Is It Possible to Do Everything You Want Before You Die?


Crossing off a 3rd item on the list

There aren’t many things that frighten me. But there is one thing I’m particularly scared of that stands out. I’m scared I won’t get to do everything I want to do before I die.

I’m the kind of person who takes a lot of pride in being able to face down my fears. So I’m a little uneasy about sharing this fact about myself. But I think it’s important for me to get this out there. I don’t think I’m alone in expressing this fear; I believe many others have similar worries.

Dying Without Really Living

Normally people don’t have to think about death. It’s pretty easy to ignore by just pushing it off to the side and carrying on with life as usual. But because I work in a hospital, I find it very hard to ignore. Like every hospital in the country, people occasionally die. Even though I only hear about it and don’t actually have to see it, I find it sudden and jarring.

Every time it happens, I just wonder if the person still had a lot of goals and accomplishments left that they wanted to do. Then I wonder if that’s how I will die. Will I leave a lot of items on my bucket list uncrossed? Instead of being a disturbing thought, I find it gives me a lot of drive to finish everything I still have left to do.

Fortunately I think people can make a big life list of things they want to do before they die and actually do everything on it. The process takes some time and effort, but it is possible.

Make Your Life List

I’m a firm believer in bucket lists. Everyone should make one, be active in crossing items off and updating them as often as you can. If you don’t have one, I suggest making one as soon as possible. Looking at everything you want to do on one big list puts your goals and the time you have to do them into perspective.

Making a list is extremely important. It’s a constant reminder of how far you still have to go and helps you remember everything you might forget about. Without my list, I’d probably forget that I want to appear in a film. After all, that particular item isn’t something I think about every single day.

Realize that no matter how extensive your life list is, there is a way to do everything on it. Your time on this planet may be short and your list may be long, but if you have enough drive, passion and determination, you can finish every single item you have.

You might be tempted to take off some items just to make the list a little shorter and easier to accomplish. Cutting things off your bucket list is something I like to call “bucket list triage”. But stand your ground and be bold. Only cut those things you no longer have any interest in doing. Just remember that even huge, seemingly impossible items might not be that impossible after all.

Find What Motivates You

Making the list is the easy part.  The hard part is finding the drive and determination to work your way through them all.  Personally speaking, the drive I get after hearing about a death at the hospital is enough motivation for me to do more items on my list. It’s like a wake-up call for me to make sure that I don’t end up missing out on some can’t-miss life experiences.

I know many of you probably don’t work in a hospital so you can’t use this to jump-start your own drive and determination. You’ll just have to come up with your own system for motivation that works for you. I’ve found having a few friends who are equally driven to do everything they want to in life helps. You can fuel each other’s motivation when the other is feeling a little discouraged.

Can You Finish It All?

All this reminds me of the story of John Goddard. He’s an adventurer, explorer and author. But surprisingly, he is probably best known for his bucket list. He wrote it in 1940 when he was just 15. It has 127 items on it and he has accomplished almost every single one (visiting the moon might have to wait).

His goals include climbing the world’s major mountains, traveling to all the countries in the world and learning several languages. One of the items on his list was to navigate the Nile River. Not only did he do this in 1951, but he was the first person in history to do it. Just knowing someone can do so much from one list is encouraging.

Do you have enough items on your bucket list? Do you have a bucket list or do you need to make one?
photo credit: kyle_clements

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  1. Working in a hospital definitely puts things in perspective…especially seeing little ones lose their lives. Personally, if I were to die tomorrow, I would be happy with everything I have accomplished. I don’t fear not being able to complete every item on my list, as long as I keep on trying I am content.

    • That’s a good attitude to have. I’m happy with all the things I’ve done and should be grateful for the time I’ve had to do them. It’s great to look forward to what you still have left to go, but you shouldn’t forget all the ones that you’ve already crossed off.

  2. I think I definitely have enough items on my bucket list…at least for now. That sucker is forever growing. I’ve learned that the only thing that is keeping me from achieving my goals is myself. I’m my greatest enemy at this point.

    • You’re bucket list is just like mine. It seems to get bigger each year as I add new items. You may be the greatest enemy at this point, but I think you’re also your greatest ally. The person that will best help you do all those things you want to do is you.

  3. I had a cancer scare a couple of years ago, and it made me realize that I’m not immortal, so I started my Bucket List. It’s 90% experience-based, and I’ve already enjoyed crossing a couple of things off as they concluded. I’m not waiting to do anything anymore. It was a great reality check. I want to go out of this life without regrets.

    • Thanks for sharing your story, Darci. Cancer would be something really scarey to go through. My fiancee is an oncology nurse so I get to hear a lot of stories from her. I can see it being a good reality check. And at least you’re past it and can work on your bucket list now. Keep working on crossing those items off and live a full life.

  4. I think it is important to make the time to do the things you want to in this life. It is far easier to put things off and get distracted by your daily life, which is often less rewarding. Unfortunately it is often only when the life of someone close to you is cut short that you realise that you may never get to do the things that are important to you, which is a harsh wake up call.

    • It really is easy to get distracted from things going on in your daily life. It’s not bad to have a routine unless it prevents you from doing bigger things you want to accomplish.

  5. Why is it that this subject keeps coming up for me? It’s amazing how often I’ve heard of and thought of a “life list” or “bucket list” lately! I’m reading “The Art of Non-Conformity” right now, which is big on this type of thing. I blogged a bit about it here:

  6. I’ve never seen his list before, but damn what an inspiration. You know, I’m seeing this pattern here of inspiring folks just doing cool stuff. Hahah. I didnt even mean to cite the site.

    So yes. Do something cool.

    Man I can get behind this message!

    • I found the his list inspiring too. It just shows what you can do if you put a lot of effort into getting things done. It’s stories like his that really keep me motivated.

