Live Through This

Kicking the Bucket List

All the to-do’s and to-don’ts of writing out your goals.

Illustration by Dylan.

Illustration by Dylan.

I love making to-do lists. I find it really helpful to write down all the tasks that I need to do in a specific time period, whether that’s buying Charli XCX tickets, outlining a paper, or just generally getting that shit DONE. The trouble is, I’m sort of terrible at actually completing these tasks. No matter how satisfying it feels to neatly cross things off a list of often stress-inducing duties (Yay, I’m not a totally unmotivated procrastinator!), sometimes that shit just does not get done (Boo, I guess I AM a totally unmotivated procrastinator after all, back to bed). But, as an eternally wise philosopher known as Hannah Montana once said, “Nobody’s perfect, you live and you learn it,” so I try not to beat myself up about it too much.

Sometimes I think making a list might be productive in itself, even if I don’t get all of it done, and I’m not just saying this to make myself feel less guilty. There’s a lot to be said for compiling and organizing the stuff that needs to be squared away in a given chunk of time. It helps you figure out what’s most important to you in the moment, and even the shortest of lists can speak to your greater interests and goals. Like, if I put “construct my badass and bound-to-be-breathtaking gingerbread mansion” before “finish this paper on Dickens” on a today’s list, it’s easy to guess which one I care about more. (What could ever be more important than a HOUSE MADE OF COOKIES?)

But there’s another sort of list a lot of people like to make—one that has a grander agenda than buying groceries or doing homework, and that’s ye olde “bucket list”: the one where you write down the ways you’ve bonded with Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson over the course of your wacky adventures together. Just kidding, that’s totally not what a bucket list is. A real bucket list comprises everything you want to do over the course of your life before you “kick the bucket,” aka when you DIE and rot away like the corpse that you’ll eventually BE. Was that too much? Because that’s basically how I think of the pressure to figure out my WHOLE ENTIRE LIFE in one list—it’s kind of intense, man!

That’s why I don’t have a bucket list. While I adore setting goals, I’m not into the idea of forcing my future into some rigid outline. I’m only 19, after all—I’m not thinking about death that much at the moment. Plus, when you start defining your life as a list of things to be checked off, shit starts getting a little weird. When the trailer for The To Do List came out, it definitely made the movie look funny (Aubrey Plaza + a million other cool kids = good time), but it also made me cringe. The fact that the whole movie focused on a girl freaking out about completing items on a sexy to-do list before college seemed kind of sad! In high school, there’s so much pressure to “lose” your “virginity” before it’s “too late”—I definitely knew girls who felt they had to get the deed done before it would be “socially unacceptable” to be a virg.

A lot of people my age, and frighteningly younger, also make what I would call “life lists”: inventories of specific accomplishments they intend to have tackled before reaching a certain age. It’s mind-boggling to me that teenagers are expected to know just what the hell we want to do with the REST OF OUR LIVES by the age of 16, and to STICK TO that plan until we’ve hit each required marker along the way. It’s cool to have goals, but they can and should be subject to change over the course of your life. Your time on earth will no doubt be just as meaningful and substantial if you don’t end up taking that road trip before you’re 25 or earning highest honors in Girl Scouts or whatever—often, not fulfilling those objectives just means you were busy taking care of other important parts of your life.

More often than not, life itself doesn’t adhere to a anyone’s list of specific ambitions. Life is not a video game—you don’t get a level-up in worldliness for completing each task you’ve assigned yourself. Life is not Life will fuck up your plans, and that’s great, because it means it will always have the potential to surprise you.

No matter what I may want to accomplish in life, or just this week, I often find that the period of actually doing something, rather than having done it, is the best part, anyway. So for now I’m prioritizing the present moment, what I’m actually up to right now, over any preplanned future. I guess you could say that’s my “goal.” I’m just not putting it on any kind of list. ♦


  • spudzine December 10th, 2013 11:10 PM

    I used to make a ton of bucket lists out of sheer boredom, but I never got anything on them done. I guess, like the article said(at least in my strange, strange, terms), it’s not only about procrastinating, but it’s more like I’ll never know if I get said thing done anyway, so why bother? I mean, we gotta give ourselves room to just BE, instead of thinking that completing something will give us…well, whatever we hoped completing such thing would give us. So this could just be the lazy girl inside o’ me saying this, but just wing it, man.

  • erintintin December 10th, 2013 11:42 PM

    R.I.P. Hannah Montanna :’(

  • soviet_kitsch December 11th, 2013 12:13 AM

    holy shit, this is literally the exact thing i needed to hear right this minute. thank you so much. i honestly feel about 700x better

  • Cerise December 11th, 2013 12:15 AM

    I guess it depends on how you approach it. If you approach your life as a checklist and you’re always only thinking about what’s next, then you aren’t really being happy in the moment, and you probably won’t be happy even when you do check something off, because then you’ll just start thinking “what’s next?” again.

