Direction in the new year – the bucket list

The Mongrels and their D grade bucket (barrel) list

Bucket lists aren’t stupid. They aren’t silly and they aren’t (entirely) indulgent. There was a period in time, maybe ten years ago, where they were all the rage, and then they suddenly became embarrassing. Well, I have a bucket list, I love my bucket list, and I credit my little list with giving me something incredibly precious – direction and purpose.

What does a bucket list have to do with FIRE? I think bucket lists, in some form or another, are an integral part of successful FIRE. I mean, what do you do with all that time once you stop working? How do you build a meaningful and enjoyable life?  I think that some people fear being without their jobs. That’s part of why they spend insane amounts to trade up to bigger houses or blatantly ignore their retirement planning. We fear the loss of routine, colleague-friends and the all important sense of identity.  We trick ourselves into feeling dissatisfied with our lot, in order to maintain the status-quo and our weekly pattern. Some of us might fear being left alone with our partners, or even worse, with ourselves.

Bucket lists are no quick fix. They simply allow you to prioritise your goals and enjoy yourself. They are a way to slowly shake free of the self-imposed constraints that we often find ourselves in, and a means of remembering what we love about ourselves and our partners. Of course, they also have a way of putting a mirror up to your life – and reflecting back the ugly truth. A partner who doesn’t have the capacity to enjoy him or herself isn’t going to be particularly good company in retirement. And if you genuinely can’t think of anything that you want to do or see, then you’re probably going to flounder a bit yourself.

I advocate saving, investing and being extremely thoughtful and deliberate about money and spending. At the same time, I  also want to make sure that my family enjoys life. We are lucky, we take risks and we work hard, and I don’t want us to lose decades of our lives existing as if we were earning below minimum wage. Actually, I’d probably go ahead with that, but MongrelPunt and BabyMongrel would be pretty unimpressed.

Earlier this month we went to see Paul McCartney play. We got amazing seats, and it cost us an absolute bomb. But we did it anyway. We strayed from my strict path to FIRE, as we hadn’t saved up especially for the tickets. It was one of the few times that I’ve actually said the words “it doesn’t matter how much it costs!”

It was worth it. MongrelPunt is a crazy Beatles fan, and I spent my childhood watching Yellow Submarine over and over again. We crossed something off both of our bucket lists (actually, he doesn’t have one, but if he did, I think this would have been very close to the top).

My bucket list was first made in 2008. It was a lousy time for me. I wasn’t happy, and I didn’t know how to make things better. A friend of mine had a bucket list he blogged about, and I decided that I would do the same. I wrote my list and started to tick things off. A year after I started the list, I did something that no stable FIRE-devotee would do. In a fit of madness, I quit my job during the Global Financial Crisis and traveled to Europe to hike the Camino de Santiago.* I was unfit, I had very little money, and it was also the height of winter. But I wasn’t about to wait. That trip was one of the most ill-advised things I’ve ever done, and I don’t regret it one bit.

That was a long time ago now. My finances are healthier and I’m not rolling around aimlessly looking for meaning anymore. I’m settled and happy. But to me, a bucket list is more than just hoping to fill that hole in your heart. It can provide real and lasting joy, and break up difficult times with good things. It stops me from getting lazy and from taking my life, and my time, for granted.

I think that everyone who has one comes up with their bucket list differently. I started mine off by imagining I was 80 years old, and wondering what regrets I would have. Then I thought about what I wanted to be like in ten years time. In my mind, ten years was plenty of time to turn a kind of depressing and mediocre life around.

It took a lot of determination. When everyone mocks your plans or says that you’re being unrealistic, it’s easy to give up and choose the next best thing. It takes a lot of brutal and realistic self-evaluation before you can change things for the better. It was all about confidence. As I worked through my list, the ‘impossible’ became less terrifying. Instead of thinking “gee, that would be fun, but too hard”, I started to think “gee, that would be fun. I’m going to do that next weekend”. My confidence grew, and I stopped caring what people thought about me. The pursuit of FIRE was a natural result. When you start living for yourself, it’s easy to stop caring about every commercial trend that you see. It’s also easier to think about something like FIRE and decide to chase it rather than just blindly accept the idea of a 60+ retirement age.

Where do you start if you have no hobbies? No passions or interests? You have to hunt for them. Learn a language, an instrument, a skill. This coming year, make a point of finding 5 things that you have never done before and giving them a go. Even better if you are absolutely rubbish at them. My Grandpa was over 80 years old and blind when he took a pottery class through the local disability support center. He brought back this lop-sided cream and purple sack-vase with crinkled ceramic flowers on the side. It was terrible, and Grandpa knew it. He thought it was funny and ridiculous that my mum and I actually fought over who got to keep it. It’s not a bad thing to be be a talent-less hack if you have fun. I’m currently learning two skills, and I’m fairly rubbish at both of them. When I finish up with one of them, it’ll be banjo time. I fully expect to be dreadful for years. And that will be part of the joy.

Read some books that aren’t at all what you usually read. Explore art that you don’t understand (pretty much everything post 1750 for me). Don’t stay in your comfort zone. If you are able, travel. If you are not able, then learn about another country. Preferably a place that scares the life out of you. Volunteer for a cause you really believe in. Try everything – every experience you can. And at some point in the process, you will have transformed into someone that doesn’t need to actively be coached to try new things. Instead you’ll realise that the 80 year old you will look back and be proud.

* One of the stand-out moments of the hike happened right after I hurt my foot. I was resting, and a guy in a huge wizard hat approached and told me I was hurt. I was tired and in pain and wasn’t impressed with him announcing the obvious. He told me he was a doctor and offered to look at my foot for me. My travelling companion was horrified, and thought that the wizard was just a creepy foot fetishist. I didn’t care (calculated risk and all that), and off came the boot and sock. Turns out I had tendonitis, and after my foot was strapped and I’d been given some advice on how to continue the hike, the wizard told me that he had done something terrible, and his penance was to walk the Camino and offer aid to others. I don’t know if he was telling the truth or trying to freak out my companion. I can only hope he wasn’t just after my feet.

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