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After Almost Kicking the Bucket, I Wrote My Anti-Bucket List

Making the most of life doesn’t have to mean adventure


spinner image a man tearing pages off a notebook he wrote his bucket list in
Josie Norton

First off, let me confess that my 2016 was what fans of children’s literature call a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year. I lost a job I’d had for 34 years. (New investors took over and rewarded loyalty the way a Real Housewife keeps an ugly secret about a fellow Housewife.) And before I could start the “fun with severance” part of my life, I was diagnosed with cancer — the bad kind. It was a bit touch and go, and I was MIA from social activities for about a year. But things worked out, and I rejoined the world with some severance left.

My reception by the denizens of my old life was joyful yet annoying. They were happy to see me, but they expected that my year of uncertainty would have blessed me with something every retiree is somehow obligated to have: a bucket list. Given the wisdom my friends assumed I’d gained from a serious illness, they wanted to know how I would “make the most of my life,” what wonderful adventures lay ahead, what far-flung country was next on my list, what mountain I wanted to climb.

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I hadn’t been a shut-in previously — I once got shot with a rubber bullet during a riot, went to the Oscars and had other mild adventures in my life. But that was the past. It was more important to my friends that I embrace the future, maybe with a new electric bicycle.

“Do you realize what you’ll learn about yourself jumping out of an airplane?” one friend insisted. “Swimming with the sharks changed my life,” said another. “Don’t you want to face your fears?”

I’m pretty sure that “adventures” conducted by a heavily insured company with a paid chaperone are less about facing your fears and more about getting shark selfies. And anyone who learns something about themselves while strapped to a pro skydiver and landing in an empty field probably didn’t know much to begin with.

My bad year had taught me a lot, and probably chief among those things is that there’s much to be said for ordinary life. Yes, the Eiffel Tower is magnificent, but so is the sandwich shop on the corner. Family, music, walks in the neighborhood — I love those things. TV is pretty darn good too. And you can watch the Eiffel Tower on that — it appears more often than drug commercials. Yes, the great chef Anthony Bourdain did enough globe-trotting in his final decade to fill everyone’s bucket list several times over, but then we know what happened next. Maybe those adventures aren’t as fulfilling as advertised.

“You’ll be bored,” friends say. But when given the choice between nothingness and boredom, boredom looked pretty good. I’ve faced fear from a hospital bed. Here’s what I learned: I hate fear. It’s a toxic emotion.

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So I suggest you put the bucket list in the shredder. Do what I’ve done: Create an anti-bucket list. It’s easy. Plane travel? It’s over. Anything you watch on shows like The Amazing Race or Survivor — forget it. Things that might cause stress or fear or make your back ache? Getting up too early or staying out too late? Why? Really, why?

Look, I respect my friends with bucket lists, even the ones I secretly suspect are likelier to talk about them than act on them. The ones who do follow through often end up in pain and smelling like Bengay, but they do get legitimate bragging rights. Good for them, I guess. They have their goals, and I hope they can accept that I have mine. I look at my anti-bucket list daily and see 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.

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