When I was 19, long before the term “bucket list” was so ubiquitous and weary from a long day’s work in the middle of the desert of Saudi Arabia, I sat in my sparsely furnished apartment on Dhahran Air Base, and scribbled out a life list on a few pieces of paper. I’d already crossed off, “Visit England, France and Spain,” and “Live on the beach for a year. Looking back, I didn’t think about the “how’s,” nor did I think of the difficulty of manifesting those goals as a 19 year old, naive, bullet-proof kid. I just knew the list was so long, that if I only had 100 years to do this, I’d better get busy. Some challenges turned full-blown burdens arose, and there continued to be obstacles and setbacks that clotheslined me at various stages throughout life. The kind of stuff that makes you want to throw in the towel; the things that elicit those cliché responses from well-meaning people who don’t know what else to say except, “We’ll be here if you need anything.” From divorce to addiction to clinical depression, a diagnosed heart condition that surgery couldn’t correct, and a slew of other, “Why me’s,” I always returned to my list. Tattered and torn, I’d delicately unfold that sacred list. “See the Orient.” “Swim in every ocean.” “Own, and use, a hammock “Learn to skydive.” “Go to college.” “Teach an adult illiterate to read.” “Study abroad.” “Eat lunch with a total stranger.” “Buy a motorcycle.” (Never mind that I could not RIDE a motorcycle, at the time.) “Eat the best pizza in New York City.” ” Go on a safari.” “Help a homeless person get off the streets.” The list went on for pages. I tucked it away, referred to it often and would put something new in the place of each thing I crossed off. Twenty years later, a woman in her late 30’s had accomplished 95% of what that 19 year old girl had haphazardly jotted down. Somewhere in the world, someone is thinking, “Today feels like a good day to give up.” I’m here to tell you, YOU MATTER. Your life matters. Your struggles DO NOT define you. Don’t quit. If you feel like that character in Dr. Seuss’s book, and your crowd has moved on and you’re left in a lurch, I’m here to tell you that THAT dark place is temporary. Don’t quit. You can scream, cry, find a spot in an empty field and pound the ground with all your might while you curse your circumstances. Then, get up. And, don’t quit. Make a list. With pen to paper, write down the most outlandish desires of your heart. For a moment, forget your age, your bank account, your excuses, and just create a tangible thing that contains the secret dreams you “never got around to pursuing.” I say this to encourage the one with whom this resonates: It is an illusion, those demons that would stop you from obtaining your holy grail. If you’re at your breaking point and need proof and encouragement by hearing how one girl’s hell on earth was extinguished with blood, sweat, tears and the mantra, “Don’t quit,” I’ll divulge some details that might help you get through one more day. Life changes on a dime, sometimes it brings pain…ah, but sometimes, it brings the opportunities that you haphazardly scribbled when you were 19. Don’t quit, Warriors.
There are as many ways to organize your list as there are lists, themselves. The one I eventually stuck with, compartmentalized skills I wanted to learn, books I wanted to read, people I wanted to meet, places I wanted to travel, random acts of kindness I wanted to perform, live artists I wanted to see, information I wanted to know about my family while I still had them (they are libraries…please…ask questions; recipes, stories, favorite memories, etc.) My subcategories made some sense of the one extremely long, scattered list. Do you want to travel, extensively? Consider prioritizing your locations in order…even if it’s just one or two destinations deep. You don’t need to plan how you intend to travel around the globe. When I felt as if my list was growing stagnant, I’d add something easily doable. “Take a weekend trip, alone, to “X.” I ended up in Santa Fe, wandering museums, perused the open markets, spent the day at an amazing spa called 10,000 waves, and the sheer act of being there, actively engaged in my list, inspired me to cultivate new places, people and things I realized I very much wanted in my life. Not all items on my list are lofty. I have a section for music, for ethnic dishes I have learned to cook, and things I wanted to create. I painted and framed my own piece of art. I’m NOT an artist, but I LOVE my painting, because I did it with passion. One of the best parts of creating my life list was reviewing it, start to finish, and realizing that so much of what I want to do in life costs nothing. Other things can easily be accomplished for less than $10. Checking these boxes as “done,” that once only lived in your head as a “someday, I’ll…” is deliciously motivating. And, addicting. Before you know it, six months have passed, and your list, now, has several checks. You have the time. We all do. Money, we’ve already determined, is not required for so much of what you’ve always wanted to do. So, really, it comes down to time and focus. We only get one shot at life on this rock. It’s a beautiful thing to do and be and see and feel and learn….all that our forever young minds can dream. Step 1.) Make the list. I’ll see you on the trail.