Thursday, August 2, 2012

Step #12 Creating Your Life List

We are now at Step #12 of the 12 Steps for Living Free. This is the final step in the program to change your life from whatever it has been to the life of freedom you are seeking.

First, let’s list the first eleven steps to provide a basis for Step #12.

Step #1   Dreams and Realization
Step #2   Self-discovering
Step #3   Taking A Personal Inventory
Step #4   Simplifying
Step #5   Downsizing
Step #6   Economizing
Step #7   Avocations & Vocations
Step #8   Relationships
Step #9   Making Amends
Step #10 Giving
Step #11 Spirituality

Each of these first eleven steps represents a major aspect of your life until the present time. Further, each of these steps will provide progress toward your goal of living free. Some people will find that they must focus on some of the steps more then others. Freedom is something each person has to define for him or herself. The basic dictionary definitions don’t necessarily define freedom as you and I, individually, wish to experience it and live our lives.

The Life List - aka The Bucket List

I originally titled Step #12 “Lifetime Priority List” because it’s a label I’ve used for this process for many years. Many people have come to call it a “Bucket List” after the popular 2008 movie “The Bucket List” starring Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman. The word “bucket” refers to the commonly used phrase, “kicking the bucket.” This, of course, is a reference to the end of life . . . or death. After doing more research for this step I found several places where the term “Life List” is used for the same idea. I was reading some comments from terminal cancer patients on a Mayo Clinic online article about creating a Life List and while many people referred to the bucket list concept, one individual made the observation that the bucket list refers to the end or to death, as I previously noted. This person said she preferred the more positive approach of calling it a Life List. And so, from this point forward, I’m adopting the phrase Life List for this step.

While many people are familiar with this concept of creating a Life List (or a bucket list) due to the popularity of the Nicholson/Freeman movie, not near as many people actually take the time to create such a written list. Point in fact, the idea for this list goes back at least a few decades if not longer. There has been research and studies on the idea and Hospice programs have been known to introduce the idea to end of life patients dealing with incurable, terminal, medical conditions. It’s pretty much a given that a person with an active Life List will live considerably longer then another person with essentially the identical medical condition and prognosis who doesn’t have a Life List. 

Another entertaining film (2006) with a similar theme, that of fulfilling lifetime dreams before you die, is “The Last Holiday” starring Queen Latifah. While the movie is a comedy, I found it to have an important underlying message that parallels the Nicholson/Freeman movie. Queen Latifah portrays an average working woman struggling to make ends meet when she is told by her doctor that she only has three weeks to live due to a rare medical condition. After the initial shock she decides that she will live life to the fullest for those last three weeks. What follows is both funny and, yet, meaningful. There is a surprise ending. If you haven’t seen it, I believe you’ll enjoy it and it may give you further insights to Step #12.

Creating Your Life List

So, how hard can it be to make a Life List? It has to be pretty simple you might think. I’ve used the creation of a Life List (formerly, a Lifetime Priority List) as part of workshops for more then ten years. I often used the Life List in conjunction with creating a Life Map, a graphic way of setting goals and benchmarks for your life. The experience is always challenging for the people attending the workshops.

My introduction to the exercise is for each individual attending a workshop and for you, now, is to imagine that that you just visited your doctor and received a diagnosis of a terminal condition with approximately six months to live. It’s possible that you may not have to imagine such a diagnosis. I surely hope that’s not the case. Of course, many people have a difficult time with the concept of imagining such a possibility for their lives. People prefer believing that it would never be them, it’s always someone else. Reality is often difficult to deal with.

So, now you have six months to live. Here’s the assignment. Make a list of 50 things you want to do before you die. Include on your list only things that are for your own personal desires and fulfillment. In other words, the items on the list should not be things to do for the family, friends, job or business. This is a totally self-centered exercise. The rest of the people in your life – family, friends, co-workers, business colleagues, clients/customers and so on – are going to continue living their lives long past your six months most likely. This is your last hurrah. This is your time to live life full-tilt, reach for the brass ring and make every moment count as if it were the last. I also want you to create a simple form like I issued to each individual in a workshop. The form has 25 lines on each side. It’s quite simple and basically looks like the following:

Life List of _____(Your Name)___________
#             Life Item Description                                                                Achieved

1.   _______________________________________________  _______

2.   _______________________________________________  _______

3.   _______________________________________________  _______

And so on, until there are 25 lines on side one of the page.

