Burn Your Bucket List


Especially since Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman made the movie a couple of years ago, people have been making lists of things they want to do before they die.  Sometimes these lists are long and extravagant.  The creation of the bucket list can be a constructive and important gesture of freedom and self-determination for those who are feeling stifled and unfulfilled, and it may even result in the accomplishment of one or two of its entries.  But my clients routinely demonstrate that bucket lists have a way of morphing into to-do lists over time, at which point they are likely to generate anxiety and frustration rather than exhilaration and fulfillment.   In these cases the question becomes, “How can I ever hope (or afford) to accomplish all the things I have defined as essential to my fulfillment as a human being? “

At this point, it is time to scrap the bucket list in favor of a more sophisticated metaphor; one that celebrates the inexhaustible range of possibilities in the world as well as the fluid nature of our own preferences and taste.  When I sit down to write a new ad I sometimes start in my Potential  folder, which currently has 117 mostly excellent titles languishing within it; unwritten.  A few moments of wallowing in this intimidating collection of unrealized masterpieces usually results in a sudden inspiration that is based on my actual current life rather than on my Cliff Notes from some former life, which is what my Potential folder really is.  My objective is not to overcome my list of prior commitments, but to write something that is pertinent to me and to my people at this unique new moment.  If I thought I had to write all of those potential essays I would be a frustrated author and a less effective counselor.

As a metaphor for this crucial life process (the identification of new projects and adventures) I propose to replace the Bucket List with the Funnel of Life, for which you should imagine the sort of contraption that dispenses food pellets to your pet hamster when he chooses to dine.  Harry the Hamster assumes that there is an inexhaustible supply of pellets in his food funnel, and he takes it for granted that the pellets sitting in the dispenser will be just as tasty and satisfying as any of those buried in the storage hopper above.  He does not ask for any particular pellet and he does not worry about getting through them all; he simply asks “what next?”   Harry is serene and happy.

Since you are more sophisticated than Harry your selection of new projects and adventures will involve more subtle criteria than his, but Harry’s Zen-like elasticity is to be admired and emulated.  Trust me. Call me. 

By: Joe Ferguson, PhD

Dr. Ferguson is a PhD in Clinical Psychology, from Fielding University.  He obtained an MBA, from Wharton School of Business.  He can be reached at 332 Forest Ave., Suite 17, Laguna Beach, CA  92651 (949) 235-2615 ~ DrJoe@Fergi.com ~ www.Fergi.com    

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