The Bucket List Lie

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Bucket lists seem all the rage online these days.

Filled with visions of places to see, things to do, people to lunch with, books to read, mountains to summit…someday, before we die.

Sadly, though, most bucket lists are works of fiction, written but never manifested.

Dreamed of, but never lived.

For most people, making them is the functional-equivalent of reading yet another self-help book, without ever doing anything beyond reading to actually help yourself. Lists like these are, with rare-exception, made, then tucked away, never to see the light of day.

Want to know what the average person’s real-life bucket list looks like?

1. Accept that nobody ever promised you the right to be happy or enjoy your work.

2. Take on a series of J.O.B.s for 55 years that suck the life outta you and devour more than half your waking hours.

3. Teach your kids that’s what life’s all about, deal with it and do the same.

4. Watch your health, fitness, sex-appeal and radiance grind into the abyss.

5. Tell yourself you’re doing it to secure the best possible future for yourself and your family.

6. Watch your benefits, IRA, home-equity and savings get lapped by your retirement needs.

7. Wonder where the years went, why you barely know your kids and partner, why they’re not thriving after you’ve worked to give them everything you thought they wanted, only to discover what they really wanted and needed, once there was a roof overhead, food on the table and enough left over to play a bit, was you, there, present, loving and supporting them, and they could figure out the rest.

8. Feel like you have to do something, anything to wind down from stress every day and the reality that whether you’ve gotten everything you’d hoped for or not…you still feel empty.

9. Retire (if you’re ever able) and realize you’re too old, fat, tired, burnt, unwell, unhappy, in-pain, unfit, under-funded, estranged and/or overburdened to do all the things on what you now realize is your wildly-unrealistic bucket list.

10. Die.

Does this list make you angry?

Are you scrolling violently down to the comment section to tear me a new one?

That’s good…I’ve got your attention. And, hopefully sparked enough, emotion, anger, frustration, angst or resonance to get you up out of your conventional wisdom Barkalounger and fixing to do something. But, before you do that something TO ME, you may want to ask a question…

Who are you really angry at?

Forgive me if I tend to rail against convention, against average, against rolling with the assumptions about what life is or isn’t according to someone else’s plan.

Convention…average……unexamined…untested…the way it’s most often lived, terrifies me.

Does that mean we don’t sometimes have to do conventional things we’d rather not do in order to put food on the table and keep a roof over our heads? Of course not. We all do what’s necessary in times of crisis to take care of our basic responsibilities.

Right the ship first. Always.

But, it’s what you do after that, with rare exception, that defines the way you engage in and experience life. And, if there’s never any “after that,” you’ve gotta ask “why not?”

What’s your role in a continuous cycle of suffering?

Stuart Wilde said,

“Each moment of our life, we either invoke or destroy our dreams. We call upon it to become a fact, or we cancel our previous instructions.”

There is no sideways, we’re always choosing, moving up or down, even when we choose not to choose.


Which route are you traveling down? Invocation or destruction of your dreams?

And, which do you choose to continue on from this moment forward?

Not with your intentions, not with your words, but your actions…

Bucket lists are fine and dandy, but I hate the fact that they are “someday” lists…

How about a different approach?

Don’t just memorialize…manifest!

Keep your bucket list, if you want.

But, then make a List Of One.

A single, meaningful action you’re going to take before the end of the day to move you one step closer to a single, deeply meaningful quest.

Don’t go to bed tonight until you’ve completed your List Of One. And done one other thing, made your List Of One for tomorrow.

Do this every day for a month, long enough to begin to inculcate the habit.

If it feels manageable, turn it into a List Of Two. And so on, and so on.

Execute on your list consistently over time and you’ll begin to make magic unfold.

Not “someday,” but everyday.

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104 responses

104 responses to “The Bucket List Lie”

  1. Joe Fusco says:


  2. steve frank says:

    Right on, Jonathan. I’m with you on the bucket list. Who wants a list of things to do before we die. That puts the focus on death. Make it a life list. The list of things you are going to do to fully live. Love you list of one. Make it a habit. Make it happen.

    Think. See. Believe. Dwell. Determine.

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Yep, the delayed gratification life plan doesn’t work well for me. I think being in NYC on 9-11 changed a lot around this topic for me.

      • Indeed; my son was late for his Brklyn Law class, otherwise, he’d have been right under the Towers, when………..9/11 was our Samuel Johnson ‘focusing of the mined (intentional)’ momentous moment in illusory ‘time’.

        A few days ago, I began focused journaling of my dream goals, and, as you say, it puts the action in reaction.

        Enjoy the wisdom embedded within your well-chosen words.

        • Jonathan Fields says:

          I’ve heard so many similar stories, Joseph, thanks for sharing yours.

          • As a recovering atty myself—whose subconscious whispered patiently for years: ‘Why’s the “status quo” got a Latin name?’—– now, produced playwright & published diversity writer, I so relate to your quest and its fulfillment; my (untrained) painting is now on national tour via Lilly’s Oncology on Canvas biennial event.

            Your formula works! (Read & recommending your book/site)

      • steve frank says:

        I understand that Jonathan. Seeing my wife survive cancer and working as closely as I do with The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society have helped me to push past the “delayed gratification” syndrome. The final push was after I freed myself from the toxic confines of a 20+yr corporate career that I “thought” I had to stay in for the good of my family. Six weeks after I walked out the door my then 13 yr old daughter came to say good night and said, “Daddy, I don’t think I realized how bad your work was. I feel like I have my Daddy back. You are so happy.” So, yes, we need to stomp out “delayed gratification”.

