What do you want to accomplish in life?
For some of us, it might be to start a family, to build up a successful career, or to find a way to finally overcome a troubling hangup. What usually doesn't make the list, although it is typically on a "before you kick the bucket" list, is to travel overseas, climb a mountain, or go hang-gliding on the ocean. Those are mostly frivolous activities, things that will give you short-term pleasure. You want to do them "someday" but they pale in comparison to doing something worthwhile, like helping a needy person or getting married.
The problem is that we like to fantasize about what could be. We're busy working and choosing a spouse, we're focused on the things that really matter, but we think there's something new and exciting beyond that, so we make a bucket list. Here's my advice. It might help to make a reverse bucket list. Or kill it entirely. Let me explain.
You would start by removing the things that are far-fetched and almost impossible. Maybe that's climbing Mt. Everest (or even speed running it). You'd normally put that first on the list, the one thing you want to do before you die. But it's not really that big of a priority. In fact, things like visiting Italy or buying a second home on an island are not really that rewarding (or practical). Those items, the big ones that won't give you a lasting sense of accomplishment, should go dead last. No pun intended, right?
As far as the items to put first on the list right at the top, I'd do some soul-searching about that. Imagine you're in a hospital bed, connected to a tube. You have a pen and paper in hand. Would you really list anything about visiting a foreign country or an ocean escapade? Not really. People in that actual situation usually think about loved ones--grandkids, children, their spouses. It's perfectly human. All of those typical bucket list items like going on a cruise have nothing to do with other people, usually. No one puts "have grandchildren" on a bucket list, but maybe it should be the highest rated item.
To prioritize the list, it helps to imagine what you will really feel remorse about in the end. One of my bucket list items is to go to Africa and hand out food to impoverished people. I'm not sure it will ever happen, but it's really high on my reverse bucket list--in the top ten. Another one is pretty simple. I want to go for a walk everyday with my wife. (If you're keeping track, I've mostly accomplished that one so far since about 2005 when we started.)
My list, which I've included below, is full of things that are more about people than places. I don't care about Hawaii. No offense to the wonderful tropical paradise, but I don't think I'd be able to convince any of my kids to take a week or two off work anyway, and it would be too expensive anyway. Also, making a lot money is not on my list.
The theme here: Pick things that bring lasting joy.
In your list, it's also important to think about the things you might regret not doing in life. Do you want to write a book? That's on my list (it comes out this summer). It's OK to have items that are career-oriented, although "rising the corporate ladder" is also not normally something you'd think about in that hospital bed. Donating a month of your salary to charity? Maybe. Tutoring a college student? For sure. Pick things that will be highly rewarding, the long-term big picture items.
And feel free to send me your list. I'd love to compare notes with you.
My bucket list:
1. Walk with my wife everyday
2. Spend daily time with grandkids
3. Help the poor in Africa
4. Write a book
5. Mentor another writer
6. Six month break from phone
7. Donate one month of salary to charity
8. Help one of my kids buy a house
9. Invent a useful product
10. Run a beach marathon
Why is this all so important? These are the things you care about most, and it helps guide you in life. To paraphrase the Nike slogan, just do them.