Stan's World - Questioning the bucket list

Stanley F. Ehrlich |

While the names of only a few movies make a lasting impression, The Bucket List has enjoyed a long run. The film (2007) was about two men (Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson) who ‘escaped’ from a cancer ward and engaged in activities they wanted to accomplish before they ‘kicked the bucket.’ Hence the title.

That phrase has become part of the public lexicon. How often have you heard someone say, “I crossed that off my bucket list”? Or how about people mentioning they will retire and “work on their bucket list”?

When speaking with pre-retirees, I always ask what they will do in retirement. I don’t ask bucket list questions, because those types of items are singular in nature. If someone tells me they’re going to retire because they’ve waited their entire life to go on safari, I’d be more inclined to ask: “What are you going to do when you get back from safari?”

Presumably, there are bucket list items that may last through retirement. “Travel around the world until I die” sounds like one, as does “Move to Tuscany.” I suspect, however, that most bucket list items are one-off types of activities. (If you cross off all the items on your list, are you under the obligation to start a new list?) 

In AARP The Magazine1, Stephen Randall recently talked about writing his anti-bucket list after he almost kicked the bucket. After an experience with the ‘bad kind’ of cancer, he came to realize “there’s much to be said for ordinary life.” On Randall’s anti-bucket list: “Plane travel? It’s over…Things that might cause stress or fear or make your back ache? Getting up too early or staying out too late? Why? Really, why?”

If you have either a literal or mental bucket list, that’s wonderful. Make your plans and enjoy the journey. John and I will even help you to figure out how to pay for your adventures. But I’m writing this for all those who don’t have a bucket list and may feel as if they’re missing something. It’s time to relieve yourself of that burden.

I’m with Randall. I don’t have a bucket list. I can’t think of one activity I am waiting to do once I retire. If someone wants to judge my lifestyle as boring, that’s their prerogative. Randall writes that he looks at his anti-bucket list daily “and sees a stress-free life full of comfort, fun, and a genuine appreciation for what I have. At least for me, it’s a good way to live.”

Count me in, Stephen. Sometimes, less really is more.


1 Randall, Stephen. “The Serenity of Saying ‘Never Again.’” AARP The Magazine, 2024. 


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