        Thanks, again. Make it a great day.

      • Thomas Mrak says:


        Great post.

        If I ever raise a family, I will encourage my children to pursue what is important to them, not what the “experts” tell me they should do. Experts are people, and can be wrong. Doesn’t matter what their resume says.

        Experts are there to advise, not dictate. I think people forget that.

        I was raised by people who didn’t listen, and I have struggled much of my life to excel at “the rules” because my wants and needs were ignored.

        Some people are great at conforming. I’ve always failed at it, and that isn’t going to change any time soon.

        A toast to living your dreams, not waiting until the right time to pursue them.

  3. Kaz says:

    I like this post. I started out reading it and thinking to myself how negative the list was but as I continued reading, what you’d written made sense.

    Too many people delay their dreams and put them on hold. There seems to be many reasons for those people why they can’t live their dream lives and have to “make do” with the way things are. Life’s victims.

    I hate that attitude.

    I too have a bucket list. It is a place to store all those things I want to do but haven’t got time to do yet. I do complete things from that bucket list and I do add more to it.

    My inspiration for living as full a life as possible is my grandparents. They put everything off until my grandfather retired. Only he got ill, was retired early and spent the next 10 years dying slowly. He had his good days and he had his bad days but they must both have had a lot of “what ifs”.

    It is for this reason that I’m going to lead a wonderful life full of wonderful things. I don’t intend to wait until I’m old and wonder where the time has gone. I’m going to get out there and do them now!

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Hey Kaz, I don’t like going negative, but sometimes, if reality is negative and you’re goal is to shake free from it, you’ve gotta first own it. Glad you saw that’s where I was going.

  4. happy monday with a dose of tough love! it’s the best kind, though, as it is ruthlessly honest. i like the idea of a List of One. that ought to cut down on distraction. simple focus on one meaningful action rather than on an array of wishes seems more likely to provide momentum to that one heartfelt desire.
    and you’re funny, too – “your conventional wisdom Barkalounger.” ah, everybody up and out of your seat! what you’ve accomplished, jonathan, is a great wake-up call. thanks for this useful, straightforward idea.

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      It’s that chair that just lulls you into thinking there’s nothing else out there beyond…the chair! 😉

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  6. Cori Padgett says: this post. Damn it, now I’m gonna have to update my post yesterday to link to this one too me thinks. Thanks for creating extra work for me Jonathan! 😛 (teasing)

    Great post, loved it, I’m actually in the process of trying to build a new habit, starting today. This post ties in nicely with that, and now I’m going to start creating two new habits, starting today! 🙂 I already try to make a list of “priority” stuff that I tackle each day, but to date it’s all been about work.

    So I’m going to go one step further and add one action for each day that’s about me and/or my family and only me and family.

    Thanks for always inspiring me to think, sometimes all it takes is a reminder.


    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Haha, that can be your one thing, today, lol! Love the addition of the one “me and my family” thing, too.

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  8. Laura Click says:

    Absolutely love this post, Jonathan. Thanks for getting the wheels turning on a Monday morning and pushing us to be better. That bucket list didn’t make me angry, it made me sad. I hate that so many people choose to take the worn-down path because it’s easy, accepted and what everyone else is doing.

    I love the List of One idea. It’s simple and actionable, which is why it would actually work. I’m definitely giving this a try!

  9. Like the idea of laser like focus on one single task for one day instead of a slew of humongous tasks that we promise ourselves we will do at some vague time in the future.

    Besides, laser is cool.I am going for a red beam though

  10. Great post!

    It’s so true- we get tons of information about how we can long for things more (listing out those goals, yeesh), when what we really need is to do meaningful things more.

  11. Baker says:

    I love you. That is all for now.

  12. Gillian says:

    Excellent! I have actively decided not to create a bucket list – it puts too much pressure on what is not finished and what is left to do. I just want to keep moving forward, challenging myself and making myself uncomfortable – that’s it I guess, two items on my bucket list.

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Love it, Gillian. Question, can you chunk that down? What one thing can you DO to challenge yourself today?

  13. Sean Ogle says:

    I couldn’t agree more with this post. I write about bucket lists a lot on my blog, and in particular about the fact that most people will never achieve the vast majority of their “somedays”.

    However I think that when it’s taken seriously, bucket lists can give you direction and motivation to not live a life such as the one you depicted above.

    I never leave links in comments, but this post I wrote in September is really relevant to the topic:

    Stomping the Someday Syndrome

  14. Chris says:

    Unfortunately, this is too true for the mass of men and women out there. I am guilty of these things being on my current list but working on dropping some of these off my list.

    First time reader and looking forward to more.

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Welcome, Chris! Thanks so much for jumping right into the conversation.

  15. Unfortunately it’s taken a series (that’s right, not just one) of near death experiences to finally understand this message completely. What can I say? I guess I’m a slow learner. The reality is that we’re not guaranteed anything more than the breath we’re taking this very moment. Using that moment to live rather than using it to plan how we’ll live later is so important. Thank you for this!

  16. eKathy says:

    Hmmm. This made me cry. Have to figure out what that is all about! That will be my one thing for the day.

