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My Life List

My Life List

Things to do while you're alive.


I know of 67 people who would like to build an igloo.

There are at least 4050 people who say that they intend to "be a better friend" than they have been.

And 5996 others plan to start waking up when their alarm clocks goes off.

These are just three of the items that members list as life goals on the Web site In the past three years, more than 1.2 million idealists have signed up and posted their customized lists of things they would like to accomplish on this world before they die.

Sky diving ranks 24th in popularity, but the leading life goal is quite predictable: weight loss.

The idea of having people ponder their mortality and then charting their life's road map has truly arrived. Besides the millions of people who publish their lists on Web sites like the one mentioned, millions more are buying and reading best sellers like, "1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die," " 101 Things To Do Before You Turn 40," and, "1000 Places to See Before You Die."

A film by Rob Reiner, "Bucket List," about two terminal cancer patients who set out on a series of life-list adventures, is due out in December. And Visa is running a popular ad campaign called, "Things to Do While You're Alive."

What's going on? Why are people becoming so contemplative, goal oriented, and focused on dreams of accomplishment? It's hard to say, but it does seem that people are coming to terms with the reality that life is precious, finite, and made for productivity.

Of course, not everyone's definition of achievement is the same. The lists are testimony to that. Living with the head hunters of New Guinea, climbing the Matterhorn during a blizzard, or retracing the route of Marco Polo through all of the Middle East, Asia, and China may be fulfillment to some, while changing your name for a year, pulling 101 great pranks, or re-structuring your closets at home may be dreams come true to someone else. No matter. To each his own. People just seem to want to get things done. And making these Life To Do lists seems to help.

The most famous success story of this genre is John Goddard. When he was but 15 years of age, John took out a plain yellow pad one day, wrote the words, "My Life List," at the top and proceeded to compose a collection of 127 goals.

These were not simple or easy goals. They included climbing the world's major mountains, exploring from source to mouth the longest rivers of the world, piloting the world's fastest aircraft, running a mile in five minutes and reading the entire Encyclopedia Britannica. Now in his 70's, this real-life Indiana Jones claims to have accomplished 109 of these quests, and has logged an impressive list of records in achieving them.

But while the recent development of considering one's objectives and designing a plan of action may be trendy, or at least newsworthy to the general populace, it is nothing new to Judaism. In fact, it happens to be the hallmark of the annual process that Jews everywhere should be engaged in every year before Rosh Hashana. It is an integral part of the teshuva (return) procedure that enjoins us to make a cheshbon hanefesh, a spiritual inventory of what our time, effort and resources should be invested in.

Ideally, this soulful stock-taking should really be a constant, ongoing, almost daily process where, with the proper awareness, a person would always know what his Life List looks like and what items need some additional attention. Those who live their lives with that level of cognizance are always seeking to better themselves and are getting the most out of life.

But sadly, you and I know few people whose lives are permeated with that kind of dedication to self-improvement. Somewhat more common are those who take advantage of the Holiday season and, at least once a year, give some pause to what they would like to accomplish.

Forget the igloo and the coyote. You've got important things to do.

So, if the reflective mood hits you, and you want to take this seriously, the first step is to take out that yellow pad of paper and write, "My Life List" on it. But be forewarned. You may find this very simple, seemingly trivial task quite difficult. It means that you are embarking on something potentially sublime, and that can be very scary. But the good news is that once this terribly uncomplicated task is accomplished, you've already overcome a major obstacle and you are on your way.

The next step is to write -- just write -- any idea that comes to mind. Don't filter and don't falter -- just write. The ideas may seem silly, impractical, superficial, or out of reach, but this is not the time to sharpen your editing skills. If it strikes you that you might want to shoot pictures at a friend's wedding, buy a high-powered telescope or invite 50 people for Shabbat dinner -- write it down.

After you have compiled this unedited list of your potential life goals, put the list away for at least 24 hours. You need a full day of breathing space before you can return to the job. Now examine the list again with a fine eye and delete the impossible stuff. Imagine that your best friend is reading your list. Which items would he/she immediately declare as undoable? Take only those out.

Finally, feel free to add any additional goals that strike your fancy now.

But allow me to add one more point.

People who are sincere about using this tool to increase their chances of accomplishing more in life, should take advantage of the opportunity by making a majority of their targets truly meaningful ones.

There may be nothing wrong with becoming a world class sudoku player, learning how to whistle while standing on your head, or memorizing the lyrics to every Lynryd Skynyrd song ever recorded. And perhaps a few of those "less serious" objectives should be included on your list. But primarily, you don't want to "waste" your choices on the frivolous or the mundane.

Take these examples, chosen from actual Life Lists. I guess learning jujitsu has merit, but why would owning a coyote qualify as a goal in life? Alphabetizing my CD collection is probably a functional thing to do, as is learning how to weld, but are they really dreams that must be realized? Some people yearn to floss more often, or to type with ten fingers -- nothing wrong with that, I suppose, but appearing in a Tarzan movie? Or lighting a match with a .22 rifle?

Rosh Hashana is swiftly approaching. It is a time when Jews worldwide seek ways to crown the Almighty as the true king of the Universe. Reflecting on your purpose on this planet and then actualizing your quest to reach that end may just be the greatest way possible to coronate Him.

