a bucket

I had a dream last week in which I was tasked with car­ry­ing a buck­et from one unnamed place to anoth­er. The buck­et was emp­ty, but at the same time so heavy I couldn’t move it more than a few inch­es at a time. When I awoke, I could remem­ber noth­ing else. Heavy buck­et. Someplace I was sup­posed to be. Frustration that I couldn’t get wher­ev­er I was going.

When I was younger, I was an avid mak­er of lists. Most of my jour­nals con­tain one buck­et list or anoth­er, jot­ting down every­thing that excit­ed or inter­est­ed me, a cat­a­log of things to expe­ri­ence before I kicked the buck­et. With the relent­less enthu­si­asm and curios­i­ty of my youth, a list helped me focus my pri­or­i­ties. There was so much I want­ed to accom­plish before I shuf­fled off the mor­tal coil, but so lit­tle time. Walter Mitty would not be my fate, only dream­ing about liv­ing until the last speck of sand fell down the hour­glass neck.

When I look back at these lists, I am proud of all I have achieved. I learned to play gui­tar. Built my own house. Created my dream job before it exist­ed as a viable career option. Took surf­ing lessons. Visited Stonehenge, the Equator, the Parthenon.

Yet these smudged pages with curl­ing cor­ners are also grave­yards of lost poten­tial, a place where for­mer dreams went to die. I’ve nev­er been to Maine, nev­er real­ly learned to play chess. I haven’t seen Cat Stevens in con­cert and I don’t have a lit­er­ary agent try­ing to sell my manuscript. 

I turn 50 next year. It’s such a cliché to be feel­ing exis­ten­tial angst as I close the first half of my life cen­tu­ry, but a cliché is such for a rea­son. I’ve been min­ing my old jour­nals and jot­ting down my dreams, search­ing for clues for­ward. What does the sec­ond half of my life look like?

Perhaps it’s less about mak­ing lists and more about mak­ing mean­ing. Not an aggres­sive con­quest col­lec­tion of expe­ri­ences I long for, but a flow­ing, flu­id com­po­si­tion of what has – and is – hap­pen­ing in the moment. After all, the moments that have brought the most depth and breadth to my days are emo­tion­al, spir­i­tu­al, and intel­lec­tu­al mile­stones that I couldn’t have planned for. Catching the eye of that cute boy in the London pub. Seeing two vis­i­ble lines on a preg­nan­cy test. A glob­al pan­dem­ic. The mot­ley crew of ear­ly-morn­ing badass­es who chose to sup­port my busi­ness and end­ed up sup­port­ing me in ways I could nev­er have imag­ined. Every stray ani­mal that has adopt­ed me through the years.

It was in this head­space that I learned about the F*ck It Bucket. The F.I.B. is a place to put all the horsecrap­pery that pre­vents us from show­ing up as the per­son we want to be. Anything that drains our time and ener­gy with­out suf­fi­cient return on our invest­ment goes in the bucket.

The PTA demands home­made cook­ies? F*ck it Bucket. Store-bought is fine.

Asked to sit on anoth­er com­mit­tee? F*ck it Bucket.

Favorite jeans no longer fit? Drop it in the buck­et, baby, and buy new ones.

This reverse buck­et list isn’t a list of more things to do, but instead a list of things to release. The per­son I want to be in the sec­ond half of my life is some­one who laughs loud­ly and hugs often. Someone who cares less about her thighs and more about how she can curi­ous­ly show up in the world. A bet­ter wife, moth­er, and daugh­ter. The per­son who always brings snacks (every­one loves the per­son who brings snacks). Someone who is too busy liv­ing her life out loud to post about it inces­sant­ly. I want to be a per­son who thinks and feels as much as they can, some­one who is awake enough to know when she’s hav­ing a mag­i­cal moment as she is hav­ing it.

Which requires some let­ting go of the relent­less striv­ing of my youth. A let­ting go of who I have been to make room for who I am becom­ing. I now under­stand the buck­et in my dream was a F.I.B., and its heft was itself a check off the old buck­et list.

  • Erin Skinner Smith

    Erin Skinner Smith wants every­one to slow down, eat real food, move their bod­ies, go out­side, and hit the pil­low a lit­tle ear­li­er for a more pur­pose­ful exis­tence. She is a pub­lished writer, yoga teacher, and mind­ful­ness coach. When she’s not stand­ing on her head or typ­ing on her trusty lap­top, you’ll find her read­ing, play­ing gui­tar, enjoy­ing a glass of bour­bon, or snug­gling on the couch with her peo­ple and pets. Send her a dig­i­tal high five at erintheomplace.net.