    That being said, I definitely have a bucket list, but I don’t really look at it as a checklist for my life (although I kind of used to). I’m a queen of procrastination, so I need goals in order for me to accomplish things, even things I really want to do (if they’re complicated enough). As a rule, though, I only put things on my list that I really, really want to do, and I use it more as an inspiration and a reminder for myself than a measurement of how “accomplished” I am. I sometimes get all caught up in everyday life stuff and forget what I love, so looking at that list occasionally reminds me of the things I really care about, and it gives me ideas of things to work toward if I feel particularly aimless. Just some thoughts. <3

  • Maryse89 December 11th, 2013 6:56 AM

    when I was 18, i made a list called ’25 things to do before you turn 25′

    now I’m seven months away from turning 25, and I just had a look at the list and laughed hysterically because I literally want to do NONE of those things now

    but I’m generally FOR the idea of writing bucket lists even if you accomplish none of them,because you can look back and get a nice idea of where your head was at when you were ‘x’ years old…

    • emlyb December 11th, 2013 11:53 AM

      haha no way?! thanks for sharing, that actually comforts me in my own strange way <3

      • Maryse89 December 11th, 2013 5:32 PM

        to be fair, your bucket list(s) may be much more reasonable than mine was

        I was a very dramatic 18-year old, so my list is all like:

        *take part in a revolution
        *have a tragic love affair in Paris,

        etc, etc…

  • Sophii December 11th, 2013 8:22 AM

    This is really useful and relevant. I make tons of lists and have a bucket list. The thing I find with the bucket list especially is that I’m kind of setting myself up for disappointment. A lot of things on it are not entirely in my control and, whilst I’m also capable of this, therefore other people could mess it up and it could never happen. I have a mental list and I know the sorts of things that make me happy so maybe I should just stick with that. This is especially great seeing as the new year is approaching and I set myself like 200 goals for 2013. I think I only completed about 5! xoxo

  • elliecp December 11th, 2013 11:51 AM

    setting goals is great but I think deadlines can sometimes make you panic and forget to actually do them. I think instead of planning and planning, it’s easier to just get stuck in..starting anything is always the hardest part! <3

  • Moonshoes December 11th, 2013 12:59 PM

    This article has come at a perfect timing! I have lately been obsessed with planning out my life (college/job/future/STRESS) and I had therefore gone to lists to organize things in my brain. Part of me liked the feeling of having all my “chores” written down in front of me, but on the other hand it was a sort of ongoing pressure to cross off items. Not worth it in the end.

  • heylindseyb December 11th, 2013 1:08 PM


  • TinaBallerina December 11th, 2013 4:43 PM

    I have started writing down everything I need to do in the week in my calendar book. The upside is I get to cross things out (satisfactionnn), but generally two things or more never get done. Mostly they are phonecalls, which I think is awkward. BUT, I definetly don’t have a bucket list for lyfe, that would be overdoing it :)

  • iamrachii December 11th, 2013 5:15 PM

    I made one of those lists of 101 things to accomplish in 1001 days – my 1001 days runs out next July and I’m pretty sure most of the items on the list are going to remain unticked. I’m terrible with goals and deadlines. With that in mind I’m going to go and look at that list now and see whether I can try and get through any of the items on it, it sounds like a good way for me to avoid coursework!

  • mangointhesky December 11th, 2013 7:53 PM

    I love bucket lists- I usually make one every New Years Eve, as my own little tradition!

  • QinQin December 12th, 2013 11:26 AM

    This. I dig this.

    I really agree with your question of why we’re supposed to know exactly what we’re doing with LIFE, and your focus on living the present moment if beautiful.

    Thanks for this!

  • Flossy Mae December 16th, 2013 3:23 PM

    I totally get this! Last year, when it was approaching the 21st December (ya know, cos it was 2012 and doom day and all) there was this massive craze of bucket lists at my school….and i mean literally EVERYONE had one. It was all stuff like ‘kiss someone’, ‘swim in a fountain’, ‘get drunk’ and stuff, and whilst those are all super fun things to do, I just didn’t get it. I totally think that there are certain things I want to do before I die: become a published writer; meet ‘the one’ etc, but I didn’t get the appeal of writing them all down…it was like, what if the world did actually end (thank god it didn’t phew), would you feel pleased with your life because you ticked off some boxes on a piece of paper , or would you feel pleased if you were a happy person? It’s like, however great skinny dipping or having sex or going to Paris might be, it’s not going to define your life; the happiness and love and satisfaction you feel is going to define your life, not a completed bucket list!
    Having said that though, I am guilty of setting myself challenges….currently I’m trying to Read 100 Classics…..but I kind of see that as less of a ‘bucket list’ because I’m not trying to do it in a specific time period, and more of a motivator. I want to read more classics – ya know, to me more intellectuaaaalll and that – and usually with something quantifiable like that I am more motivated with a goal. So i suppose I’m actually being a bit of a hypocrite? Lol

  • Hannnah December 20th, 2013 8:52 PM

    A word of warning.
    Don’t make a “teenage to-do list” on the family computer, when you’re 14, fresh and naive.
    It will be dragged out of one of those forgotten little 2-D file boxes by your father, five years later.
    It will give your family grounds to laugh at you for weeks on end, especially because of that last to-do, which included – amongst about 20 adverbs – the phrase “make love”. *shudder*

    I am still haunted. HAUNTED.