Yesterday was London Marathon day. Thousands of people put themselves the ordeal of 26 miles and 385 yards of stubbornly putting one foot in front of the other. At the end they were left broken, bruised, be-blistered and, depending on their Vaseline-to-nipple ratio, bleeding. All for a medal.
Why do we do stuff like this to ourselves?
This got me thinking about bucket lists. And that reminded me that someone challenged me to write a piece about bucket lists months ago and I never got around to it. So here it is.
A bucket list is the name given to a set of life activities and achievements someone would like to achieve before they, well, kick the bucket. Before they’re brown bread. Before their take their terminal breath, depart this mortal coil and generally snuff it.
Are bucket lists a good thing? I think so.
It’s pretty easy to get bogged down by life. To wake up, go to work and be wishing you were at home, then get home and be lamenting that you’ll soon be back in work. You start to see time not at work as recovery time – it’s OK to sit around watching telly and snacking because, well, you work pretty hard. You didn’t “eat a family bag of chocolate buttons to yourself”, you fuelled the fire of your limitless potential. Fuel you then spent watching Netflix and calling people dicks on the internet.
A bucket list takes us outside of this. It reminds us that there’s more to life than work. That our jobs give us money, which unlocks everything life has to offer. They remind us that the one thing no amount of work can ever give us is more time.
But that said, the contents of the list is really important. I think so often the items on a healthy person’s list are more things that they want to have been seen to have done, rather than things they might actually want to do. Some might be to try and feel better than others “you haven’t been to every continent?” Others might be things we think will make us happy, but are foolish or misguided – “I want to be famous”. And others downright harmful, if not to ourselves, then society as a whole “I want to ride an elephant”.
I think a true bucket list, one written with the safe and secure knowledge that your passing will happen, and soon, forgoes all this. Instead you focus on what really matters. Which activities would you want to do, regardless of who knew? If someone came to you today and said they could make that dream a reality, but you could never tell anyone, would you still want it?
Suddenly a lot of the items drop away. It’s not so important to own a sports car, I can’t take it with me when I’m gone. If I’m honest with myself I don’t really care about shredding on the guitar, I just think I’d look bad-ass doing it. And, truth be told, I’m actually OK not eating fish that can kill me if it’s not prepared properly (especially since it’s not meant to taste all that special anyway).
Instead, we look inside, and find that which really matters to us. The activities which, if we left our camera at home, we’d still treasure even if people say “pictures or it didn’t happen”.
A bucket list is a great way to record those moments when we feel inspired by an activity or idea. When part of our soul sees something and says “me too”. Like seeing a friend cross the finish line of the London Marathon.
Which brings us back to the original point – why would someone put themselves through the London Marathon? It can’t be the desire to say to other people that you’ve done it. Not only could you lie (no one’s going to trawl through entry records of all the marathons ever to call you out on your after-dinner anecdote) but would strangers really care?
Instead, we think of the sense of accomplishment that comes with finishing. The knowledge you’d have, until your dying day, that you did this. You pushed yourself further than you thought you ever could. You saw the training through, stuck with it through the easy times and the tough. You achieved something that so few people have done. And that, we realise is its own reward. That knowledge is with you until your dying day, and may provide a light in darker times.
And that makes us think. We might need to put in some hours. It might take more than a little elbow grease (or, for a marathon, “knee-grease”. Actually no, that just sounds wrong).
But it gives us the real belief that we could do something pretty special too.