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I Completed My Bucket List. Now What?

Redbook logo Redbook 5/18/2020 Jennifer Vishnevsky
a woman looking at the camera: “What if today were my last day on Earth?” © Emilija Manevska - Getty Images “What if today were my last day on Earth?”

For those of you who have bucket lists, it’s a question you’ve likely asked yourself when you wrote yours. According to a survey by Provision Living, 95% of Americans have bucket lists of things to see and do before they die. "A list is like taking a first step in a journey," says Bonnie Olson, a life coach. "Without that first step, not much can happen."

The idea of mortality was new to me. When I was in high school, I read Tuesdays With Morrie and that quote stuck with me. What if today really was my last day on Earth?

a close up of text on a white background: my bucket list © Jennifer Vishnevsky my bucket list

The idea of a bucket list made sense to me. I was always a list person...living my day-to-day life in an organized, structured routine. Sit, think and write my to-do list of items to tick off. "When you write it down, you make it a real possibility," says Chase Boehringer of The Bucketlist Lifestyle. "It's no longer in the back of your head. Seeing your dreams in front of you gives you a clear picture of what is possible."

Putting pen to paper

I started my list with "graduating from college" and put it to the side. At the time, I was lucky enough to say that all of my immediate family was healthy and alive. I didn’t even feel like I truly started living yet, so why would I be thinking about dying? When 9/11 happened, that quote echoed in my head.

a group of people posing for the camera: graduating from college © Jennifer Vishnevsky graduating from college

Hearing stories of lives lost tragically and unexpectedly made me wonder if now was the time to start thinking beyond my short-term goal. "Let's face it, death is typically something we would rather not think about," says Annette White, author of Bucket List Adventures. "The reminder that our time is limited is actually one of the best gifts we can be given. We have one chance to live this life. Just one. And in order to make it the greatest, we need to be acutely aware that we are not immortal, and then we need a plan for living our best lives."

Life happened

I filled in numbers 2-10 and tucked my notebook away. I didn't give myself a timeline for completing the list, but I did worry about putting it off. But the years passed and I forgot about the list. I found it when I was packing up to move into my home. Nostalgia set in and I was right back to my college dorm—planning and dreaming about the future. Throughout the years, as I experienced some of these moments, I remembered my list and would check things off.

a group of people sitting at a table in front of a laptop: Halloween31HOWDIES_014.JPG © Carol Kaelson Photographer Halloween31HOWDIES_014.JPG

Bucket list 1.0

To my surprise, I finished my list by the time I turned 35. At first, I felt a sense of accomplishment. "For those of us who love to-do lists, you know the feeling you get when you cross off an important item on your list," says Boehringer. "The feeling of accomplishment that comes from setting a goal, planning it out and taking the action to cross it off—you feel like a champion."

Looking back

Once I finished that list, I started judging it. It's clear how trivial some of those dreams were. Meeting a celebrity, filling a binder full of Playbills. Each item on my list had a story that I could share—my meaningful experience. Even though I knew there was no set of rules for my list, I was second guessing myself.

a group of people walking in front of a building: author in moscow © Jennifer Vishnevsky author in moscow

Visiting Russia and meeting my extended family was an experience I put at the top. As a child of immigrants, I was born in the U.S. and always felt very American. But I was raised in a Russian-speaking house. To this day, I still speak to my parents in Russian. Connecting to their roots helped me expand mine. My other must-do was to appear on a game show. I always watched them when I was growing up and thought it looked so easy to hit it big. Spoiler alert: I didn't.

Crossing things off

Bucket lists can get a bad rap. Some believe that taking that selfie in front of the Eiffel Tower is less about the experience of taking in French history and more about being able to say you did it. "If you're just stepping foot inside a country to get the passport stamp and then you exit, good luck to you," says Bell. "It's about the growth of the person on that journey."

a man posing in front of a building: author in front of her purchased home © Jennifer Vishnevsky author in front of her purchased home

"It’s not just about writing a whole bunch of stuff down and ticking it off," says Trav Bell, The Bucket List Guy, a speaker and coach. "It's really underneath the surface about how a person reverse engineers their life in order to make that stuff come to fruition. More importantly, it’s about the person that we don’t know yet—our potential. For me, I dove into living a regret-free life instead of a regretful life."

a book sitting on top of a wooden table: binder full of broadway playbills © Jennifer Eaker binder full of broadway playbills

Starting over

With time, that feeling of accomplishment faded and was replaced with a bit of emptiness. I felt a little lost and suddenly, life felt very ordinary. Life's must-dos were replaced by life's to-dos—and nothing felt very exciting. "Now it's time to assess what else you might want to tackle that will help you to live without regrets," says Caroline Adams Miller, author of Creating Your Best Life. "On your first list, did you take big risks or were they low-hanging fruit goals?"

Bucket list 2.0

The first thing I did was create a new list based on some achievements from my first list. We adopted a rescue dog almost two years ago and now I’m motivated to match her energy level and hike a few miles with her. I’ve done a lot of things that terrified me...the most memorable being the Leap of Faith, a 60-foot near vertical slide at Atlantis in the Bahamas. I’m going to keep conquering fears as I face them.

My new bucket lists also has more of a mix of goals. Some are small, like planting a garden (and keeping it alive). Others will take more time, like saving enough to take my mom on a trip to France for her 70th birthday. "It doesn’t matter how big or small your bucket list dreams are," says Margie Lenau, owner of Wonderland Family Vacations, LLC. "It doesn’t matter what experiences you're looking for, complicated or simple. Just knowing that this is on your bucket list will help you achieve it."

a brown and white dog looking at the camera: 7 sangria.JPEG © Jennifer Vishnevsky 7 sangria.JPEG

I’m also going to start checking in on my list, something White recommends doing at least once a year. "Over the course of our lives, we evolve and so should our bucket lists," she says. "Even though at a particular point in time you may feel that you have accomplished absolutely everything you want to, we all change."

If you find yourself with a completed bucket list, don't stop setting goals for yourself. Take that feeling of accomplishment from your first list and keep pushing yourself out of your comfort zone. Bell recommends a bucket list snowball: putting little things on your list that will empower you with momentum to smash through the bigger ones. You may also want to tackle a few things from an anti-bucket list, one full of things you never want to do. But first, I’m going to plant that garden.

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