Death to the Bucket List: The 25-Before-25 List

Image courtesy of Simon Howden at
Image courtesy of Simon Howden at

I have never liked the idea of bucket lists. For one, I have no particular interest in sky diving, swimming with sharks, or climbing Mt. Everest. People have a tendency to fill their bucket lists with meaningless items that will make good stories. While I certainly have dreams I would like fulfilled and want adventures outside of my beloved books, qualifying those as a “bucket list” seems to do them a disservice. I also have much more finite deadlines for them than “before I die.”

Bucket list items also end up relegated to “after” various life milestones – after you’ve established a career and a steady income; after your kids are grown; after you retire; until eventually, the things that were important have lost their potency, or you’re too old to properly enjoy them.

What I believe in is setting concrete deadlines for your dreams and organizing your priorities in a realistic manner. To solve the bucket list problem, my dad suggested an alternative kind of list. Just after my 20th birthday (about a year ago), I had an existential crisis of boredom in which I wanted book-worthy adventures in real life. And so I gave myself five years, rather than the rest of my life, and decided what the most important things I wanted to accomplish by that time were.

I ended up with a list of 25 things I wanted to do before my 25th birthday (thus the title – creative, right?). Some of them are major life goals, like graduating college, some are more personal, like the adventures that I want to have, and a few are kind of silly. Is it totally comprehensive? Of course not. I threw it together in a little over an hour.

What this list has done is give me a deadline for things that should be a priority now, not “after.” I imagine in 4 years, my priorities for before my 30th birthday will be different. Whatever they are, I’ll create a new list for them.

I highly recommend you do the same. Putting off goals with the idea that you’ll get around to them “eventually” is essentially saying you’re willing to never see them met. Grab a sheet of paper – seriously, right now – and start your own list. The number of items isn’t important; only that they are important to you today. Then set an end date. It doesn’t have to be five years away. It could be one, or ten, or whatever makes sense to you.

The list doesn’t have to be permanent, either, once it’s created. Change it; add to it; if you no longer care about something, strike it. Make sure the list remains relevant. The feeling of crossing an item off, when you’ve been dreaming about it for months, is incredibly satisfying. One clean line to celebrate victory.

I’ve included my (annotated) list below in the hopes that it will help inspire your own. I’ve also put a * by those things I’ve accomplished since I first created the list.

(Before my 25th birthday)

  1. Graduate college
  2. *See New York (until last December, I had never been. Shocking, right?)
  3. *Go horseback riding (an old hobby I was feeling nostalgic about)
  4. Get in the best shape of your life – and then stay there
  5. Learn to cook something you love – from scratch
  6. Write a novel, start to finish, and everything in between
  7. Find the pencil skirt
  8. Follow your nose, and only your nose
  9. Attend AWP (in a little over a week, I’ll be crossing this one off!)
  10. *Write a blog (duh)
  11. Find your new passion (still working on this one)
  12. *Stay in Boston for a few days (I fell in love with this city)
  13. *Learn Italian (I’m hardly fluent, but I was looking for basics to use while travelling)
  14. Study abroad in Italy (Going this summer!)
  15. Really clean your room – spotless and organized
  16. *Take a yoga class
  17. Visit Mikayla (a friend who got married and moved to NM with her husband)
  18. Take a walk in the rain
  19. Grow something
  20. Go to a Renaissance Fair
  21. Paint
  22. Spend a day writing in a little café
  23. Visit the UK
  24. Get a bicycle
  25. Don’t settle for anything less than the best thing for you. (this is a constant work in progress)

As far as I’m concerned, #25 is the most important of all. This should make it onto everyone’s list.


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