  17. Julien tweeted something the other day like: “The more you accomplish in a day, the better you feel.” (Something like that). I think that the more you accomplish in a day, that inches you towards your goals, the better you feel!

    I have a list of things that I’d like to get accomplish in both my professional and personal life. I’m happy to report that each day, I accomplish something that I feel is getting me closer and closer to my goal(s). Some days are more productive than others of course but no day goes to waste and that I think is a good way to live 🙂

  18. Marinda says:

    We have traveled extensively, had several careers, raised wonderful children to adults, gone back to college, started another career (not just jobs, mind you) and I don’t have time for a bucket list, I am too busy doing, just got back from D.C. and the rally, planning the holiday trip and already going with next years big event, son’s graduation from college and Japan.

    It’s not just that we are lucky, we have struggled raising a child with disabilities to independent adulthood, but we always made time to dream, read, travel and learn new things. The list shouldn’t be on paper, you should have it in your heart and head and moving your feet towards the people and places you want to meet and learn about. And if making one and not marking things off will make you feel bad, put it down and walk away, because life is too short to be that beholden to a piece of paper with numbered things to do on it.

  19. Carla Bobka says:

    Bucket list is a stupid name, not a dumb idea. If you die with all the boxes checked, you missed opportunity. If you never make a list of exciting things to do or see on this earth you’re missing out. When you pass and someone looks at your check marks and the undones they will know you ran AT life until the end. You leave your story in a simple-to-tell format. The List of One idea doesn’t take you anywhere without larger vision to the big things you want to experience. It’s a tactic that’s meaningless without a larger objective.

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Agreed on the need to balance being present and acting daily with the drive behind a bigger quest.

      Whether you call it a bucket list or something else, though, the “100 things to do before I die,” format is largely disempowered as a tool to inform the daily action needed to get there. It has way too many massive quests, there is no rank order of impact-based priority and it lacks a realistic, action-based framework capable of bringing any one quest to life.

      Big stuff matters, it’s what we work toward, but a bucket list is maybe the last tool I’d use to get me there faster.

      • Gina says:

        I’ve tried to do bucket lists. I really have.

        My experience is that to get to 100 items or to break it into long lists of Have-Do-Be lists, requires that I get really granular and specific. Especially around material things.

        The issue is that it can take some time to achieve something on the list, and by the time I got to some things, I found I didn’t really want them or the pleasure of having them wasn’t what I’d anticipated it to be.

        So I’m already a non-believer in bucket lists. I find a short list of about 3-5 goals to be much better. I can really only focus on a couple of big areas at a time anyway.

        From there I’d apply your 1 a day principle. “What 1 thing can I do today to move me toward goal 1? goal 2? goal 3?”

        If I consistently don’t have time to get to a goal, maybe it’s not really a goal at all or I have too many.

  20. I loved this! Sadly, you are absolutely right about most people.

    While I’ve successfully completed many things on my bucket list over the years, I love your concept of the List of One. After all, we are really only completing one thing at a time anyway.

  21. Phil says:

    Hi Jonathan. A couple of items…

    1. Go soak your head in a bucket! (pun intended) The last thing I need is someone pointing out that I’ve possibly lost focus and am drifting along to the end. No goals, no purpose, no desires, etc.

    2. Thank you so much for that bucket of cold water splashed in my face! (pun also intended… :)) It’s a fabulous reminder that we all need from time to time to refocus on what is important to each of us, and staying off the wage-slave Rat Race to Death. My bucket list is only partly done, both in accomplishments and re-filling of to-do’s.

    It’s nice to realize/remember the Last Thing I Need is also the First Thing to Do!

    Thank you for your words,

  22. Annie Stith says:

    Hey, Jonathan!

    I really like your “List of One” idea. I’ve already committed to changing one habit, which I’ll be doing for each day in November, though. I find change difficult, especially when it has something to do with a dream I’ve had since the 7th grade that I’ve been afraid of failing to do well.

    I’m going to put the “List of One” idea as the very first thing I’ll implement in December. Once I get my other habit down, I think it will help me a great deal with follow through on my dream.


  23. Maria says:

    Wow, that post is right to the point. When I was seeing bucket lists I had three questions coming up:

    1. Does this person REALLY want to do all these things? Or was he/she just trying to fill the “100 things to do before you die” benchmark?

    2. Why do all those lists mostly refer to external things to accomplish and they hardly ever look on the inside? For example, most lists say “Learn to sail” but few lists say: “Learn to manage my anger, so that I won’t get ever angry because of traffic”.

    3. Most bucket lists don’t have measurable goals. E.g., “learn to sail” is vague. You can be a beginner, an intermediate, or advanced sailor. Plus, what type of vessel do you want to learn how to sail?

    Bucket lists should serve as a tool to accomplish your dreams. If they are vague, or not REALLY wanted (but they do sound impressive and sexy), then the purpose is defeated.


    • Dom says:

      I really like your comment on external/internal goals. Life’s not just about having more or doing more, it’s also about being more.

  24. WOo!

    I made a list a month ago of some huge stuff and Saturday I took on the first thing on MY list – took a pottery class so I can make a full set of dishes for my kitchen!

    Sounds fruity, yes, but as an interior designer I want to know way more about all the trades that make up remodeling and home improvement – AND design!

    Wait til I get to the part about learning how to do electrical wiring… 😉

  25. For the most part I gave up daily to-do lists a few years back. I’ve discovered that if it is critical for that day, I’ll get it done.

