Business, Finance & Communication

Published on April 18th, 2016 | by Day Merrill


Emptying Your Bucket List

The term “bucket list”, originated in computer programming, first used to explain the non-relationship of objects inside one (bucket) list to objects inside another. In 1993, the phrase showed up in a U.S. National Labor Relations Board report to categorize conference agenda items that must be postponed. In 2004, its usage to describe those things to do before “kicking the bucket” appeared in a novel by Patrick Carlisle: “A great man, in his querulous twilight years…wants to cut loose, dance on the razor’s edge, pry the lid off his bucket list!”

Most of us were exposed to the term by the 2007 film chronicling the road trip of two terminally ill men checking off items on their respective lists of things to do before they die. These very different men‒one a blue collar mechanic (Morgan Freeman) and the other a billionaire (Jack Nicholson) meet in hospital after being diagnosed with terminal cancer. During their time on the cancer ward, they find common ground despite different lives and personalities.

The mechanic begins by writing a “bucket list,” but discards it after hearing he has less than a year to live. His billionaire buddy finds the list and urges his friend to do everything on the list (and more). He offers to finance the trip and they begin an around-the-world journey. They go skydiving, drive a hot car, fly over the North Pole, eat dinner in Paris, see the Taj Mahal, ride motorcycles on the Great Wall of China, go on safari in Africa and visit the base of Mt. Everest.

Many people fantasize about an equally fantastical bucket list. Recently, a terminally ill Barrie man took a very different approach. After a 35-year business career, cancer brought Frank Nelson’s busy schedule to a halt. He created a bucket list‒ with a twist: give away $1,000 to 50 needy families. “I don’t want to jump out of a plane, I don’t want to climb a mountain. For me, I want something that gives me meaning and purpose.”

To date, Frank Nelson has given away $55,000 and it’s not just strangers who have benefitted from his generosity.  Noting that her businessman dad had been a workaholic, his daughter says the bucket list project has brought them closer and has given them meaningful time together before his “journey ends,” as Nelson calls dying.

As alluring as exotic locales and wild adventures may be, most of us don’t have a billionaire sidekick ready to finance a global jaunt. Even if we have been successful in business, we may not have “money to burn.” But all of us have within us gifts we can bestow for the benefit of others in need ‒ including complete strangers. Devoting a little of our “time, talent and treasure” can help cement a legacy that transcends mere success.

In addition, as businessman Frank Nelson learned, a bucket list dedicated to helping others has a way of bestowing its largesse on us and those close to us ‒ too often people we have neglected if we’ve had a single-minded focus on work. After all, the important question when we leave this earthly life is not “what’s in your wallet?” but what was in your heart?

Day Merrill, MALS
Career Management Coach

About the Author

Day Merrill

A career services professional with expertise in coaching, training and consulting, Day Merrill founded 2BDetermined Inc. to help individuals; teams and organizations increase workplace effectiveness and satisfaction. Day worked for a number of human capital management firms in Canada and the U.S., Her first career was secondary school teacher/administrator. Day holds a B.A. from Connecticut College, a Master of Arts from Wesleyan University and is a graduate of Coach U’s professional coaching program. She is active in the International Coach Federation, the Association of Career Professionals and the Human Resources Professional Association, teaching Organizational Behaviour in the CHRP program. Day is a certified Inside Out Development Coach, serves as Career Coach for the Executive MBA program at Western University’s Ivey Business School and is on the faculty of Women With Vision—Training, Coaching & Mentoring Institute.

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