The 16 Year Old Self’s Bucket List : Kristen Goldberg’s Quest

This is a quest case study. (Read others or nominate yourself.)

Kristen Goldberg took a leap of faith when she agreed to share the story of her life list with me for The Happiness of Pursuit. Until then, she’d never publicly shared her quest before. I’m glad she did, and I’m glad she’s letting me tell you a little more about it here.

Tell us about yourself:

When I was 16, I penned a “Bucket List” (this was long before the movie came out) of 42 things I wanted to accomplish in life. I am now a 37-year-old mother of two and a high school English teacher. I put the list aside for awhile, but am now working to fulfill the list items as I wrote them, with no modifications permitted. I also share this story with my students—we discuss my list, and I encourage them to draft their own.


Did something decide to try and fulfill your original list?

I  drafted the list after reading about a life list in the original Chicken Soup for the Soul (yes, it was clearly the 90’s) and became intrigued by the idea. I completed a few things, and then let the list linger for almost 8 years. But in my mid-20’s, I remembered the list and started haphazardly trying to do each one.

It was eventually my mother-in-law, who fought cancer for the last six years of her life, who convinced me to pursue the quest in earnest. Her encouragement and inspiration led me to declare a regular commitment of two list items per year. Seeing her face her own mortality gave me a different perspective on mine.

What was it about your mother-in-law’s experience that changed your perspective?

Watching her struggle with a terminal illness made me realize and understand my own mortality. When I wrote the list, I felt like I had decades to accomplish it.  My mother-in-law was unexpectedly diagnosed with late-stage cancer in her late 50’s and died the day after her 63rd birthday. I realized that I shouldn’t put off my list “for another day” because that other day was simply not guaranteed.

From a list perspective, the way she cherished every day made me want to do the same and made me more focused in approaching my quest. Rather than passively looking to incorporate list items into my life, I flipped the script and moved toward actively pursuing two list items per year.

What sort of things did 16-year old you dream of doing?

One important rule about my list is that I refuse to add to it. It was important to me to keep the list as my 16-year-old self wrote it. My 37-year-old self would make things more practical or more achievable.  The items on the list range from items I can accomplish in a day (overtip a breakfast waitress, bathe in a waterfall) on up to learning Japanese and visiting all 50 states.


What are the costs associated with fulfilling your bucket list (and how do you cover them)?

The quest is an ongoing cost. Some items, like going to a drive-in movie, require minimal amounts of money. Others, like my recent trip to France, are items that I save for well in advance. Part of the challenge of my quest is picking adventures each year that fit with my budget and my stage in life (I have 8-year-old twins in addition to my full-time teaching job!).

Tell us about a low point in your journey:

My lowest point was 10 years ago when I trained for a marathon and injured myself one month before the run. I was frustrated, as I felt that all of the hard work I had put into the task was for nothing. But more than that… I was actually somewhat relieved. I had been relentless in pursuing my goal, and not properly resting my body. The injury was a blessing because it made me stop and realize that I was forcing myself to complete a list item.  The items on my list may be difficult, but they should never feel mandatory.

This year, I have chosen to tackle the marathon once more. I have learned how to be kind to my body as I train, how to take time off (if necessary) for injuries, and how to make the process less punishing overall. I plan to take what I learned and apply it now in my second go-round. I think my philosophy of training and of being more gentle to myself will be a far better fit.

Are you and your 16-year-self the similar?

Who was my sixteen-year-old self?  As a high school teacher who comes into contact with 16-year-olds daily, I can say that my 16-year-old self was confident. She may have wanted “great back muscles,” but she also felt she had lots to give. She valued education and travel, and many of my list items are geared toward both.  

Interestingly, although I have since traveled to ten countries and 33 states, my 16-year-old self had never left the country. These were just ideas at the time.  She was also quite literate, as evidenced by a goal to “visit Walden.”  And, like any 16-year-old, she was a bit of a daredevil.  Hence, I find that I must not only fly in a hot air balloon, but also skydive at some point in my life.  To me, she exuded a “carpe diem” attitude.  I still think I have that within me, but time and responsibilities can serve to quiet that inner voice.  The list helps me to keep my inner “go for it!” voice at an audible level.


Has anything surprised you during this journey?

I find that, often, once I pick my items for the year, things fall into place to help me accomplish those goals. For example, last year, when I decided to visit Walden, I found a weeklong teacher professional development program that would take me in depth in Walden Woods.

Focusing like this, as opposed to taking a less organized approach, helps me to take advantage of opportunities as they arise. I think there is something to the concept that when you put an intention out there, the stars align a bit to make the task easier.

What advice would you give to someone else considering a quest?

As Chris mentions in the book, I think making the quest specific is important. You need to know when you have reached your goal. I also think something that spans time makes it more worthwhile. My 21-year quest may be a bit extreme, but it has helped to shape my life. The quest has lent my life a focus that it would not otherwise have had.

I would aim for a quest that fulfills you personally. While many quests we hear about are inspirational, they may or may not resonate with you. If you are going to begin a quest, you need to personalize it. For me, pursuing my quest taps into my 16-year-old soul. It harkens back to a time when I was just discovering who I was. The more I connect with my quest, the more I revisit that girl, still frozen in time. Make sure that your quest resonates with you on a personal level as well. A generic quest is less likely to feel inspired.

What’s next?

In 2015, I intend to run a marathon and ride a motorcycle.  In 2016, I plan to visit Times Square for New Year’s and knock two more states off my must-visit list. Bring it on!

Note: Kristen currently doesn’t have a website, but if she ever does, we’ll let you know.


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