Then continue the form on the other side of the sheet numbering 26 through 50. As I said, the form is simple and you can create your own just as you did in a number of the earlier steps.

So, why the number 50? Why not? I could have selected any number either larger or smaller then 50, however, I was able to fit 50 lines on the form by carefully setting the margins and allowing for enough room to write a simple, but adequate description of each Life List item.

Now, here is the interesting thing. In most cases, when the individuals at a workshop had to think of only 50 things from the, literally, millions of things there are to do, to experience or to achieve in this world, most of them had a difficult time adding additional items by the time they reached ten items. I coaxed them to add more items by providing suggestions of ideas other people might have on their lists. But, since this is your list, it isn’t about what anyone else wants to do, experience or achieve. It’s all about you and you alone. You don’t have to come up with all 50 items in a single sitting. You can always add and change items on your list. It is your list.

Another factor that is very important to remember is that there is no order to this list. Because you put the first thing that comes to your mind on line one doesn’t mean that is the most important item on the list nor that you must accomplish it before you accomplish anything else on your list. The list is simply a way to create a visual representation of your personal dreams and desires. The items on your list don’t have to be outrageous or grandiose. Climbing Mt. Everest or diving to the submerged wreckage of the Titanic or swimming with Great White Sharks or having a part in a blockbuster movie or writing the great American novel do not have to be on your list, though, perhaps, one or more of those experiences might be.

My Life List

Allow me to share some of the Life List items on my personal list with you.

Attending the Indianapolis 500 Formula auto race – one time.
Attending the Daytona 500 NASCAR race – one time.
Attending the Burning Man Festival in the Nevada desert.
Attending Fantasy Fest in Key West, FL
Relaxing in the sun on the 56 beaches on Vieques Island off the coast of Puerto Rico
Returning to New Zealand to visit my friends, Brian and Carol and meet a new blogger friend.
Retracing the route of the speaking tour Brian and I did on the North Island (NZ) in 1991
Exploring more of the North Island and exploring the South Island (NZ)
Visit and explore many parts of Australia
Visit all 50 states in the U.S. (46 already visited)
Record, produce and complete several personal recording projects
Complete and publish “12 Steps to Living Free” as a book
Write and publish several other books

Several of these life items are actually multiple items on my list since they are multi-faceted, but I compressed them for the purpose of this example. Do some of these items seem frivolous? They probably do to some people, but that's okay because they are on MY Life List and don't have to appear on yours or anyone else's. What other people think of what you put on your life list is of no consequence, because it's YOUR life, not theirs. Items they might put on their Life Lists - if they ever create one - may seem frivolous to you, too, but that's none of your concern.

My list has 50 items on it. Well, I should say my list had 50 items on it, but a number of them have been completed and crossed off and new ones added. Now, here’s a tip. Since, I don’t currently have a terminal diagnosis with a date for my demise in the immediate future and assuming that’s true for you as well, every time something is crossed off the list it leaves a blank space where a new item can be added. Of course, this could change the next time you or I visit our respective doctors. That’s why having this list is vitally important.

Realistic Vs. Unrealistic

There is a reason I made the creation of your Life List Step #12. After implementing the first  eleven steps for living free, the final step should, naturally, be to express your new freedom by doing all the things you’ve always wanted to do for yourself. But, let’s face it, you’ve always put them off for the myriad of reasons discussed throughout the first eleven steps. Unfortunately, a lot of people, I’d dare say the majority, will never consider a living free approach to living their lives. Worse yet, they’ll most likely consider you, me and others who choose a living free lifestyle to be irresponsible, reckless, frivolous and, possibly even foolish for choosing an alternative to what “they,” the majority in the mainstream of society, consider to be the appropriate approach and attitude toward life. That’s part of freedom, everyone should be able to choose how they live their life, however, that doesn’t give anyone the right to judge or dictate.

