Somewhere between getting married and my daughter going to preschool, I lost myself. Life and what I thought it should be, what I should be as a woman and mom, got away from me. I have always had goals and plans: general should-do items for life and specific career goals and milestones. But somehow life started moving way too fast. I blinked, and there I was thinking, Now what? Someday, if I’ve done my job as a parent to the best of my ability, my daughter will be off on her own, a happy adult who is successful on her own terms. I decided it’s time to reconnect with myself and who I was before I became a human napkin and carrier of snacks.
The idea of a bucket list came from a dear friend who also suggested keeping a journal after my divorce. I’m an impatient ENTP who drinks way more coffee than someone with my energy level should be allowed to drink. Consequently, my journal trailed off after two sentences, when I stopped to start a load of laundry and completely forgot I had started a journal. The journal remains neatly displayed on a bookshelf, almost unused.
A bucket list was easier—or so I thought. However, my inner wild woman has been (slightly) tamed by motherhood, and daydreams often become constrained by practical thoughts. One night, after several glasses of wine I developed a road map of things that would help make my soul smile again. Here are five tips for finding yourself through a bucket list, should you need a jumping-off point or not have the time alone to drink half a bottle of wine while contemplating Europe, motherhood, and your mortality:
1. There’s an app for that! Create a separate section in your phone’s to-do list for yourself, or find an app that will allow you to create multiple types of lists in one place. Keeping an app on my iPhone makes it easy to copy and save items I find interesting. I am also constantly reminded of my list because I carry it around with me everywhere I go, as I’m never without my phone! I love Do.List. It has the usual grocery items and errand sections, but it also features a Life tab that allows you to create book lists, restaurant lists, collect quotes, and other items.
2. Mom Goals. Even when I swear I’m going to focus on myself, thinking about my daughter is inevitably easier. The same is true with this exercise. Embrace your inner mommy and list the annual events and places you have always wanted to visit with your kids. The lovely ladies at ACMB whom I’m proud to call friends have put some awesome lists together. Use them. Life is too short to always go to the same neighborhood park or jumpy place. Trying something new will break you out of your routine and give your family a new adventure. It will also remind you that the little things and moments in life count the most. Bonus: You will always have an idea list ready when a bored child wants to know what you’re doing this Saturday.
3. Lotto List. When I think of a bucket list, I think of big things: the things I would spend the rest of my life doing if money were no object. African safari? Mediterranean adventure? Overnight stay in a Scandinavian hotel made of ice? Put them on the list! All right, so I probably won’t do most of these, even if I technically could accomplish a few items on this list if I saved beforehand. However, the real value in listing the adventures I would take if I won the lottery is that I began to see my priorities more clearly. Try it out. I’ll bet you’ll see some patterns as well. Would you rather stay in a luxury hotel or a bed and breakfast? Would you want planned activities, or would you rather wander? I never lost my values, but I forgot some of my wishes. This list helped me remember them.
4. The Past. Think back to high school and college, the days before you had to #momsohard and were #adulting. Create a list of what you thought your dream life would be, specifically what type of woman you pictured yourself as when you became a “real adult.” Surprise! Now about 90% of the time, you are the “real adult” in the room. There is no better time than now to be who you want and reclaim what makes you happy. What life goals did you have? What made you smile?
For example, I love flowers. I’m not exactly sure what episode of MTV Cribs made me think that having fresh flowers weekly would be awesome, but I’m pretty sure it was the one with Mariah Carey in a bubble bath. At some point between those Carson Daly days and chasing a toddler, I joined the “it’s not practical” club when it came to getting myself fresh flowers. Yet, when it came time to be in charge of my own happiness, spending money on a small group of seasonal flowers was worth it.
Depending on what you put on your list and your personal budget, you may not be able to allow for certain items all the time. That’s OK! You will still have a list of ways to treat yourself when the need arises, and the ideas will be more original than the typical yoga pants/Starbucks/kid-free Target trip trifecta you’re likely to come up with on the fly.
5. Introspection. I have started with positive items, but let’s be real: we all have ideas about how we can improve our lives. Your task is to list all of the things you would change if you could, or what you are unhappy with. Now, remember, this is a list about you, not about another person or company and how they can change. I love Jack Canfield’s book on success: you are 100% responsible for your life. Your life is either something you created or where you find yourself because of your reaction to what others have created. Who did you want to be, and what can you do to get closer to that vision now that you’re a mom?
Create a list of personal and/or professional goals. What are your parenting challenges? Be specific enough with yourself to create change and identify any roadblocks. Buy and ACTUALLY READ a book on the topics and roadblocks you identify. If you identify an issue you have struggled with alone, there is no shame in seeing a counselor or therapist. Therapy is a beautiful thing.
Congratulations! Now you have an app on your phone with a ginormous list in multiple categories. The hard part now is working through the list. Remember, the only thing worse than not having an idea of who you are and what you want, is knowing and doing nothing.