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Elizabeth Kuster

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Emptying My Bucket List

Posted: 05/24/2012 8:42 am

In her bestselling book On Becoming Fearless, Arianna Huffington writes about how, as we grow older, it's crucial for us to let go of dreams, goals, and roles we've outgrown:

"On my fortieth birthday I made a list of all the things I was no good at, didn't enjoy, or had thought I might do one day but, realistically, were simply not going to happen. Far from depressing me, admitting these things to myself and getting rid of the anxiety of perpetually unmet expectations was actually extremely liberating.... Letting go, shedding, simplifying -- these are all hard to do in a culture built on addition rather than subtraction. But when we stop holding on to things we'll never use and stop struggling to be who we are not, we discover newfound energy and strength. It takes courage and conscious decision-making to do this."

When I was in my 20s, my "Life Goals" list was three pages long (typed, single-spaced). I know this because I'm looking at it right now -- I unearthed it last night from way back in my file cabinet. I used to absolutely live by this thing, but somewhere along the line, I just... stopped. And no wonder: one glance, and the word "exhausting" springs to mind. How in the hell did I ever think I'd have the time -- let alone the money -- to do all this stuff?! Check it out:


Finding my former life list was like suddenly seeing the face of an old frenemy in the crowd: a warm feeling of intimate recognition, followed by hot stabs of anxiety and insecurity. Sorry for letting you down, Past Self, but you never did become a bellydancing snorkeler with a film degree from SVA. Nor did you become a nasal-lavaging biblical archaeologist who's fluent in both Italian and Spanish. And you most definitely didn't become a Christmas-craft entrepreneur who makes her own flavored oils and can afford a lava-viewing trip to Hawaii. Bummer.

Or is it? While my inner fearmongering naysayer side is busy focusing on all the "coulda shoulda wouldas," my fearless side can't help but note with surprised pleasure all the things I did become (or perhaps more accurately, the things that became me). I did embrace my love of world travel, as is evidenced by the strikeouts and checkmarks made by yet another past self. I did become a volunteer for a literacy-related nonprofit (Learning Leaders' BookTalk). And yes, I even blew bubbles in below-freezing weather -- a modest and whimsical goal to have on a list like this, true, but one I well remember fulfilling. It was midnight on New Year's Eve, 1999, and I was shivering my butt off on a back porch in Keene, New Hampshire. I rang in 2000 with a cascade of bubbles that froze in the air as I blew them and then quickly fell to earth, coating the wooden porch rail with heaps of fragile white orbs.

And that right there is a good argument for bucket lists in general: Once a goal's in writing, it sticks with you, so that when the opportunity arises, you're more likely to grab it -- fear (or bitter cold) be damned.

I had blood clots in my lungs in 2002 and 2007, and after that last round, I guess I just turned my back on the whole "bucket list" concept. At some point, I made the unconscious choice to focus on being instead of achieving. All of the goals that were "old me" (or, if I want to be honest, "never me") were out -- along with many that were still worthy of joyful pursuit. That's understandable, given the circumstances. (My doctor had told me, "You could go just like that." And he snapped his fingers.) But it bothers me now that no "conscious decision-making" (as Arianna puts it) was involved. That absolutely reeks of fear. Fear of death. Fear of hope. Fear of the future. Fear of letting everyone (my peers? my parents? myself?) down.

My past self didn't have the courage to decisively ax her ill-fitting dreams, but thankfully, my current self does. So: "Film degree," you're being cut. I've seen so many great movies at Film Forum that I don't need you anymore. "Biblical archaeology," you're also history (ha ha). Who wants to do all that digging in the dust and heat, anyway? It hurts me to say this, but "Become fluent in a foreign language," it's time to bid you adios as well. You're just too dang time-consuming for someone with a public-school background. Je suis désolé. (Thank you, Google Translate.) And finally, you, "Join Cherokee Nation." I must admit that you mystified me when I saw you on the list. But you, too, must go the way of my ancestors. The Cherokee Nation wouldn't want me anyway -- especially since it turns out that I might actually be of Choctaw descent.

The rest of you goals may remain... for now. You stand as a testament to Old Me's depth of self-understanding, because you still sound fun today. But be warned: At any moment, you could go -- just like that.

Check out the slideshow below to see what other HuffPost types have given up on (or let go of). What obsolete goals have you crossed off your life list, and why? Comment here, or tweet us all about it @HealthyLiving using the hashtag #becomingfearless.