While the sky is certainly the limit with regard to what you put on your Life List, there should be a modicum of reality and attainability. The likelihood that you or most people we know will have the opportunity or ability to travel in space, to the International Space Station or beyond is one of the items that is most likely beyond reality. Why waste a perfectly good space on the list. However, becoming a nomad, such as I’ve chosen, allowing you to wander the country or the world at will, is completely within reason. I’m in contact through Twitter and other social media (and in some cases, I know them personally) with people around the world who are professional nomads (my description) who are exploring this world on their own terms. There are literally millions of people out of the seven billion people on the planet exploring this planet on their own terms. That is a minute percentage, however, it’s a lifestyle they have chosen.

There are people who have begun a new micro trend by moving to “tiny houses.” Tiny houses are structures, typically movable, that look like very small houses, have all the necessities and utilities of a conventional house, yet only have between about 80 and 140 square feet of very efficient living space. Their cost of living is minute compared to most people, even those living in the very low end of more traditional housing.

Perhaps you want to “take this job and shove it” so you can do something that is in tune with your interests, talents, skills and mostly, your enjoyment. I know of a fellow, recently interviewed for a national article that was circulated on the Internet, who had been a Hollywood composer and orchestrator for movies and television shows. He left the Hollywood scene in a small, (about 90 square feet) motor home and now travels the country, staying wherever he chooses for however long he chooses. He composes music, takes an occasional orchestrating assignment that he can do remotely from wherever he happens to be (thanks to digital technology and the Internet) and plays his saxophone as a street musician as he travels to different places. He might even sit in with other musicians on a gig. He earns just enough, as he states it, “to live like a king.” Almost anything is possible.

The Reason Why

Why is Step #12 so important? Because it gives you a reason to get up everyday and have something to look forward to. This is your life. It plays out in real time. There is no dress rehearsal. You’re on. Since you don’t know when the curtain is going to come down for the last time and the run of your show be over, you want to enjoy and savor every moment of this, your one and only, life.

No matter how you define your living free lifestyle, you have things you want to accomplish for yourself. Perhaps it’s creating a new rose or orchid or tomato. Maybe it’s breeding a new breed of cat or dog or tropical fish. Perhaps, it’s creating a gorgeous flower garden. Maybe your passion is white water rafting or fishing. Perhaps you want to hang glide off some of the highest places around the world. Finding sunken treasure may be your turn on. Beachcombing with a metal detector on the beaches of the world could be your thing.

Whatever it is, unless you’re ready for the opportunity when it presents itself, you’ll most likely miss it. But, when you have a list that provides you with a constant reminder of the things you want to achieve and experience in your life, you’ll be actively seeking and watching for the opportunities so you can cross the items off your list. And, of course, you can continually add new ones. Someone once said, “We’ll all have unfinished business when we die.” That’s precisely one of my goals in life, to always have more to experience and achieve, even when it’s my time to leave this world.

The Proof Is In The Pudding
(Or The Country Count In This Case)

Here is one final anecdote. A woman, who is now a long time friend, attended one of my workshops probably a decade or more ago. She created her Life List at (and after) the workshop. At that time, she listed 12 countries in various parts of the world she wanted to visit. The opportunities began presenting themselves almost immediately after she created the list. She started visiting the countries and crossing them off her list. She kept adding more items to her list, including more places she wanted to travel to. Not too long ago, we were having a discussion and somehow the subject of our Life Lists came up. She asked me if I had any idea how many countries she had visited since she created her original list. I said, I didn’t know, but I’d venture to say at least the original dozen. She replied by telling me she had been to 43 countries. She never imagined that she’d see that much of the world, but once she had a list and sought the opportunities, it all fell into place. Currently, her list has many places on it in the U.S. that she wants to visit and explore. She said it’s time to see her own country and learn more about it. This woman is now in her early 70’s and has the energy and attitude of someone in her 40’s. She always has a reason to get up each morning. She always has something to look forward to.

I commend you to create your Life List form and work hard at listing 50 items on your list. You can always change your mind and take something off the list if you decide it’s really not as important to you as something else. But, the most important part of Step #12 is to START the list and complete it. DO IT NOW!

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