Have You Been Checking Off the Boxes on Your Reverse Bucket List?

Instead of having a list of things I want to do before I kick the bucket, I have a list of things I want to do for others… before either of us kicks the bucket.

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My friend P.G. Barnett wrote an article about reaching a place as a writer where your work always hits the target represented by your readers.

He wrote, “Getting my sharpshooter badge is pretty much within my grasp, and I’m guessing if I keep at it, I just might get my expert badge before I depart this mortal coil.”

I wished him good luck, adding that I hoped he could enjoy the badge a while before departing.

Then he replied, “Maybe you can send me a snapshot of your “expert” badge (I know you have one dude, stop being modest)…”

I thought about his request and could only come up with things that were special to me, even though they never connected with a big audience.

  • Writing, producing, and supervising the editing of my early TV and radio spots was incredibly fun, but never led to bigger clients and career advancement in my industry.
  • Creating the concept for a Monsters Inc billboard was a huge personal highlight, but the concept was rejected by Disney’s marketing department.
  • Designing and writing a 150-page coupon book in two week for a new business venture that eventually failed.
  • Creating a small community of writers to produce a couple of collaborative books, without selling a single copy on the market.

On the other hand, the most lucrative projects had almost no lasting meaning to me, although I enjoyed the creative process at the time and the money to support my family.

The most significant project I ever did was to design a technical specification binder for a regional paint company. Just the printing costs were over $300,000.

We made a lot of money, but guess what I remember the most?

I missed the last time my younger son went trick-or-treating.

I was too busy driving all over town, trying to find a delivery service that could get our design samples to the client in Las Vegas the next morning.

The more I thought of it, the less I could point to any accomplishment that qualified as a success for me that connected with the public.

Then I thought of a different kind of badge, call it a reverse bucket list.

These were the events, large and small, that had personal meaning for me because I was able to help someone else:

  • Being the first person to change our first baby’s first diaper ever — and being peed on.
  • Writing and designing the menu for my older son’s sixth birthday party still has a special place in my heart and portfolio.
  • The never-to-be-forgotten seventh birthday party featuring the strongest paper mache piñata in ever and the subject of some tall tales.
  • Teaching my math-inclined older son when he was young to use colored pencils and draw a book report cover. It featured a stingray that magically floated off the page when he pulled back from the art to view his work.
  • Fostering German Shepherds, helping severely abused dogs recover and eventually find a new home.
  • Fostering a few mutts of the human variety.
  • Teaching our younger son how to focus, think logically, and become a writer for the first time in his school life.
  • Hiring and training an artist to work at my old boss’ studio and kind of save his life. (He worked at one of the most dysfunctional graphic design sweatshops in the entertainment field and came to our interview looking like a corpse.)
  • Taking in my aging father after he had been hospitalized for a serious temporary condition. He lived the last ten years of his life with us, stayed active, and felt involved in our lives.
  • Reconnecting with the CEO of a big medical company and finding out how much I influenced him as a high school kid when I was his tennis coach.
  • Helping my wife get her BSN by being her writing coach and editing her papers.
  • Helping our older son and his wife buy a house and start their own lives.
  • Supporting our younger son to explore all of his talents as an artist, writer and voice actor.
  • Being there at the end for my dad. Holding him up to pee when he could no longer stand. Doing everything for him that I had done for my infant sons, even though I dreaded the moment. Telling him it was okay to let go at the end when he could no longer eat, drink or swallow.

Having a reverse bucket list may also be the secret to a longer, more fulfilling life.

My dad got a second chance to show his love when he became a grandfather. When they were young, he was their primary caretaker, picking them up after school when my wife and I were at work.

He was especially resilient and supportive of our younger son, who lived with him for almost a year after getting into a lot of trouble. In 2009, my dad woke up in so much pain he couldn’t reach the telephone. Fortunately, my son was sleeping in the other room and was able to take him to the hospital.

It saved his life.

After my dad got out of the hospital and rehab, we brought him back to live with us, along with our younger son.

For the next ten years, my dad’s raison d’etre was counseling, supporting, and enjoying the company of his grandson.

He passed away last June at 102 but had an amazing 34-year run as a retired social-worker-turned-grandpa and guardian angel.

I have a few big boxes left to check, and I better keep finding new items to add to the list. How about you?

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Here’s to better writing.

Written by

Ad agency creative director, writer & designer at https://guttmanshapiro.com. Former pro tennis player and peak performance coach for professional athletes.

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