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  • Ski Don't

    <strong>"I gave up skiing. I was really bad at it and didn't enjoy it enough to put in the energy and time it would require (a lot) to get better. I wanted to enjoy it, as many of my friends genuinely seem to. But it was such a relief when I admitted to myself that I just didn't. That's also how I crossed learning German off my list. Yes, it would be nice to be able to speak German. But I was never going to have the time to do it. It was simply not a high enough priority." <em>-- Arianna Huffington, president and editor-in-chief, Huffington Post Media Group</em></strong>

  • Mis-Conceiving

    <strong>"When I was in my 20s, having at least one biological child if I found the right relationship was on my list. I found the right one in my early 30s, but he was a widower who came with three already-here teenage boys who needed attention, time, and love. Once we got them on the right path in life, we tried to conceive but it did not happen. In that moment I realized I had found my right and perfect family. No regrets. NO STRETCH MARKS." <em>-- <a href="" target="_hplink">Terri Cole, HuffPost blogger</em></a></strong>

  • Acting Out

    <strong>"I gave up on being an actor when I was in my 20s. Now, in my 40s, I am making time in my schedule and putting myself out there to act on stage. Having the time of my life. The only things that I would never do are the things that I know are bad for me: drugs, equating money with success, being jealous, worrying too much about what people I don't know or respect think of me." <em>-- David Kiley, HuffPost auto industry editor</em></strong>

  • Thin Ice

    <strong>"I always wanted to be a competitive athlete of some sort. Not a professional, oh no, but good enough to go to local competitions and win a ribbon or two. I tried my hand at a variety of sports -- tennis, running, rollerskating -- and then AHA, while watching the last Winter Olympics, I knew I had found my sport: speed skating! I began taking lessons and getting up at the crack of dawn to practice, mostly with children who were only 6 and 7 years old. Apparently, you have to start young if you want to be good or something like that. I got fancy new skates, the gear... I went all out. And then I quit just a few months later. Why? Well, one, I value not having broken bones. And two, the children started fighting amongst themselves because they didn't want me on their team when we did relays. (You know it's time to quit when you cause tension among young people.) I've given up my dreams of ever getting good enough to compete in any sport. That's okay. I'm pretty great at sitting on a couch. And I'm happy with that." <em>-- Elizabeth Jayne Liu, <a href="" target="_hplink">HuffPost blogger</em></a></strong>

  • Off The Road

    <strong>"Things I'll never do after all: 1. Drive across the country and into Mexico in a white 1964 'suicide door' Lincoln Continental convertible with the turquoise leather, following the Kerouac route of <em>On the Road.</em> 2. Be an astronaut, or a 'journalist in space.' 3. Drop acid. (I was too chicken in college and am now too chicken all over again.) 4. Have a drink with Prince Charles (we were born a day apart). 5. Own a Franz Kline painting. (Too expensive!) 6. Be a roadie for a year on a rock/country tour out of Austin or Nashville, also play bass (my instrument) or extra rhythm as needed." <em>-- Howard Fineman, editorial director, Huffington Post Media Group</em></strong>

  • Travel Bugged

    <strong>"I set a goal that I wanted to travel to all seven continents by my 30th birthday. My birthday happened and I didn't fulfill it. I have been to four continents, but haven't yet been to Africa, Australia or Antarctica. I want to!!! But I don't have it planned yet. Travel is still very important to me, but not as much as it used to be. Now I've switched my energy to pursuing comedy and hanging out with friends and having a job I like. I learn and experience things from my daily life that enrich me like travel can. That said, I'm going to Greece in June!" <em>-- Vicky Kuperman, senior producer,</em></strong>

  • Down To Earth

    <strong>"Off my list? Skydiving. At one point I felt it was absolutely vital before the end of my life to see the view of the earth from a deity's vantage point of way up on high. A few decades, three herniated discs and a few back surgeries later, I've made peace with the fact that this is a mile-high club that will never have me as a member, and have learned to appreciate my mere mortal's view." <em>-- Vivian Manning-Schaffel, <a href="" target="_hplink">HuffPost blogger</em></a> </strong>

  • Fame Game

    <strong>"Throughout my life, the world has always seemed like a big mountain to me -- one I could easily scale and sing from once I'd reached the top. In the days before the Internet and adoration of celebrities to excess, I ardently believed I was destined to be somebody great -- that someday I'd be appreciated by the whole world. As I've grown older I've realized that I'll never be famous, but that I only need to measure my self-worth by seeing to my children's. My family and I live in a small, rundown house that's over 100 years old, drive ramshackle cars and rarely eat out for dinner, and I sometimes do wish for more. Then there are other times I don't give a damn and am glad I don't have so many 'things' to worry about, as there are millions of others in the world who have so much less." <em>-- Ree Varcoe, <a href="" target="_hplink">HuffPost blogger</em></a></strong>

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