    I think that most people don’t understand the value of Important vs. Urgent (Covey’s 4 quadrants) and find we often spend alot of time on what is Urgent vs. what is Important. Your List of One should be one Important thing for the day.

    Important can be as simple as telling your kids you love them and giving them a big hug. Important doesn’t have to be time consuming…

  26. Tolle says:

    “My life has been the poem I would have writ,
    But I could not both live and utter it.”

    – Henry David Thoreau

  27. susan kuhn says:

    Zing! After surviving cancer, losing our house, losing my work, and together sadly watching our marriage evaporate…life hands me a blank slate to write a new chapter. It’s not where I had any concept of being in middle age.

    What you write applies even more forcefully to me. If I don’t move forward, I don’t just stagnate, I sink. Yet grief takes time, knowing who you are after life turns upside down takes time, even knowing what to do takes time.

    You are right that working at it every day is key. But that outer yang needs an inner yin to make a complete strategy; yin is the indeterminate, inner side of change. I would say: make your own openness, flexibility, mental health a daily priority; if you are consumed with misery, you can’t see. But once you can see — help is everywhere. Journal out that despair. Under it is your own version of life on a much greater scale. When you feel it come from within you, you will dance in the streets. It’s real. You KNOW it in your bones.

    I think building relationships in which we can express all this is essential. Jonathan, you do that for many people.

    Someone said that all who seek are brothers and sisters under the skin. Thanks too, Jonathan, for creating these connections.

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Love your openness! And, yep, I’m constantly reminded of how much the conversation in the community often not only equals, but blasts past and value attributed to the post itself. Thanks being part of the tribe! : )

    • Deanna McNeil says:

      Wow, what a post, what a community. I’ve been working on my first goal but I get scared sometimes in a paralyzing way. I’ll hang out here more often for courage 🙂

  28. Jill says:

    You’ve set a high bar with this post: one of your all-time greats. As a minimalist, I’m a big fan of the List of One. Amazing how well it works …

  29. Heather says:

    Strange, I didn’t feel even slightly angry there. Don’t know if that’s a good thing or otherwise, so I’m going to ignore it and move on.

    Bucket lists are all well and good but as you said, unless you actually go ahead and live them they’re worthless to you. Or, at best, a kick in the teeth when you realise you can’t.

    Already started phase one of mine; only work for companies I choose to. I’m young so that’s not too risky at the moment, and it means I get to work on my own business. Result!

  30. Awesome, I love it and ever sooooooo relevent. I decided to do something diffrent though. Ten years ago at afe 50, instead of squirling away the inheritance money to insure my bed in a retirement home, I started living my dreams. I’ve spent the last decade traveling extensively, bought real esates (sold for a profit), invested well and started 3 businesses using my creativity – I work for myself and love every minute of it, can’t imagine not being fully engaged with fun, creative, worthwhile projects that funnel money to me regularly. I can not comprehend the word “retirement” – that’s for a generation of burn outs who “worked” for a living but hated what they did – that was “their” carrot, it sure isn’t mine. Thanks for the post Jonathan, as usual it was top notch!!!!!

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Love it, love it, LOVE IT! Your energy just plain rocks. : )

      Don’t know if you’ve ever had the chance to meet my friend, Marci Alboher (former NYT careers columnist |, but she’s a muckety-muck at Encore Careers ( now.

      Great organization, you guys would have tons to talk about.

  31. Elana says:

    Jonathan, rock on. I couldn’t agree more with your passion for pushing back against the prescribed norm of dazed meandering in a beige existence. Thank you for the inspiration.

  32. The bucket list lie post caused me to stop and reflect on what I’m doing, how I’m living my life, and examine ways to get laser-like focus on where I want to go.

    I’ve screwed up in life, and currently am recovering from a big mistake.

    While in recovery mode, I tend to lose focus. Thank you Jonathan for helping me adjust the lens to get my objective in view again.

  33. Lisa says:

    I love my bucket list (although I refer to it as a life list as another poster recommends).

    I know that I will accomplish most of what’s on the list. I can’t do it today, but I will do it eventually.

    I recently checked off a major item. (You know checking things off lists releases endorphins, right?) I successfully started and organized a charity run. While it was fairly small (149 runners, $4000 in donations), it was a huge accomplishment for me. If I didn’t have a life list, it wouldn’t have happened.

    Love the blog!

  34. Joel Runyon says:

    Love it Jonathan.

    Your bucket list should be being crossed off, not framed & admired.

    Time to go cross some more things off my impossible list 🙂

  35. adam says:

    important to also have small but manageable things on your bucket list. like a list of chores it helps being able to cross of the easy stuff. 2 major things i got to cross off were skydiving and telling my dad i loved him. couldnt do the first if i hadnt already done the second.

  36. Vernon says:


    Great blog post. You caught me just as I was starting to scroll.

    There are many people who are so stuck in ruts that even the ‘deferred life plan’ isn’t an option – they have no hope, no light at the end of the tunnel. There’s a blog that I read of a single mom who is not depressed, but felt for years that there was nothing about her life that would get better. For people like that, I think the bucket list can be a great initial glimmer of hope.
    It certainly was for that blogger.