  7. Steve,

    It is so funny that you wrote about this. Just the other day my wife asked me what I would like to do before I died. I had to ask permission to have a list for my family life and one for if I was still single. :-) I came up will all kinds of things that I wanted to do which I thought was complex and deep. After I completed my list my wife looked it over, stared me in the eyes, and said, “Let’s go cross some things off your list.” In two hours we completed 1/2 of my list. I guess I need to think of more stuff to do before I die because at this rate I might be done with my current one by Friday.

    • Hey Frank, way to go on getting a big chunk of your life list done in such a short time. When I made my first life list, I got a lot of items crossed off right away too. I just keep filling the list up with more items as I think of them. Eventually the items become harder and harder to do, but that’s where a lot of the challenge (and fun) comes in.

  8. Hey Steve,
    I wrote down a list of things that I wanted to accomplish about ten years ago.

    I broke it down into 5, 10 and 20 year increments. I was able to cross off 3/4 of the things on my list.

    Writing things down definitely works for me.

    • Hey Justin,

      That’s awesome that you could get so much off your list done. There is something about writing the items down that seems to make them easier to get done.

  9. Mack Reynolds says:

    i think you’ve convinved me to go ahead and make my own bucket list. i think i’ll start today. thanks man.

  10. Love bucket lists. My problem is that I’m haven’t been hacking away at it. And in the simplest terms our bucket lists are what makes life meaningful to us. But I find other lists getting in the way. Lists of societal norms. Lists of bills, student loans, and job applications. But really the only list stopping anyone from getting anything done is the list of doubts we create.

    • Well put. The list of bills, student loans, job applications can be a burden. If your bills are too high, you probably won’t have any money to do the big things on your list. But too often those things are used as excuses covering the real source stopping you: self-doubt. That’s often the source stopping people from doing things on their bucket list.

  11. There are some things on my list that I may not accomplish, like visit every country and I also keep adding things to the list constantly. It doesn’t really worry me that I may not accomplish everything; I think I’d be more upset if I did everything on my list and didn’t have anything else to look forward to and plan.

    • Good point. The day I accomplish everything on my list and have nothing else to look forward to would be a sad day. I guess I should see having more and more things to add to my list as a good thing.

  12. I really don’t have a bucket list yet but I don’t want to stress myself out doing everything in a lifetime. It’s still good to finish them but I guess it’s more on the thought that you’re actually DOING something to accomplish your goals. It’s more on the drive and passion more than the act.

    • I think of my bucket list as a source of motivation rather than something that stresses me out. It’s not always necessary to have one as long as you seem to be doing everything you want anyways, but I think it is a useful tool.

  13. You want to be in a movie as well? So do I! I’ve always wanted to be in a film, even as an extra. The times I’ve seen movie sets I get really excited. When I’ve done tours of the movie studios, I’m like a kid at Disney.

    I don’t have a bucket list. I know I should make one out. Am i scared I won’t be able to do everything in life that I want? Yeah.

    Working where you definitely puts you closer to death than many of us. Gives a real wake up call.

    I really enjoyed this post!

    • I’d be an extra in a movie too. In fact, I had a chance a few months ago to do it. A friend of mine put a message on Facebook asking for any guys to be an extra in a movie she’s in. I immediately jumped at the chance and messaged her. She gave me a phone number and name to call, so I called it and left a couple of messages. Never heard anything back. Oh well, I’m hoping it won’t be the last chance for me.

  14. I feel like I’m sometimes a broken record when I come to your page Steve, cause I just keep saying how great your posts are, but since it’s the truth I think it’s OK.

    And there’s a lot of things that I don’t know if I’ll get to do, but as long as I keep achieving and keep reaching then I know no matter what I get crossed off that I’ve lived my life successfully.

    • That’s a good way to look at it. That’s the good thing about having an ambitious list, even if you fall short of accomplishing everything you’ll still have done some really amazing things.

  15. As much as I believe in the power of having a bucket list I have trouble accepting the idea that it is possible to do absolutely everything you want in life.

    My idea can be explained with a simple analogy with books. Even if you are a fast reader and read a book every week, you’ll probably not be able to read all the books you want to read that were already published, but even if you can you would miss all the ones that were published while you were busy reading the others.

    I tend to look at bucket lists that way. While it is possible to do almost everything you want, at least the cool important stuff. When you complete those wishes there’s a whole lot more you could’ve done so you wouldn’t be able to do everything.

    Can you follow what I am saying? Nonetheless, great writing and reflection.

    • My bucket list seems never-ending so I understand your book analogy. And since I’m a big reader with an ever-expanding list of books to read, I really get it. I would be able to do everything if it wasn’t for all the additions I make to my list. If I keep going at this pace, I’ll never complete everything. With that in mind, it does seem as if the best strategy is to focus on the most important items.

  16. “I’m scared I won’t get to do everything I want to do before I die.”

    This is my fear. I have a bucket list that grows on a daily basis. Seriously. These are things that I MUST accomplish. I should have no problem doing most of them – my fear is that I will get hit by a bus and have not been able to finish them.

    I am motivated by discover. I love learning and experiencing new things. It’s an addiction. So many things to do – so little time…

  17. I liked your post. It is motivating enough. But I have a problem with life rather myself, which I am not able to overcome….I fear of being myself. I fear of being able to do everything. I know its funny 😐 but really need help on this. And I (sub-consciously) think that I expect a lot from life and myself, and then I fear ‘what if I am not able to do all!’ and then I fear ‘What if I did all!’….perhaps I feel I’ll have to loose a lot in order to achieve all…..


  1. […] other actions that would improve their life. They stay in relationships they don’t like, don’t do things on their bucket list and always put their dreams on […]

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