Tithe your earnings, intensify your prayers, call your folks and your grandparents, keep Kosher for a month, affix a mezuzah to your door, donate blood, attend a lecture series, have a catch with your son once a week, bring soup to Nursing Home residents, make a date with your soul, learn how to say, "I was wrong," -- and practice it, drive with courtesy, smile -- the list could on forever. But we won't go on forever. Maybe now would be a good time to get started.

Forget the igloo and the coyote. You've got important things to do.

Have a wonderful... and productive new year.

September 8, 2007

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Visitor Comments: 19

(19) Jay Palley, November 10, 2010 11:17 AM

Visit Israel Again

If only to sense again the spirituality which overtakes a person who walks where Biblical people walked, to pray at the Western Wall and to watch the Chabad students dance away backward on erev Shabbat, to visit the most recent archeological sites, to return to the Yad Vashem even though it tears at my heart, to show some of Israel to my oldest granddaughter and to visit some young friends in Ashkelon. My 3-week trip is booked for March, 2009. A gift from my sons for my 80th birthday.

(18) Anonymous, November 10, 2010 11:17 AM

For Dr. Kurtin...

Being happy with yourself is wonderful in terms of self-esteem. But if you have no goals in life, you have no direction, and no growth. In life, there is no such thing as standing still - if you are not growing, you are stagnating. You mentioned that you would like to feel a closdeness with G-d again - that is a goal! You could start your list with that. If I may make a suggestion as far as High Holiday services... There are many communities (mostly among the Orthodox) of people who truly believe and live what they preach, and do not just pay lip service to these ideas once a year. Most of these communities also have financial assistance or free seats for those who need them. Yes, you can connect to G-d at any point, from anywhere - but certain times and places are more conducive to that connection than others. Praying together with an entire community of people who are yearning for closeness with G-d, who shout His praises and sing of His kingship and glory, is one of those situations.

(17) Ruth, November 10, 2010 11:16 AM

that same change

I too agreed fervrently with everything except for one thing...allowing one's best friend's opinions to eliminate goals. Sometimes it is the best friend that should be eliminated, not literally, but sometimes best friends are chosen because they are compatible with who and where we are TODAY, not who we might be tomorrow if we were brave enough to become who we might be, and brave enough to do things that today's friends are frightened to do. Sometimes it is threatening to one's friends to do the BRAVE thing, the NEW thing, the RIGHT thing. Why delete the impossible stuff? In the man-made world of inventions, medical cures, new technologies...we are surrounded with things that were once thought impossible to create!! Even if we have a goal like becoming a ballerina, and we're a 50 year old 300 pound guy...going TOWARD that goal might well help us to understand why we savor the goal we do, and the universe will shift to provide us with opportunities to realize at least a portion of the sweetness of the activity we seek. On the other hand, we ultimately have only one goal, that we think the other goals will bring us to. Our goal: To be a deep feel right about how we've lived life. Thank you for your insights.

(16) Beverly Kurtin, Ph.D., November 10, 2010 11:13 AM

Happy with myself

What is wrong with me? I'm perfectly happy as I am. Oh, I know that there are things that I could do to improve my appearance, I could lose weight, I could do what some others have urged me to do, but I like myself just as I am. I have learned to accept myself. When I was a little girl I felt the presence of HaShem so clearly that if I happened to burp or do something else similar but lower in my body, I'd say, "Excuse me." Once my mother asked me who I was talking to at night. "To God!" I exclaimed. She was wise enough not to disagree with me. If there was one thing I'd like to do is to get back to that closeness to God, but then again, I'd be pretty ashamed of some of the things I do that I'd not want to do in the presence of Him. Quantum physics suggests that there is a force that prevents everything in the Universe from flying apart. In his classic book, "The Science of Getting Rich," Wallace D. Wattles says that there is a thinking stuff that fills the Universe. Many others have picked up on that thought and expanded on it. When I see people looking up as if looking in the general direction of the deity, I chuckle. God's not up or down or even sideways; he's in every breath we take, everything we do, everything we are. According to physics, the Universe is in a constant state of flux, that everything is constantly being recreated. No WONDER that little girl I used to be felt The Presence. I am feeling it this very instant. This year, as the last few years, I will not be able to attend services during Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. For reasons I will not go into, I no longer belong to a shul and cannot afford the price of tickets to attend services (which I feel are more than reasonable considering the fact that people who do not support a shul year around should pay for a part of keeping a synagogue in their area) but that is beside the point. Does one really have to go somewhere special to be in His presence? Is it possible to escape His presence? Methinks not. To be brutally honest, I'd rather be alone with HaShem than to be with people who, as Rabbi Salomon pointed out in this week's video presentation, say the words, but have no real feeling behind them. I'm not pointing fingers, I've been guilty of doing the same thing. So I will not set meaningless goals that I know in advance that I will not keep. When I am good and ready I will do something about my girth and my overall appearance. For the present time, I'm more concerned with my inner appearance. To every reader of Aish, I wish you a wonderful new year and may you merit your name in the book of life for years to come.

(15) Anonymous, November 10, 2010 11:12 AM

to think

we never have enough time to think what we want to do excellent aricle too much to do special in rosh hashana we have to make changes in our life thank you

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