Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Bucket Lists

Each week Google Alerts drops anything published or blogged via the Internet about midlife into my inbox.  There are some weeks that I just roll my eyes – like this one – where almost everything has to do with the  fifty shades of gray author E.L. James sharing that her books were the outpouring of her own midlife crisis.  The news media just loves that. All I have to say is – good for her and now the world can share in her personal sexual fantasies.  I love that she claims this, by the way.

Buried within all the titillation regarding what critics are calling ‘mommy porn’ was an article about taking the midlife crisis on the road by making sure you have a bucket list of things that you want to accomplish before you, well, kick the bucket.  That’s what a bucket list is, right? A list of activities that you want to check off to feel that you’ve lived the fullest life possible. 
When we are young, we say – "someday, I am going to learn to play guitar," or "someday I am going to live in Europe."  Those dreams feel more like goals at that point in our lives and less like pure daydreams. There is a sense that time is infinite and all of those “somedays” will happen in about five years. Somehow.

Midlife rolls around and I suspect more than one midlife crisis has been the product of realizing that those ‘somedays’ never materialized as we thought they would.  Jobs and careers happened. Electric bills and weddings.  Car insurance payments and a second child. There’s a lot of joy in finding the love of your life and having children – heck, having your own car might have been a one of the things that you once dreamed about.  And yet, for good or ill, the bucket list sits patiently waiting for you to fill it up with more wishes and dream opportunities.
I’m curious if this is an American phenomenon: once again wanting to make sure we get the full value out of what we signed up for.  Status quo, sometimes regardless of how good it is, is never quite good enough so we must constantly strive to up the ante and cram in “better” experiences.  This drives the consumer market and it isn’t much of a leap to see how it translates to our way of dealing with life transitions.

Building a bucket list is one way to future-trip about what you will feel like once you have checked all those items off the list.  If you tend to beat yourself up over things that you don’t accomplish – a bucket list may not be a great idea for you because, let’s face it, that list most likely has some highly improbable daydreams on it.  Let the bucket list hold the inconsequential, relatively unimportant items like ‘I want to spend a year in Italy.’  If you don’t go to Italy before you die, chances are it won’t be the most important thing you are lamenting while on your death bed.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – Regrets are emotions that shrivel us up inside.  I think I would regret not telling my children that I love them on a regular basis whereas I won’t regret it if I never see the pyramids in Egypt. I’d like to see them – but it won’t make or break my life experience. Hitting midlife and realizing that we’ve lost track of our dreams doesn’t have to be terrifying – it can be a wake-up call. There is time to repair broken relationships and re-engage with lost dreams. We can do this in order to keep living a full and vibrant life instead of trying to cram more stuff into the memory file – stuff that you may not be taking with you there at the end.  I don’t know, that’s just a hunch.

I have dreams and goals that inform my life. Some stay with me, others fade. I like planning new adventures and love being in the moment of those plots I put into motion. What I am trying to do is detach from the outcomes - what sense I will make of the moment once it is past.

I asked my husband if he had a bucket list and he said no. He has friends who keep those lists in wallets and pockets, but he doesn’t.  We talked about all the things we thought we would be doing at this age when we were younger and he looked at me and said “I couldn’t have imagined how amazing my life is now when I was twenty. Could not have imagined it at all.”
So there you go.

Bucket lists, I’ve decided, can be fun but I wouldn't count on my older, wiser self actually putting that much stock in whether or not I checked off a list of things as a measure of a life well lived.  

In the end what matters,  I suspect, is the life I am living now. In this amazing moment.

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