Before I die..

June 22, 2005

Gravestone I am passionate. I am goal oriented. Sometimes, I can be a tiny bit obsessive.

I have been doing a lot of research and planning for my trip. I’d really like to leave the itinerary open and flexible, but I keep planning because there is just so much I’d like to see and do. Other people’s lists bear some of the blame (or credit) for the extensive list. Ever since I discovered the Hillman Wonders website, I have been mesmerized.

The site begins with a simple question: “How many of the world’s top 100 wonders have you seen?” It goes on to offer a thoughtful, objective and continuously updated (since 1968) list of the top 100 (and top 1000) places to see, selected by a thoughtful and very well traveled writer.

I’ve seen Twenty One of them, but who is counting?

It seems like a lot of people are counting.

My brother shared his critique of 1,000 Places to See Before You Die. A clearly less ambitious friend recommend 100 Things to Do Before You Die : Travel Events You Just Can’t Miss. My wife gave me June’s Men’s Journal with the article “99 Things to Do Before You Die.” She also mentioned that in last month’s issue I missed a good article on the “100 Greatest Adventures.”

The pace has quickened. Just five years ago the overachieving executive and corporate mogul magazine, Forbes, thought one could get away with a mere 10 Things To Do Before You Die. The article begins…

In 1902, as he lay dying at the age of 48, Cecil Rhodes could look back on a not undistinguished career. He had made a vast fortune in gold and diamonds. He had built railroads through the wilderness and become one of the century’s great rulers. He had created an empire, which is more than your average 48-year-old has on his resume. But Rhodes was not going gentle into any good night. On his deathbed he was heard muttering, “So little done, so much to do.”

I never knew it but there is a whole concept of making “Life Lists”. There is even a book on it: No Opportunity Wasted : Creating a List for Life. All this life list obsession reminded me of an old episode of Ira Glass’s This American Life called Superpowers in which a five year old “Zora had recurring dreams in which she was a 6′5″ warrior queen who could fly and shoot lightning from her hands. She made a list of all the skills she would need to master if she wanted to actually become the superhero she dreamed of being. Sample items: martial arts, evasive driving and bomb diffusion. She actually checked off most things on the list… and then had a run-in with the CIA.” She the list ruled her life and she accomplished virtually everything on it until she failed to get the job of her dreams, and then it called everything in to question.

All this leaves me feeling a little ambivalent. The goal setter in me loves the life list idea and of course the I am just about to cross off a big one with my upcoming year long trip around the world. On the other hand it feels a little bit like setting goals to “relax and take life as it comes” is a bit of a contradiction in terms. I had one friend who set goals about how many hours of sleep he’d get. I really truly believe that what gets measured gets managed, but sleep goals always stuck me as funny.

Tell me what you think! To make life lists or not? If you are in the list camp what do you want to do before you die?


  1. Wow, such fascination with death. Why must these lists be always be centered around things you have to do before you die? I prefer living, myself.

    Building lists is a necessity to force yourself to get things accomplished. No list, no direction, after all. As such, I’m perfectly fine with the idea of lists.

    Thinking about things you have to do before you die just puts you in an odd frame of mind, because it doesn’t timebound your goals effectively. I guess if you’re looking for really massive, multi-decade goals, that’s a necessity, but how about these lists instead…

    - Things to do before you’re forty

    - Things to do before New Year’s

    - One thing to do this month

    There’s no reason these goals can’t be aggressive, plus they’re easier to manage. These are goals I can actually manage and put a realistic timeline on.

    Just my two cents!

    Comment by John — June 22, 2005 @ 5:54 pm

  2. For me, a short list of key life goals is helpful to remind me of what I value. But I am much less of a fan of these large, contest-oriented checklists, especially in travel. I was excited when the 1000 places to see book came out; I bought it immediately. But when I began reading it I started to get a cold feeling in my stomach - reducing a country to the very most popular touristy sight seemed to miss the real reason for travel (at least for me.)

    My very best travel experiences have not been about what famous thing I saw while surrounded by hoards of tourists and merchants selling plastic eiffel towers, but rather the much more intimate times getting to know people in their cultural context over a period of time. Usually this happened in “unexciting” places that wouldn’t appear in any list. When new friends show you their town, their favorite bar or local hike a different type of beauty is discovered.

    When I think of a fantasy year-long trip you are planning, I, like many of your readers, project myself into your shoes. And wearing those shoes I’d much rather find 4-6 memorable experiences and memorable people who I began to really get to know in amazingly different cultural places than check off another 20/50/100 touristy “traps”.

    A specific - in my most recent trip to Paris with my wife, one of our best experiences was walking in a neighborhood we had never seen before — briefly identified in a walking tour book. We spent several hours there and got to know a shopkeeper who, for the past ~40 years, has been keeping bees and selling raw honey in a little shop.

    This is the kind of experience that is the opposite of what is, or even can be, in a book of lists. If it appeared, it would be destroyed by the attention and influx of tourists.

    I think this explains why only the largest, tourist-friendly, and tourist-overwhelmed, places appear on lists. And perhaps it suggests a strategy as well - by making a very specific list do you end up reducing the chance for great, intimate, and unexpected cultural and travel experiences?

    I guess the open question is how to maximize the changes of finding the unexpected?

    Comment by jeff — June 23, 2005 @ 8:49 am

  3. Can I ask what posting service you are using, or have you coded this yourself in php? I’d like to know if there is a blogger-like app that I can create or implement my own “filed under” category system and would like to know how you did yours. I am proficient in php would like to use a publishing package like blogger because of the benefits that I myself have no time to code (also the Profile page in blogger is extremely handy for the word count feature that I haven’t found elsewhere). Thanks


    Comment by Alan — June 25, 2005 @ 3:10 pm

  4. Alan,

    I am using Word Press 1.5 hosted by Dream Host. The “filed under” feature you asked about is part of the built in category system.

    So what is on your life list Alan?

    Comment by Jonathan — June 26, 2005 @ 10:14 pm

  5. That is a pretty impressive list, and most of the places I am unfortunately unfamiliar with first hand. Maybe you should have another domain called

    Comment by Andrew — June 29, 2005 @ 1:01 pm

  6. I make lists. Then i usually lose them. Then i would find them again and realize i lived up to my list. Mostly. For example, a list of bike parts that i lust for. I usually get what i think i want but put together and tested on the road, i tend to make changes. regardless the ride is always great. Have a great time.

    Comment by chibag — August 2, 2005 @ 10:23 pm

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