    So long as there is a plan of action. I love the ‘dreamline’ idea of Tim Ferriss (just reading the 4 hour work week for the first time), where you set yourself some things to do over a much shorter period of time. So a bucket list can be a springboard to more action now.

    I do like the idea of doing one thing each day. I have been a fan of using tiny to-do lists for years. People make fun of my for my little ripped up bits of paper that organize my life – but they work – partly because you can’t cram them with all the things you should do.

  37. Mirko Gosch says:

    Hey Jonathan,

    I haven´t been on your blog for quite some time but I´m sooo glad that you survived the unsubscribing-massacre I enforced on my email account after I had almost drowned in daily emails 🙂 Awesome post and I have to confess that I´ve been writing my own bucket list and then not doing a single accountable step towards those dreams I filled the bucket with – a shame, but never to late to change the approach and your List-Of-One tip comes in handy here.

    Keep on writing these brilliant posts my friend and I will make sure to drop by more frequently as I do not only always enjoy your valuable insights but also the audience you attract. Fabulous people around in your comment´s section -especially loved what @Alison Elliot had to share and add! Rock on, Mirko

  38. Joseph says:

    Great post, Jonathan! Tied in with a metric I learned last week: reduce to 5 items i must do before the end of the year to make 2010 my best year yet.

  39. Joseph says:

    Just the nudge I needed, Jonathan! Tied in with a metric I learned last week: reduce to 5 items i must do before the end of the year to make 2010 my best year yet.

  40. Dave Doolin says:

    I’ve always been too hard-boiled to make one of these “bucket lists.”

    I’m hoping I’ll take that next most necessary step moving me forward tonight, which in this case would involve getting some serious sleep. Maybe not, though. I have something important to do this evening, and tomorrow evening. Sleep on Wednesday.

  41. Evan says:

    If only the tie up between action and results was clear and unambiguous. Until it is I try out different stuff and sometimes have to guess what gets me nearer my goals.

  42. Keenan says:


    I am a huge fan of bucket lists, because sometimes things can’t be accomplished immediately.

    I spent a season Skiing in Vail. Spent summers bartending on Cape Cod, I’ve spent the winter on S. Beach Miami. I’ve literally circum-navigated the world on a boat, seeing China, India, Japan, Russia, Turkey, Greece, Egypt, Malaysia, Morocco and more. I’ve been on Safari in Africa. I’ve been to a Super Bowl and saw the Redsox win game 4 of the World Series breaking their 85 year drought. I could go on, but you get my point. I’m not rich, nor come from a rich family. I was actually kicked out of my house at 16 and finished H.S on my own and put my self through college.

    I share this with you, because the big things in life can take time. They take planning, they take sacrifice, they take commitment and in most cases they are worth every bit of it.

    We live in a great big amazing world that is getting smaller everyday. I believe we owe it to our children and ourselves to see it, live it and be a part of as much of it as possible and the only way to do that is to commit to it and that may mean a bit of delayed gratification.

    I like the summary. Do one thing a day that will get you closer to it, because I can’t tell you how worth it is to stand on the top of the ancient Egyptian pyramids and watch the sun come up. INCREDIBLE!!!!!

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Hey Keenan, check out my reply to Carla Bobka above. It sounds like your bucket list is very different than the average bear’s in that it’s actionable and you have a framework that allows and motivates you to pursue it.

      No doubt, I have my own quests, too. Waking up with my family in Ubud, Bali last summer was one, so I totally get it. Difference from the typical bucket list being…it’s not just a random list of “wouldn’t it be nice” dreams, it’s an ordered agenda of quests attached to actions.

  43. Wow. Jonathan, this was a fantastic article.

    For me, I found that once I stopped thinking of it in terms of “bucket list” or even goals —

    And shifted to – what can I do TODAY to start living my life with congruence– aligning what was within me (my inner values, beliefs, visions, dreams) with my outer life (my work, actions, thoughts, words, relationships, decisions)–Life started getting pretty amazing.

    And then the bucket list was not really much of a thought anymore– my life was generating more of an amazing trail of experiences and relationships than I could have every conjured up on a list without experiencing the direction and movement of a life lived authentically.

    By the way, I love reading your blog- such beautiful, meaningful and real work you put in the world. Thank you!

    • Jonathan Fields says:

      Love this sentiment “what can I do TODAY to start living my life with congruence– aligning what was within me (my inner values, beliefs, visions, dreams) with my outer life (my work, actions, thoughts, words, relationships, decisions)” – thanks so much for sharing it! And for the kinds words, too. : )

  44. Jenny says:

    My bucket list is for real and I’ve crossed items off of it over the years. I know that we only live life once and that a cubicle isn’t for me. I’ve been rebelling against status quo since I graduated college and started my own location independent business (that was 8 years ago!). Doesn’t matter where I am as long as I have an internet connection. I’m now in the process of selling everything I own to travel the world indefinitely. I depart in January.

    If you want to take a peek you can find my bucket/life list here:

  45. Brandon Eley says:

    Wow. I’m glad I’m not one of the people you talk about in your post. I do know lots of them, though. It’s really sad to watch people squander their lives away when they dream of so much more.

  46. Scott Carson says:


    Love this post. You made me laugh though, being from PA myself, now in Texas, hearing you say, “fixing to” really struck me – lol

    On point – was in the masses as listed about until I wanted to start my own business online. Lots of learning, lots of changing – mainly my mind since that time.

