Making the List


Photo credit: Matt Beckwith (flickr: mattbeckwith)

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.  Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.  It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.  We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?  Actually, who are you not to be?

-Marianne Williamson


What would you attempt to do if you knew you would not fail?

-Robert Schuller

Considering this is about life goals, you might think I have some sentimental attachment to other goals that people make, like New Year’s resolutions.

I don’t.  New Year’s resolutions are awful.  If you want to reform yourself and think it’s worth waiting until next January to do so, you’re raising my blood pressure.  In fact, leave.  Here’s a link to facebook, where you can piddle away your time until the new year:

Instead, let’s talk about how to make life goals.

I’ve seen a few blogs and books that tell you how to make your list of life’s goals.  Those raise my blood pressure too.  If you want a discussion of whether you should use pen or pencil, I can provide links.  If you want to know the best kind of paper for writing your goals on, I’ll be glad to refer you elsewhere.

All of that is immaterial compared to two things: making a list and working on it.

Don’t worry about anything else.  Use a notepad, Notepad, a Moleskine, a napkin, whatever.  If there’s no paper around and you tattoo it on your arm, all the better (send pictures if you choose that route).  The thing is, you can make a perfectly good and fulfilling list of life’s goals without reading another sentence of advice.  I encourage you to take a few minutes and put together at least a draft.  When you come back, I’ll ask you some questions just to make sure you didn’t forget anything at the very bottom of your heart.

And if you think you have it and never read this blog again, then all the best!

The Scenarios

I know of four questions that trigger that wild, joyful thinking so critical to making goals more than anything else I’ve heard.

1.) If you never had to work another day in your life, and money was no object, what would you do?  This was the question that originally inspired me to formulate my list of life’s goals.  Before I had heard it, I always assumed I would be shackled by lack of time, lack of money, or both.  But this question sets you free from those.  It asks you what you would be doing if the two single largest excuses in human history were completely out of your life.  You can do anything.  Now what?

2.) What stories do you want to tell your grandchildren?  Stories hold a place near and dear to my heart.  I want to pass those on.  I don’t simply mean the hunting stories and the trudging-uphill-both-ways-to-school stories.  I mean every bit of life you pass on through words to those who come after you.  My dad says the best decision he ever made was to marry my mom.  He’s a smart guy; he’s not just saying it.  There’s a story there.

3.) What did you dream about when you were a kid?  That may have been the last time we knew what we really wanted.  Something about being able to stand up in a cardboard box means you don’t have to sell out.  What were your goals then?  Think back.  Your dreams may have changed, but in a serious way?  I doubt it.

4.) You’re dying.  You look back on your life, and you know it’s been good.  You’re filled with an immense sense of thankfulness and peace.  Why?  Life has been unfair, but it’s been unfair in your favor.  It didn’t always seem that way, but sure as God’s own truth, that’s the way it ended up.  What would cause you to say such a thing?  What would give you such deep and abiding happiness?

The Taxonomy

Here are some ways you could classify many common goals.  It doesn’t cover everything, but it’s not bad for a quick ponder.

What do you want to create?  A poem.  A painting.  House.  Family.  Business.  Family business.  Bar.  Restaurant.  Non-profit.  Novel.

Where do you want to go?  India.  Mexico.  A Rolling Stones concert.  The running of the bulls.  New York City.  Abroad, alone.  Every MLB stadium.

Who do you want to be?  A mother.  A father.  A grandparent.  Loved.  A good friend.  Tattooed.  A saint.  A Saint.  Amateur genealogist.  CEO.  Oenophile.  Someone’s hero.  Mayor.  Your own boss.

What do you want to accomplish?  A marathon.  NaNoWriMo.  Grad school.  Mt. Kilimanjaro.  The Great American Roadtrip.  Swim in the Mediterranean.  Run up the Eiffel Tower.  Be a film extra.  Shake Obama’s hand.

What do you want to learn?  Arabic.  The constellations.  Countries of the world.  Something new every day.  Muay Thai.  Thai.  Thai cooking.  Ruby on rails.  Patience.

What do you want to quit?  Smoking.  Drugs.  Drinking.  An eating disorder.  Processed sugar.  Your boring home state.  Nail-biting.  Shyness.  Self-doubt.  Soda.  Procrastination.

The Postscripts

Once you’ve made your list, there’s one other important thing that I want you to do.  Write down everything you’ve accomplished that could have gone on this list at one time.

Get my degree.  Done.

Travel to Mexico.  Check.

Become a godmother.  Accomplished.

Keep that list too.  It’s for when Resistance is beating you down.  It’s to remind yourself that you already have accomplished things– that you’re in the middle of a journey every bit as much as you are beginning one.  This is good because the forces that would self-doubt you into a miserable little corner can’t stand up as well to someone who’s been there and succeeded.   But here’s what you say: “It wasn’t easy to become an Eagle Scout.” or “It took a lot of work to raise a kid to college.  But I did that, and there’s a lot more I can do too.  Watch.”

And your self-doubt will take a step back.

One final piece of advice.  Don’t make this list for anyone else.  Don’t make it for your friends, don’t make it for your mom, don’t make it for your future biographers.  Make it for you.  Put something laughable on it– something unimportant… to everyone but you.  Thinking about putting something on the list because everyone else does and it’s a measure of “success”?  Skip it.  In another 80 years, all of your critics will be dead.  Unfortunately, so will you, so it’s a crying shame to waste your time doing anything for their approval.

So there it is.

If you’ve made your list (and I hope you did), take another look at it.  It’s kind of surprising, right?  There’s a lot you want to accomplish.  You’re not a small thinker.  You wrote down your dreams, and there’s nothing ignoble about them.  Instead, you have committed to paper your bargain with life.  Today is the day that bargain starts.  By writing it down, you have shaken on it.  You’re playing the game now.  Pissin’ with the big dogs, as my dad would say.

Good luck.

  1. December 13, 2011
    Stacy Rupert

    Love & can’t wait to share!

  2. March 17, 2012
    Emma's Bucket List

    Thank you for following me on Twitter, just been taking a look at your site and I think it’s a great idea to inspire people. This mirrors the way I have thought and felt since losing 2 parents… It took a massive wake up call to really inspire me to start living proactively instead of just surviving through habit and routine.

    In the past year alone I have:

    Sky dived for charity (the hospice who nursed Dad)
    Wing-walked (CRAZY FUN), near London
    been Harness Zorbing near Brighton, UK
    Zip-lined from the top of red-mountain, Nevada
    Visited Las Vegas
    Visited the Hoover Dam
    Hiked through the valley of fire
    Learned to fly a helicopter
    Learned to y aerobatics in a stunt plane
    We through the Grand Canyon in a helicopter
    Camped in a teepee on Grand Canyon ranch
    Visited Thailand
    Rode an Elephant
    Held a monkey
    Visited the Giant Buddha in Phuket
    Been Caving in a sea canoe in Thailand
    Visited the island of Phi Phi
    Bungee Jumped into a lake
    Done a catapult bungee
    Taken my kids to Disney
    Taken my daughter to sea world
    Did an 8 week course in Mindful Meditation
    And more besides!

    Making that list has really inspired me and I’ve LOVED writing about and sharing the experiences, photos and videos!

    To see the full list see here:

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