Filling One’s Life Bucket: A Journey from Dreams to Daily Fulfillment
When younger, I imagined the world through tales of grand adventure. Characters traveling to unseen lands, climbing towering peaks, or rocketing into outer space. This allure gave life to what I then called my “checklist.” In my travels across 63 countries, all 50 U.S. states, witnessing major U.S. sporting championships, and beholding many of the world's iconic sites, I've been a diligent checker-offer of experiences. Visit the Taj Mahal? Check! Marvel at the Grand Canyon? Check! Fly around the world on a single itinerary? Check!
This, to me, was my "checklist" long before "bucket list" became the popular term.
Fast forward to 2007, and the term "bucket list" skyrocketed in popular culture with the film starring Morgan Freeman and Jack Nicholson. It showcased two men with limited time, endeavoring to achieve their wildest dreams. As Freeman’s character notes, “You know, the ancient Egyptians had a beautiful belief about death. When their souls got to the entrance to heaven, the guards asked two questions. 'Have you found joy in your life?' 'Has your life brought joy to others?’”
These grand cinematic pursuits resonated with me.
Approaching the age of 50, with my wife's motivation, we sat down to pen our respective bucket lists. We dreamt of adventures together and personal quests. My own list was eclectic: from getting my first tattoo to taking a flying lesson (despite my fear of flying) to achieving financial milestones like paying off my Jeep. Education, too, had its place—earning my MBA was a proud check on that list.
But as the pages of the calendar flew by, my pace began to change. My journeys became less about marking destinations off and more about immersion. I've always had an insatiable thirst for travel; now, it's more about sipping the local coffee, rather than gulping. Engaging deeply with local cultures, relishing their music, savoring their cuisine. Celebrating diversity and soaking in the rich tapestry of global traditions has become my new travel mantra. I realized there’s a world beyond just the grand "checks", there are the small, fleeting moments.
The brief, yet impactful interactions, the daily gestures that warm the heart.
This reflection led me to another concept, inspired by Carol McCloud's children’s book, “Have You Filled a Bucket Today?” Introduced by my daughter during her elementary years, the book became a household favorite, emphasizing the idea of filling our invisible emotional buckets with acts of kindness, compassion, and love. I began to see the merits of blending both these concepts, realizing that there were moments I prioritized my grand “checks” over my emotional well-being.
Both these ideals, while independently significant, have their challenges. Bucket lists often prioritize monumental feats, some of which, given time or financial constraints, felt out of reach for me. On the contrary, while the act of filling one's bucket offers immediate joy, there's a risk of losing sight of larger aspirations. Why not merge the two? Let's take a moment and visualize the concept of "Filling One’s Life Bucket" - a harmonious blend of grand dreams and daily contentment.
Here’s what this could look like:
Daily Gratifications: Amid the chaos, there's solace in the everyday simple pleasures. For me, it's that morning homemade latte, the gentle hum of the world waking up around me, making the time to read a few pages of a book that’s been awaiting my attention. They may seem trivial, but they're the consistent droplets that can fill my bucket.
Micro-goals: Not every goal needs to be monumental. Some of my best memories stem from micro-goals—learning a new recipe, completing a challenging puzzle (literally or figuratively), or even finishing a blog post (like this one). If "writing a book" seems daunting, start with writing a page, then a chapter. Before you know it, these micro-goals can culminate in fulfilling a grand dream.
Emphasis on Relationships: As Tony Robbins observed, “The quality of your life is the quality of your relationships.” Throughout my life's rollercoaster, I've at times "lost the plot" but worked to reconnect with the depth of this statement. Relationships, be it with family, friends, or even acquaintances, have the power to fill (or drain) our life bucket. Taking the time to nurture them, to truly listen and understand, can lead to unparalleled fulfillment.
Reflection & Growth: It's easy to get caught in the whirlwind of life, always looking forward or backward. But there's a beauty in stillness, in reflection. Whether it's through meditation, journaling, or simply sitting in silence, understanding our growth trajectory can be immensely rewarding. It's how I've come to terms with past mistakes and charted out future aspirations even as the road ahead becomes shorter than the one I have already traveled.
Celebrate Achievements: We often wait for grand occasions to celebrate. But joy can be found in acknowledging the little victories. Finished a difficult book? Celebrate. Managed to walk or exercise regularly for a week? Give yourself a pat on the back. Celebrations, big or small, act as milestones in our journey, filling our life bucket to the brim.
Blending these elements, perhaps the answer is working towards a balanced journey. Grand dreams should be a goal, but they should find companionship with daily joys. Often, something grand on my bucket list is accompanied with the satisfaction of research and planning over a period of time, the conversations and anticipation leading up to the dream, and the stories told afterwards. Every drop, whether a grand experience or a momentary smile, counts.
With a trail of errors and lessons behind me, I realize life isn’t solely about marking checks. It’s about consistently filling our life bucket, cherishing every moment, interaction, and dream—big or small. And hopefully, when it’s all said and done, we can all assertively say, “I have found joy in my life, and my life has brought joy to others.” (Editor's Note: This post was inspired by an interaction at a recent marketing conference, a networking discussion on "bucket list" goals and a fellow marketer who commented that she preferred small moments of joy, not just deferring to loftier, long term goals. I wish I could remember her name...but she inspired me to work on this post!)