Before the term "bucket list" was invented I was a young, somewhat naive, woman with a list of ideas about where life would take me. I would most likely become a professor, undoubtedly write some great novels that would win many prestigious awards, while at the same time raising an adoring family.
I never said I was realistic about my plans.
But, as anyone over the age of thirty will understand, life happens. And it doesn't usually happen the way you think it will. After finishing my BA with enough student loans to last a while, I decided to temporarily break from school to work full-time. Then I got a good job. Then a husband. Next thing I knew, I had a mortgage and a couple of kids. So I made the difficult decision to quit my job and stay home with my little ones. Suddenly I realized that, despite all my plans and best intentions, life was already happening.
Does this mean my I've failed at my dreams? Or that now I should sit down and draw up a bucket list of things I want to do...when? The kids move out? My husband retires? I hear the words "follow your dreams" over and over but I'm not totally convinced it's the best advice. Mainly because of one big problem.
It's not very practical.
Or, at least, it can be sometimes. But not for everyone, and not all the time.
Making the decisions to have children and quit my job were good things that were important to me. But what I didn't realize when I was finishing school and taking the world by storm was that it would mean other things I wanted to do, dreams of mine that involved taking time, money, or focus away from my family, weren't possible. Maybe other women with young children could manage it but for me at that time in my life it just didn't work. Any choice you make in life is the choice not to do other things, even if you're not conscious of those missed opportunities until later.
This is why I've never been a fan of bucket lists. They're supposed to be an inspiring list of things you want to do in your lifetime. Climb a mountain! Travel the world! Make a million dollars! But for me, a bucket list merely represents all the things I should be doing instead of what I actually am doing. Let's face it, some days are not "bucket list" days. And, in reality, many people will never be able to achieve all the things on their lists for various reasons. Work, health, family or countless other responsibilities can prevent you from accomplishing the things on your dream list before you "kick the bucket."
Is it a bad thing to never be able to check off the things on your bucket list? I don't think so. Because maybe instead of backpacking across Europe you were busy caring for a sick relative, encouraging a friend, supporting your family, or even just taking a much needed break from all the things you thought you should have been doing.
It's great to have dreams, plans, and goals in your life. These things can be helpful and, in many cases, wise. But if you focus exclusively on dreams then you might just miss something that's right in front of your face. And to top it off, you might end up with a big list of things you've never managed to do in your life. Your bucket list can too easily become a list of disappointments.
But if you do find yourself in a position to follow your dreams, meaning you have the tools and the ability to do what you want to do, then by all means go for it. I believe that God gives us specific talents and desires He wants us to use and that there's a "time for everything" (Ecclesiastes 3:1). So, for example, if you want to sing or teach or build houses, and the time is right for you, then go for it. Sometimes all the planets align in your favour. Just do it with the understanding that your life can't be reduced to a checklist or you'll run the risk of missing the importance of other things you accomplished.
I have a couple projects on the go right now that I never would have attempted if there had been a "to-do" list for my life hanging over my head. The world has changed since I first stepped out into it with a head full of ideas and that means amazing new opportunities have been created. I've also met some great people who've taught me some invaluable lessons. I certainly wouldn't trade those experiences or that wisdom for a checkmark on an arbitrary list.
So maybe you didn't become a famous musician like you always wanted to. Maybe you didn't quit that stressful job, buy the boat, and sail away into the sunset. Instead, you worked steadily until retirement and spent the "boat money" on your kids' education. But maybe, while your bucket list was shoved unwillingly aside, you ended up doing the very things you were meant to do. The things that shaped who you are and how you affected the other people in your life. Those people you care about most. You didn't get your checkmark but you got something else, something more profound and completely irreplaceable, in its place.
Because, and this is a truth we can see only in retrospect, sometimes the best dreams are the ones we didn't even know we had.