Guest Post: On Life Lists

My friend and Totes Awesome Channel cohort, Ashley is doing a series of guest posts again. I love the other guest post of hers I hosted so much that I requested another. This time I suggested that she write about bucket lists. I myself, really believe in writing these ambitious lists down because I find that even if I don’t revisit what I wrote in the lists, writing the goals down in the first place somehow subconsciously leads me to fulfill them. I’m such a proponent for these lists that I had a bucket list making station at a dinner party I hosted once. Ashley and I have touched on this topic before in our conversations so I know she has her own thoughts to share. Without further ramblings from me, here is Ashley’s take on life lists.

* * *

My name is Ashley and I blog at Writing To Reach You. I’m here today, because Linda asked me to write about bucket lists and life lists. This is secretly one of those things I’m always hoping someone will ask my opinion on, because it has become a heavily-debated topic in the blogging community, and I have never had a legitimate reason to say what I think about it.

I don’t have a bucket list or a life list, but I’m pretty sure I have every other kind of list. I keep them on Evernote, in a black Moleskine, on Post-Its, in old Word documents, on my phone, in Google Docs, and on random scraps of paper. I wouldn’t know how to function in the world without lists. I like to know what to do next and where things are going. I like finishing one thing, crossing it off, and moving on to the next thing. I’m all feelings and intuition inside, and I deal with that by organizing everything obsessively in my external world.

The reason I don’t have a life list is because there aren’t a bunch of random things I want to do in my life. There are only four or five REALLY BIG THINGS, and I try to focus on those instead of distracting myself with other things. If you knew anything about me, this would make perfect sense. I’m a big-picture person. I’m not very interested in the details. I study theology, which is all about asking the biggest questions there are. I have a natural tendency toward minimalism, so I look for meaning in a few things instead of a collection of things. I have always been the type to have a couple super close friends instead of a bunch of acquaintances. My point is that I don’t have a life list, because life lists are not for me, and not because there is anything wrong with them.

I guess the big criticism of life lists is that you focus on collecting experiences rather than just living your life. If you create a life list as if happiness is what will be waiting for you after you cross everything off of it, then this is a fair criticism. No one thing will ever make you happy and no one thing will ever make you a completely different person. I spent many years pursuing perfection, thinking that I would be happy once I accomplished this, this, or this, but I only ever succeeded in making myself miserable. It’s easy to think that if you just had this one person in your life or you got that job or you paid off all of your debt, then everything would be perfect, but you’re always you and you’re never perfect. If you’re not happy where you are, then you’re probably not going to be happy anywhere else either.

I’m sure that some people can pull off just living, but I don’t even know what that means. I have fallen into the life list trap of crossing things off of lists with no satisfaction, but I have also gone to the other extreme of having no plan at all and falling deep into apathy. Now I don’t look to each accomplishment to make me happy. I am happy and there’s stuff I want to do!

I think that life lists and goals in general are about more than just the stuff you do. They’re about taking yourself seriously and committing to things and taking control and finding a direction. All of those things are really important to my sense of self. They help to locate me in a world that moves way too quickly. Finishing something I put on a list is not just about that thing in itself–it’s about making a promise to myself and keeping it. The worst is feeling like you can’t trust yourself to do what you said you were going to do. And I think that’s why a lot of people swear off resolutions and life lists.

I’ve been there. I took some time and then started over with smaller goals–things I actually wanted to do and not just things I thought sounded impressive. I did it because I’m a list kind of person! Not everyone is and I understand that. Linda and I are both list kind of people, and yet we do it very differently. So I guess this is a defense of life lists, but I don’t see that they really need defending. I would never criticize someone for trying to do something. I would never criticize myself for trying either. Try, fail, get off track, get back on track, keep going.

Question: What do you want to do before you die?