Our Bucket-List: Things we should all do before we die

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what makes people ultimately happy as well as myself, and that can be a pretty diverse subject given everybody has different goals, passions and things that they want out of life.  With that in mind I wanted to put together a list of things that I believe would give nearly everybody some memories to look back on with fondness as they ponder their life in their final days.  Some will be more specific and others will be broader, but all will be important in my opinion. 

Leaving something behind: 

  • Making your mark on the world before you go is a goal for many people, but it can also come in many forms.  For some their “mark” is their company they started that grows and becomes successful beyond themselves, for others, it’s a novel they spend years creating and for some it’s simply just raising a family that can carry on your traditions and values to the next generation.   No matter what your mark is, make sure you know it, make sure you aren’t left with no time on the clock wishing you could still leave one. 

Knowing you at least tried: 

  • One fear of mine and many others has been the fear of “what if”.  I don’t want to be that guy on his deathbed who looks back at his life with regret, especially regrets that I could change right now in this moment where I currently exist.  Do you have a business you want to start? THEN START MAKING PLANS AND STOP MAKING EXCUSES.  Do you want to travel more?  THEN START MAKING PLANS AND STOP MAKING EXCUSES.  Reference the “Getting out of your comfort zone” bullet below as I feel it goes well with this topic and remember, you’ll only be answering to yourself in those final days. 

Impacting other people:

  • This one is HUGE.  Think to yourself, when you look back on your life in your final days, will you get more satisfaction out of the money you made, the things you collected or would you get more satisfaction out of the fact that you know you directly helped or influenced others to help people who need it most.  This doesn’t have to be directly related to charity causes or homelessness, but it can be as simple as being genuine and honest with people who need it.  I was an Army recruiter for a few years as well as a tech recruiter and I helped people either get away from a bad home life or get started in the career they were aiming for resulting in their success.   The fact that I was able to influence these people and others positively makes me feel more fulfilled and happy with my performance as a human in my short existence.  

Pushing yourself: 

  • There’s levels to this one.  When it comes to “pushing yourself”, whether it be physically, emotionally or otherwise, it’s subjective and depends on your own perspective.  What is considered “pushing oneself” for one person, might be easy for another depending on how hard you’ve been “pushed” in the past.  So this will require an honest analysis of yourself and your own capabilities.  For me, I served 10 years in the U.S. Army as a Paratrooper.  I had to push myself running many miles, sleep deprivation, many months away from friends and family.  I will be able to look back on this and other times of my life knowing that I did indeed push myself in life.  Have you? 

Getting out of your comfort zone: 

  • We all get comfortable, and when we get comfortable we don’t want to ruin it by shaking things up, but you can still be stagnant in life even being comfortable.  The best way I’ve found to do this is to take a chance and just DO IT!  An example I’ll give is after I get home from work, I’ll eat some food and as soon as I relax on the couch a friend texts me and says “Hey lets hang out tonight”, “have a fire”, “go pick up that thing we were supposed to get” or something similar.   It could be easy to justify staying on the couch and some days I do this for sure, but I’m trying harder and harder to say “YES”, get my butt off the couch and DO SOMETHING and since I’ve been doing this, I’ve noticed that I NEVER regret doing that other (usually more productive/memorable) thing. 

Traveling:

  • One of my favorite quotes about travel comes from Mark Twain “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”  This quote alone explains why it’s healthy, but for me, traveling let’s you see and appreciate the world you live in without stagnating in one country or area.  I have many great memories and experiences that I’ll carry with me for the rest of my life.  Travel more.

Family:

  • This might come as an obvious for most, but there are a large number of people out there who say things like “I’m never getting married or  having kids” as they think that “freedom” will give them happiness.  From what I’ve observed in my own life and looking at others I can say I would never want to live a version of my life where I didn’t have a wife, children and family that I care for, this alone is the biggest item on my Bucket-list.

I hope this article at least helped put you into a new frame of thinking when it comes to your bucket list and what you want to get out of life.  Life, no matter your experience in it, is still Amazing and to waste that experience would be the biggest regret of all. 

Death: Expect it more, fear it less

Gather ye rosebuds while ye may, old time is still a-flying, and this same flower that smiles today, tomorrow will be dying

Robert Herrick,1648, To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time

We all experience death eventually, but nobody likes to talk about it.  “That’s morbid” or “Let’s not talk about that right now” are common things you hear when/if you bring up the topic of death.  I think that should change.  Not only to have a healthier outlook about it, but to help you live life to the fullest without necessarily “fearing” death.  

