Lessons Learned from a One-Year Bucket List

I sat atop the hill, attached at the hip (literally) to Dexter, my paragliding instructor, who was teaching me the science of how we would sprint down the hill and catch a "rising thermal" just in time to rise above the ground, and therefore, not crash into the tree line just below us. It all sounded very black magic-like to me. As if I was in Middle Earth and I was just supposed to leap and somehow one of Gandalf's dinosaur-sized eagles would appear just in time to catch me as I rode on its back like it was a jet ski.

But lo and behold, a 30-yard sprint and a few seconds later and I was kicking my legs in the air like I was in a Fred Flintstone car, soaring above a lavender farm as my eyes met the horizon and I saw nothing but ocean for miles. And so it was, just over six months ago, on my 30th birthday, while paragliding over the Hawaii island of Maui, I began what would be a one-year project to do as many new things as possible, what I dubbed the "30 at 30 List."

I've heard the arguments both for and against bucket lists. The side for bucket lists extolls the virtues of goal setting, lest we get to the end of our life with a laundry list of regrets. On the other side of the argument, there are those who say that death shouldn't be a motivator, or that bucket lists become this never-ending list of wishes that is always growing, but never shrinking since it's so open-ended. While I've always had something of a life list, whether tangible or not, I found that the list continued to grow without me completing many of the items.

And so a few months ago, the 30 at 30 List was birthed - a long list of things that I've always wanted to do, but never done, with the goal of doing as many as possible between my 30th and 31st birthday. It raised questions and challenges. Would the expense outweigh the benefit? Would having a sense of urgency, take away from the simple joy and spontaneity of life? Would I actually carry it through?

Just over a couple weeks ago, I reached the halfway point of this project - my half-birthday, as many would call it. While off the pace I had three months prior (to complete 60 things over the course of the year), I was still on pace to far exceed 30 items. It was something of a nostalgic moment, as I reflected on the last few months, which felt less like months, and more like a lifetime of experiences. Over the course of 26 weeks I had done barrel rolls behind the controls of an aerobatic plane, gotten my first tattoo, paraglided over the island of Maui, ventured into online dating, started the transcript for a book, driven a bulldozer, and eaten with a professional competitive eater.

So what have I learned from this, if anything? Well, professional competitive eaters really can eat more than the typical human. Also, online dating is not for me. And, I'm a better shot then I thought I was (See #20, "shooting skeet"). But what I've learned more than anything is that a tangible bucket or life list is shit, if there's not something intangible that happens within us as a result. What good is a bucket list if it's merely a list, whose end is to receive a check mark beside it, rather than being a means to an end.

However, the fact is that this project has really had little to do with travel so far. Many of the things I've completed could have been done from just about anywhere, with the exception of a few, such as eating a cheesesteak in Philadelphia, learning to paddleboard from a Hawaiian, going to spring training, and attending an NCAA men's basketball game during March Madness. This project has been about living life. This project began shortly following the unexpected passing of my mother and as a big birthday lingered. I wasn't depressed. I wasn't sick. I didn't need a pick-me-up. It was merely an extension of something that has become a motto of mine over the last three years: To throw a wrench in the spokes. While the last two years had seen me take a couple different long-term trips in my quest after a life well lived, I realized that I didn't just have to travel in order to see the world. I can see the world right where I am, by uprooting myself from daily comforts to do things I've always said I wanted to do, but never done.

I've been trying to write this post for weeks now. Every time I sit down to write, my eyes begin welling up as I think about the last few months. The past year has seen me bury my mom, say goodbye to my childhood home, do my best work, move (twice), and complete over 20 things that I've said I always wanted to do, but never done. I sit here in a state of bliss, grateful for the experiences I've had the privilege to undertake, eager to see this through completion, and humbled by what it's taught me. Long down the road, I really believe that I'll look at this season of my life and say that it was the most formidable, having set the course for the rest of my life. It has pushed the envelope of what I thought was possible, confronted my fears, and kept me on my toes like nothing before.

It's now not a question of if I'll complete this project, but when. With over 20 weeks left, I have less than 10 things to complete in order to reach my goal. However, deep down, I know I've already far exceeded my goals and expectations because of how this has changed me. The only question then is that of what's next? I'm not about to get to my 31st birthday and let this fire quit blazing. It's for this and many other reasons that the 30 at 30 List won't be my first and last timed bucket list. Because it's not just a list. It's now become a way of life. A story. My story. And a story I'll continue to write.

What's your take on bucket lists?