A couple of times a week, my husband and I go for hikes – it’s a time to clear our heads and re-connect. Most of the time, our conversations focus on parenting, managing our lives, and what to eat for dinner. To change things up, he bought a deck of question cards designed to foster a more intimate conversation and break up the monotony. I love it! So, now we hike up the hill to clear our heads, and on the way home, we have substantive conversations.
Recently, one of the questions left me stumped. It was simple: What do you want to accomplish over the next 20 years? I lamely answered, “Get our kiddo to college and maybe become conversational in another language.” Half of my answer wasn’t even about me.
I’m the person who thinks the game Never Have I Ever is best when lost. At 18 years old, I drove across the country alone with my dog because I could. I see something hard or scary, and I run at it at full speed like a cartoon character at a wall.
But just like that, I didn’t have any more big dreams.
Okay, that is a bit of hyperbole. Quarantine has chipped away at my hopes. I went from making plans to travel to Japan to creating an edible plant garden. I published a novel, so that is something. But somehow, I blinked after last summer and my future aspirations had withered on the vine.
We are in a pandemic, and we need to do what’s right for all of us. However, no one said we had to surrender our dreams. Hope is required to survive the soul-wrenching sadness while we shelter in place.
Make a new dream; pick a new guiding star. It’s that easy. But nothing came to me when I was asked what I’d like to accomplish. Maybe become conversational in two languages?
No. I will not have it. Coming up with one half-assed goal and multiplying it by two doesn’t serve, so I added “travel” or “maybe go on a retreat.” Who doesn’t dream of one day being able to “travel”?
At that point, I was ready to unfriend myself. My inability to find something joyful to fantasize about felt like it was draining my life force.
There had to be a person inside me somewhere who still had something she wanted to do more than just watching the rest of her subscription movie service. I started searching the Internet, interviewing loved ones, and scanning social media for anything that might get me to think bigger for myself than making sure my kiddo graduates.
I tried on other people’s dreams. At first, it was lovely. The ideas were varied, and it felt like walking through a giant box store of ideas. Make a snowman, ride airboats in waters that are home to alligators, talk with a stranger…I’ve managed to do all three. Framing it in that context, I remembered how lucky I am and was able to experience the joys of reliving those experiences as I considered what were just the dreams of others. At least my research made me feel better about my life choices (most of them).
There were other experiences that I wasn’t interested in at all. I have never stayed in an ice hotel, and I love the pictures, but I don’t fancy going out of my way to be cold. Animal experiences can be cruel to animals, so I’m going to skip those in the future. It was nice to have something to scratch off the list definitively.
So I was crossing things off that I had done before and things I don’t want to do. There were still loads of possibilities. But I got stuck. What made an excellent bucket list item to inspire me through the rest of quarantine? I started to flip through the lists and sorted out ideas based on five guidelines I developed to push the envelope for quarantine dreaming.
One: No Repeats On the List
When making my rough draft list, I put “travel.” Nope, not going to do it! It’s vague. I’ve done it before, and I know I will do it again. Stating something vague and obvious doesn’t inspire deeper dreaming. First-time activities only; others need not apply.
Additionally, if it is an extension of something I’ve already done, I wouldn’t include that either. I have gone indoor skydiving and tandem skydiving. At some point, I will likely put in the effort to solo skydive because I enjoyed both activities. That is a challenge, but it isn’t a dream anymore.
Two: No FOMO Activities
There are so many memorable experiences to try in life, but I’m only going to get to do a relative handful. I must pick only activities that spark a feeling inside me. I have friends who go to fantastic music festivals and concerts. The photos look unbelievable! But that is my literal definition of hell. I enjoy experiences where I get to talk to a few people deeply, and I get my bubble of space. Add only activities that spark emotions I want to experience.
Three: Each Item Has to be Right-Sized and Attainable
I think bucket list items should allow list-makers to expand their view of their lives, but it might be hard to approach if an item is too big. Of course, each person has different definitions of right-sized and attainable. Elon Musk’s goal to send rockets to Mars seems right-sized for him, but for me, it might be quite a stretch right now. What I like about this rule is it forces me to get specific and measurable. Project managers everywhere rejoice at this type of goal-oriented bucket list planning (seriously, you can hear their silent cheer if you listen hard enough).
Four: Effort and Planning Are Involved
I’m going to hike seven to eight miles this weekend, so I think it would be odd to give myself a bucket list item to walk 13 miles – that’s just a stretch goal of my current reality. I decided things on my list must require that I push myself. Use the dream as a driver for self-growth and imagine a little bigger, brighter, and more challenging world than today. For me, I think a hiking goal with effort and planning would be to hike a section of the Great Wall, or Hadrian’s Wall, or Wall of Ston (there is more to hike than walls, but this is all that is coming to mind at the second).
Five: Bucket Lists Must Be Editable
As I grow and strive, I am going to change, as are my dreams. People have to be able to change and alter their goals. When I was a teenager, I wanted to visit all 50 states. At this point, I think I have seen 33, but there are entire continents I’ve never set foot upon. If I see all 50 states someday, great, but I have circumstances now that allow me to travel more widely, and I want to. It’s okay to change. I might not keep or attain every goal I make for this list, which will be okay.
I used these guidelines to revise and clarify my bucket list items, and now I have 10 reasonably clear ideas about how I want to challenge myself and engage with the world around me over the next decade or two:
- Be a guest on a podcast for a topic I have specific knowledge in.
- Become conversational in Spanish.
- Learn to do a J-turn at a MINI driving school.
- Get an open water SCUBA certification.
- Do a three-day intermediate hike of southwest England near Penzance.
- Work as a bartender.
- Learn to play at least three songs on a piano from memory in the genres of classical, jazz, and sing-along.
- Drive a Porsche or McLaren.
- Spend two to six months on an extended vacation in another country.
- Volunteer at a paleontological dig.
I’m excited to start breaking down each of my bucket list items into smaller, more manageable goals to give me direction and focus. I know I won’t book flights this week. But I can continue picking up my hiking speed. I can also begin to pick songs to learn on the piano, and practice Spanish using apps until I can take in-person classes. Now I get to do the work that will prepare me for taking these ten opportunities as they come up.
I hope this exercise gives you something to dream about, or at least a momentary diversion. Even better if you feel inspired to create your list. Feel free to share all or some of it – I think it is entertaining to dream and to celebrate other people’s dreams.