To quote the great stoic philosopher Epictetus “I cannot escape death, but at least I can escape the fear of it”.   I think this quote encapsulates exactly what I’ve been thinking about and what I’d like to bring to the attention of you, the reader. 

No matter what religion you believe in or even if you don’t believe in anything at all, you will experience death eventually.  That day could be today, tomorrow, months from now or hopefully, many years down the road.  Given the uncertainty of death, do you believe it’s smart to ignore the fact of death or do you think that it’s healthy to avoid the topic until you’re faced with it and forced to deal with it, whether it be with a family member or  yourself?  I believe preparing your mind around the topic of death can/will help you process it better when either yourself or a loved one’s time comes near. 

No I’m not talking about walking around all day just thinking about death or having a morbid fascination with it.  I’m talking about having a more “poetic” view of death, kind of a “smell the flowers along the way” sort of view about it.  I think most of us would agree that we all should spend less time worrying about things we cannot control and enjoy life’s moments more. 

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I’m 34 as of November 2020.  I’ve experienced a number of deaths and funerals in my life to include my mothers back in 2017.  Luckily for me, I prepared myself as much as possible by recognizing the warning signs of her health, lifestyle and other things.  I knew it wasn’t going to be long before she passed and I prepared myself for it.  Yes I was still sad, yes I cried, yes I still deal with it from time to time, but expecting it and coming to terms with the real possibility that it could happen soon helped my process.

No you can’t plan for unexpected deaths.  When someone young that you love is killed in a car wreck, or a disease pops up out of nowhere it’s going to be a huge blow to you emotionally, as it should, but you can still prepare your mind.   One way I recommend doing this is by knowing and expecting, in the back of your mind, that a tragedy is just around the corner.  This thought process isn’t morbid either, it’s a fact of life and accepting these facts of life, that is the human condition, will help you be caught just a little less off guard. 

I remember a conversation I had with my Aunt Kathy a few years ago.  We were standing on our family farm out in the country clearing out my grandfather’s things as he was moved into a nursing home.  She was obviously mentally and physically tired and being around her 70’s, rightly so.  I said something to the effect of “Life is crazy” and she told me “Gary, it doesn’t stop, it’s always something, that’s just life” and that made me think.  

Most people seem to have the mentality of looking forward to their golden years and retirement.  They imagine sitting on a beach with their spouse enjoying the ‘good life” that you worked so hard towards, I mean you deserve it after all, right?  The reality of this mentality is that 90% of the time this doesn’t come to fruition for most people.  If you’re lucky enough to make it to the age of 65+ you’ve been through lots of loss and hardships.  Loss of loved ones, setbacks, and at that age your time is most likely drawing to an end. 

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“Gary, you’re really starting to bring me down here” you might say.  That’s not my point though.  My point is that once you reach a certain age, it’s healthy to come to terms mentally that you will have to deal with death more and more the older you get.  You can either get depressed about this fact when it occurs and fear it until it does, or you can appreciate the time you have left on this earth and the time you have left with those you love.  

Grieving is healthy, and basically inevitable as part of our human existence, but recognizing the difference between grieving and sulking is equally important.  Let’s say a loved one dies that you cared about who also cared about you.  Do you think they would appreciate you wrecking yourself emotionally or drowning yourself in a bottle for weeks on end because of their passing?  Or do you think they would appreciate you processing it healthily and appreciating the time you did have together?  I know I wouldn’t want those that I love to be tortured by my passing to their detriment.  

I’ll leave you with a poem that I have quoted most of my life that I think about often by Robert Herrick written in 1648 titled To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time

Gather ye Rose-buds while ye may,

    Old Time is still a-flying:

And this same flower that smiles today,

    Tomorrow will be dying.

The glorious Lamp of Heaven, the Sun,

    The higher he’s a getting;

The sooner will his Race be run,

    And nearer he’s to Setting.

That Age is best, which is the first,

    When Youth and Blood are warmer;

But being spent, the worse, and worst

    Times, still succeed the former.

Then be not coy, but use your time;

    And while ye may, go marry:

For having lost but once your prime,

    You may forever tarry.

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