05/24/2012 07:44 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Emptying My Bucket List

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.

"Things I'll Never Do"

For more by Elizabeth Kuster, click here.

For more on becoming fearless, click here.