After your mother and I were married, I used to wish upon a star that we would be happily married for the rest of our lives and that we would have two children, a boy and a girl. I at least got part of that one right. Perhaps I should have added “to each other” after the married part. You’ve got to be specific on what you wish for!

    In the Air Force, my dream was to be the commander of a flying squadron. That was another bucket list item I never accomplished.

    My life has never worked out as I dreamed it would. Failure to accomplish a couple of my goals left me bitterly disappointed for a very long time. However, I always tried to do what Grandma told me. “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.”

    I did not intend to be in the Air Force, or to become an airline pilot. When those opportunities presented themselves, I decided to give them a try and they worked out pretty well. I did not intend to be married more than once, but that has worked out pretty well, too.

    In “The Bucket List”, the Morgan Freeman character comes to realize that what he cherishes the most is that which he already has. The message to me is, don’t get so caught up in trying to accomplish your bucket list that you let real life pass you by.

    When I got hired by Delta, I was told that my plan to retire from the Air Force and then go to the airlines was a really great plan. My response was, “Yeah, but it wasn’t my plan.”

    I’ve heard that God has a plan for all of us, if we will just listen to Him. I am not sure I am a very good listener, but I can say that I do not have much to complain about when I look over my life. In fact, I have many, many more blessings than complaints. Maybe I am living the life God intended for me, maybe not. Maybe I’ll figure it out if I ever learn to listen.

    • You’re right! I did learn some things. I had no idea about your Navy dream. The rest, I’m happy to say, I mostly knew. I definitely remember you fighting against the idea of being an airline pilot. “It would be like flying a bus,” I think you said. After a few years, though, I think you changed your mind. ; )

      The most touching part of this for me was imagining you as a young man wishing upon a star for a girl (me!) and a boy and life-long love. As you know, I’ve become pretty jaded about men. It’s hard for me to believe that any guy I’ve dated would ever do such a sweet, romantic thing. It reminds me how thankful I am for your sensitive heart and the love you’ve always shown me. Which reminds me of a quote from Grease: “The only man a girl can depend on is her daddy.” Of course, I can’t type that without thinking about the people I know who can’t depend on their fathers either … which makes me even MORE thankful for you.

  7. I’ve just now read this and loved it. It brought tears to my eyes and made me laugh and smile.
    I’ve never written a ‘bucket list’ tho now I feel compelled to do so, but when I look back on what I’ve done with these 40 years of my life I think I’m pretty content with where it’s led me and those things I’ve accomplished. At 16 I never would have seen myself as someone who would have set a goal and pushed *hard* till i got there. At 16, if I wanted something, I tried it and got it. Not that my life was easy, but I happened to choose things that I could (relatively) easily succeed at… not so much in my adult life.
    Choosing to start a business right before the biggest recession of our lifetime? TOUGH. But here I am 10 years later, with just about as much business as I want (right now) and I love what I do.
    In our quest to become parents, I never thought it would take so much time, effort and heartache, and yet I knew if we were going to get there I would do *anything* it took to realize that dream. (and I’ll do it again, cause dammit, it’s worth it)
    Then once our amazing kid came along, I had no idea that I would be the mother of a kid with special needs, how hard it would be, and how I would do just about anything to help her succeed, learning so much about myself in the process. I also had no idea how the act of parenting a special needs would become one of the most rewarding experiences of my life, and how every day she would warm my heart and blow my mind.
    Anyway, I don’t know what my bucket list would hold for the future, but I do know that as I’ve found writing to be some of my best therapy, I think that will be part of it.

    i wish nothing more for you than to follow your dreams around the planet, writing stories about your adventures as you spread your awesomeness to all you encounter. And most of all, I hope you find that special someone to do it with.

  8. Thank you for the amazing wish! I definitely see writing, perhaps combined with advocating for special needs, in your future. Your stories are always inspiring and perspective-broadening. My wish for you: Effortless success in all your endeavors and a lifetime of proud mama moments. xoxo

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