    Since I discovered the possibilities online, I’ve been working toward a more congruent life. Thanks for the word Lisa. First online attempt, sucks but I feel like I do when I’m in the short line at the store so I don’t want to get out because I know the cashier will get it anytime now – success. Plans for re-purposing (attached web site) after a new blog gets going.

    So, my actions have been slow however, I’m enjoying the journey such that your list did not make me angry. Although I’m still righting the ship with a job I enjoy, it takes too much time I need for my list of one – online presence.

    I had just completed the one action I had to move me closer to my quest before bed, when getting on Twitter to see what you guys were up to. Glad I did.

    I followed my fathers path of convention for the first half of my life. Now I’m on a quest for higher ground.

    Thank you for your thoughts.

  47. Collin says:

    I like this list because you’re right – bucket lists are so cliché. Good intentions but somethings missing…

    My list of one? Turn off my computer and have a dedicated hour (that’s it) of solitude where I work on making my startup happen.

    I also like to evaluate my life by asking myself, “If I won the lottery right now, how would my life change?” My goal is to honestly say “it wouldn’t.” I’m getting closer…

  48. Marelisa says:

    I don’t think that it’s necessary to dish on bucket lists in order to make this point. I think that creating a bucket list–life list, 100 things list, or whatever you want to call it (what you call it is just semantics)—is important. But it’s equally important to prioritize your list, and focus on achieving one or two things at a time. Then, create a plan and take some action each day—however small—to achieve it. Once you achieve the first item on your list, move on to the next one.

  49. Karri says:


    Greetings from Finland!

    Good, thought-provoking article, thanks for that. This is a thing about attitude, and how that needs to change. I’d too say that do some one small awesome thing everyday, rather than put big commercial, universal goals far into the future.

    It’s also about finding the things that strike a chord with you, no one else. You don’t want to achieve other peoples’ goals.

    But I’m for the list. I can speak only for myself, but my dad died on drugs and my mom become an alcoholic. I myself wanted to do something else. Now I’m pushing thirty and I’m wondering what to do with this life?! Is this it? From 8-4 everyday, for the rest of my stuff.

    That’s why I decided to make a list, in form a blog, that allows me to think all the small awesome things I can do everyday. It’s about doing something awesome each and every day. Leo Babauta, the blogger at Zen Habits, wrote a while ago “Success isn’t about achieving something in the future, but about doing something right now that you love.”

    I’ve talked with Neil Pasricha, the guy who behind the 1000 Awesome Things blog, and Neil showed the importance of little awesome everyday things. I took stuff for granted before and thus the small good things slipped away, eveyday.

    Big goals are good for giving that leverage for starting acting on them, but I would focus on one goal at the time. After making that dream come true, find something else inspiring and focus on making that happen.

  50. Dom says:

    hi Jonathan, I agree that making a bucket list and never acting on it is a waste, if your daily life is not fulfilling.

    But it is possible to make a long term bucket list, and also to have fulfilling experiences and meaningful acomplishments every day too. They’re not necessarily mutually exclusive.

    As Stephen Covey said “begin with the end in mind”. I think a bucket list can be empowering and inspiring, but I totally agree with you that for most people it’s a wishlist that never gets fulfilled because the drudgery of the daily corporate grind wears you out.

    Your idea of the ‘list of one’ is powerful, as it points out the need to take meaningful action every day, and to get enjoyment out of every day. But the ‘list of one’ shouldn’t be the only tool we use. There is much value in long term planning and long term dreaming too.

    I think the best life is achieved by finding the right balance between ‘bucket list’ and ‘list of one’, and using both tools to the optimum.

  51. Thanks Jonathan, for this post . . . dreams deferred are often dreams lost forever. I’ve made it point to live my life NOW and have become so passionate about enabling others to do so that I have made it into my job. It is so easy to wait for “the perfect time” or the “perfect opportunity” but, guess what? life is imperfect! WE are imperfect, but if, as you say, we focus on doing one thing each day we can do things other people dismiss as impossible! Living your dreams is the most fulfilling experience and most positive contribution any of us can make. Living our dreams is about fulfilling our potential, engaging in LIFE and making a difference. It doesn’t matter what your dreams are, if you live what you are passionate about, it will have positive ripples that reach far beyond your limited grasp or vision!

  52. Hey Jonathan,
    RIGHT ON DUDE! Here is a practical tool that people can use to create their List of One and it is the First Principle of Live Adventurously – DECIDE TO DECIDE. What this means is that you commit to making an immediate (by the end of the day) decision on doing something or NOT doing it but eliminating the gray area of indecision that most bucket lists atrophy to death in. It says its OK to say yes and it is OK to say no but its not OK to fool ourselves into saying we are going to do something we really have no intention of ever doing. It lets us get honest and real with ourselves and get on with our life one way or another. And it lets us hold ourselves accountable to our Purpose.

  53. lol Jonathan, you had me by no. 2!

    Yep totally agree, rip up the list and just do the things today that excite and fulfil you

    (and I know fulfill has two l’s if you are american – life’s too short ;))


  54. I love the idea of your list of one – reminds me of Steve Chandler/ Michael Neill idea of making a comprehensive “to-do” list on one piece of paper. Then taking another blank piece of paper, writing “the one thing i absolutley HAVE to do today” on it and then taking the most important item from your “to-do” list and writing it down under the new headline.
    Then simply make that the one thing you have to do that day. If you get it done and fancy doing another one, follow the same procedure on a new piece of paper.
    Always makes you feel like you are achieving and rarley makes you feel you are failing! A most delicious benefit….
    Thanks, as always, Jonathan.

  55. What you said here:”Convention…average……unexamined…untested…the way it’s most often lived, terrifies me.”

    Man, I don’t know. It’s a high.

    And what this post is telling me the frustration you feel, that I feel sometimes, at telling the people I know, I love, to TRY to change, to TRY to question the norm; not to be fashionable or be a rebellion, not to be NON conformist, but to AT LEAST understand what you are doing. One life, right? Live it at least.

    It is like you are standing on the side of this pit, with lines and lines of people you know, you care about, just walking and falling right in to it. You tell them, “gawddamnit, it is YOUR life. Question what you have been told AT LEAST. AT LEAST…” But they just turn their necks to look at you, shake their heads at your delusional attitude, your ‘un-categor-izable’ mode of earning, your off the cuff living, your plans…they just shake their head as if they pity you.

    I tell you, standing on the corner, watching the people fall in, is depressing sometimes. This ‘bucket list’ is the epitome of falling people’s what-ifs and why-didnt-I’s. Whereas the solution to their LIFE LONG DREAM was screaming at them, it was and is SO SIMPLE, yet not many GET IT.

    One life. Live.

    P.S. As you see, it is your fault that this rant has to come out here. Thanks for your fault 🙂

  56. Tom Bentley says:

    Yeah, forget that bucket list (it gets moldy in that bucket anyway). Try the teacup list: A nice cup of tea, made in an unhurried, conscious way. Make it metaphorically too, since it’s brethren to your List of One. [Note: if it’s after five, the perfect Manhattan does well too.]

    Thanks for a post with punch, Jonathan.

  57. No bucket. September 30th we finished getting rid of everything we owned (except what fit in our minivan) and headed off into a life with no fixed place of residence.

    We’re in Quebec now, and after 4 weeks we’re preparing for our 4-week trip across Canada and the US to San Diego, then wintering in Phoenix and summering in Albuquerque.

    It’s not a vacation, it’s just the least expensive life-style we can come up with to do all the things we want to do.

    I’m not waiting. I’m doing. Now.

    • Sheri Woodruff says:

      Way to go, Joel. I have resigned my “perfectly good job” with the desire to find the right fit for me — work about which I am passionate in a culture that feeds and nurtures and drives me — and that is fed and nurtered and driven by all that I have to give, too. If I don’t have a job by Feb 1, I am planning to ride my bicycle cross-country (not sure when I will have the time again to do so) and secure a job when I return. Don’t wait.

      • Sheri, you already don’t sound like a ‘job’ person, and I’ve just met you. Consider entrepreneurship or freelancing or something that would let you work *while* riding your bike across the country. Then, you can skip the whole “coming back and finding a job” thing, and keep riding.

        We work wherever we are, as long as we have an internet connection. We teach other people how to do it, too.

  58. Ryan Spanger says:

    It’s good to think about the things you want to do and set the intention to do them. A bucket list can help with that. But it can also just end up being another symptom of a society obsessed with achievement.

    John Lennon sang, “life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans”. Often, the best things you do in life are the things that may not have even occurred to you to put on your bucket list. Like making a last minute decision to jump on a bus and head south instead of north.

    For me it was having kids.

    I like the idea of the list of one. It basically comes down to saying yes to the opportunities and invitations that life keeps surprising you with.

  59. I can understand where your coming from Jonathan, but I don’t entirely agree with you. I look at bucket lists as the “brain dump” of goal setting. For me, these are things that interest me, and things I would like to do. I’m pretty certain I’m never going to do everything I ever want, wanted, or will want to do, but having a bucket list is a great way to keep track of what I have done, and as inspiration for me to work hard to be able to cross more things off the list!

  60. I don’t do lists…I look at my calendar to see where my next trip is. November 14th – heading to Paris and French lessons.

  61. ray says:

    Some truths remain: “the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.” But that can change now.

  62. I felt sad as I read through your list – recognizing many of those around me in its contents. But then again, those around me are often too busy trying to live by the rules and norms that they don’t have the time to make a Bucket List.
    I don’t have one myself, reason being, I would rather spend my life living than building a list. I like the idea of the list – to check off the things you do and to create the focus and the intention potentially leading to action… but I also like opportunities and leaving the door open for what life has to offer each day.
    I live in DC and was here on 9/11; prior to that I was in a bomb scare in London on my way to Ireland… but what has shaped my life and the way I raise my daughter is that I was diagnosed with a fairly rare eye disease at the age of 9. Something changes when you aren’t sure when or if you will ever “see” this or that… and thus I spent my time (and still do) living and seeing and experiencing all that I can. Life is fragile and precious… and mindfully taking part in our lives is a blessing.

  63. Hi Jonathan!

    Your brand of “tough love” is always a pleasure to ingest. Bring it on!

    As I see it, the bucket list falls under the Shakespeare category of neither good nor bad, only ACTION makes it so. We’ve got to think of it as we would a laundry list or a grocery list. We get those things done, don’t we? So why not the “bigger” things, like meeting Nelson Mandela, or swimming in the Indian Ocean in the rain?

    That is why your “List of One” concept is so powerful and RELEVANT for today’s professional. One = Power.
    It is reminiscent of Earl Nightingale’s exercise of writing down a long “Want List” then selecting only one item and circling it: that’s the one you work on, and only after you accomplish it do you move forward with the next.

    Our Information Age society is in danger of becoming the generation of the “Un-formation Age” with so many potential distractions knocking at our door like Jehovah’s Witnesses from Hell (nothing against JHs, of course!). But we can do this. We just have to FOCUS on the ONE THING.

    On a fun side note, those general use avatars for comments are funny I have to say!

    Enjoy the blessings of every day, J.


  64. Good cage-rattling stuff. Its true, I plan too much and do too little. To me the challenge is to believe that I can do the things that I have on my list. Time to be a fool and rush it. To fake it till I make it.

  65. […] I have to share it with you — what one of my favorite writers, Jonathan Fields, calls “The Bucket List Lie.”   I wrote a post on the same idea last January, which I’m republishing below, but […]

  66. Faith McGown says:

    Another great post. This is why you’re my favorite blogger. You make me think and you make me focus on one voice: my own.

  67. […] existential, the internet — Erin @ 3:42 pm In my weekend web browsing, I came across this post, about how essentially bucket lists are silly, nobody ever achieves all that crazy stuff, […]

  68. Sara says:

    Great points! I just wanted to chime in that I created my list (I call it a Living To Do list, since I hadn’t heard of bucket list at the time) when I was 16 and it’s like a living list–changing and being added to, subtracted from, as I change and my desires change. I have over 600 things on it (!) and I’ve accomplished about a third of it (I’m almost 28 years old. Every year when I get a new planner, one of my favorite things is to pen in a few things that I want to do from my list every month–ride a go-cart, drink wine older than me, have a spa day with my sisters, etc. I know my list isn’t as crazy as some (there are some crazy things, as well as bigger ones like studying abroad, that I’ve been able to check off, too), but it’s mine and it’s personal and I love it.

    I would just say to do the same–make it personal and meaningful! If you don’t really want to, say, go to Niagra Falls, don’t put it on your list. 🙂

  69. rachel says:

    cool. doing list of one now. kthxbye

  70. […] Jonathan Fields called out, it’s a list of things that many people will never achieve – a dream wish […]

  71. […] The Bucket List Lie.   Jonathan Fields looks at the “average person’s bucket list” and then offers a great alternative to what he assumes will anger the reader.  It’s all about the execution. […]

  72. […] 08 November 2010How to add an hour to your day (Harvard Business Review)The Bucket List lie (Jonathan Fields)Why all happiness and success fades away (Peter Shallard)Why what you believe gets you nowhere […]

  73. […] been debating for while whether to include a Bucket List to this blog. However, this article had put me off that idea for a while.  In it, the author wrote: Each moment of our life, we […]

  74. […] trap of not accomplishing our bucket list goals is what Jonathan Fields recently talked about: the Bucket List Lie. Even though we love dreaming about what we want to do, by failing to schedule our […]

  75. […] Fields in a recent post, The Bucket List Lie on his blog, Awake at the Wheel, also encourages us to keep it simple by making a list of one: A […]

  76. […] I read a blog post by Jonathan Fields talking about how a bucket a lie. Well, not necessarily the concept of a bucket list but […]

  77. […] Fields with ‘The Bucket List Lie’ – I’ve often fallen for this one. As he quotes at the end of this post – Not Someday, […]

  78. Leszek Cyfer says:

    My eyes got stingy and foggy from refocusing on different font sizes, italics, bolds, underlines etc. Could you in future try to make your text more streamlined to make reading it easier?

    I know you wanted to put a pressure on some points, but after a moment of reading my eyes started to lose focus and all I wanted was to get the hell out of this page 🙁

    As for the merit, the bucket list is an exercise, not an end-all list. Its value comes from changing your focus and seeing your situation different. It’s on the same level as asking yourself “If I won milions on a lottery, what would I be doing”, which allows you to get rid of money constraints and inside censor who snaps at everything he perceives impossible.

    It isn’t really a To-do list, but as you wrote you can choose one, most appealing thing off of it, shelf the bucket list, forget about it and work on the one thing exlusively. When it’s done you can take the bucket list out, scratch off the one thing and some thiongs you’ve changed your mind about, add some more – and again choose another one thing that appeals most to you.

    The role of “maybe someday” list is not memorizing – it’s taking those things out of your mind. When you think it would be great to do something “one day”, don’t snap on it and try to forget it. Instead write it down on your “maybe someday” list and then you can forget it. As long as you are working on that one thing you want your mind focused, not daydreaming of something else.

  79. […] brother blogger Jonathan Fields disses the list and insists that a “list of one” (just for today) is a better way to go.  He gets swamped with […]

  80. Linda Blog says:

    What you have written makes sense, but I don’t really believe in an bucket list. Let life surprise you. Good article though.

  81. Bisma says:

    Hey Jonathan,
    I kind of agree and disagree with your Bucket List and what you have to say about it. Yes you are right that they don’t mean anything unless you do something, I for one had created a list when I was 13, surprisingly I have done more then half of my list of 150 items. (I added on a few through the passing years.) I am 24 years old now, and I myself am very glad I made my bucket list and kept to it. I think people keep a Bucket List is so they have something they would like to accomplish. I also agree with your “one-list”. I think I’ll start to do that myself. Good article, just not totally agreeing with it.