How Making a Post-Breakup Bucket List Changed My Life



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By Joanna Jefferson



It was just after my 29th birthday. I was going through a horrific breakup, had moved back in with my parents and started a new job that was beneath my skill level – taken in an attempt to repair my now destroyed relationship. I was depressed and feeling sorry for myself. I spent as much time as I could either sleeping or partying with friends, trying to numb everything.

A new friend from work told me turning 30 was hard for her, and that creating a list of things she wanted to accomplish before her birthday really helped her cope. I didn’t really have the same feelings about turning 30, but I was looking for any distraction from myself. So I started making a list.

I told my brother and sister-in-law about it the night after I finished writing it. My brother was determined to cross something off my list right then and there, despite it being his birthday dinner. We finished eating a fantastic lobster dinner, and then promptly shot-gunned a beer. Only 29 to go!

Having something to really focus on that I was excited about helped me. I wasn’t solely focused on my breakup and feelings of betrayal, but something positive and fun. My friends were no longer dragging my ass out of bed; instead, they were planning with me and helping cross things off my list. When my best friend saw that I had added "keep a plant alive for 6 months" to my list, she dropped off “the easiest plant to keep alive ever.” I was barely able to keep that thing green, but I did it. My other friend, a teacher, signed me up to help out with field trips for her class when I said I wanted to volunteer with kids.

I got a call from my best friend from university who is now living out West. She wanted to help with my list, and suggested I go out to visit her, a trip I had been promising to make for 3 years. We planned out what items on my list we could cross off, and the next day I booked my flights. In those 2 weeks I did multi-day hikes and spent a week camping with zero cell reception while hiking a mountain.

And then something started to happen. I felt myself opening up more. I started doing things that weren’t even on my list. I started to pull those around me closer, encouraging them to run alongside me as I crossed things off. Things I always wanted to do and hadn’t, or hadn’t done in a long time and had been meaning to do again but made excuses. I picked up my camera again, a long forgotten hobby. I was grabbing my life by the horns and steering it into the direction I wanted. 

And the more I said yes to things, the easier saying yes became. When asked by an almost-stranger if I would go to a concert because they had an extra ticket, I agreed. I entered a bowling tournament despite not having bowled since my 10th birthday. If someone wanted to join me, great! If not, I wasn’t afraid to venture on my own. 

And then asking became easier:  I asked a boy I was talking to on Tinder if he wanted to go skydiving on our first date, even though we had never met. I flew across the country just to see Motley Crue in concert.  I hiked to the top of a mountain in the middle of the night just to watch the sunrise.

I’ve always made excuses, mostly that I didn’t have time or resources. But when I think about it, what a load! I had just decided my desires weren't a priority. 

I had done the resolution thing to no avail. “I'll lose 15 pounds,” “get into shape,” “give up caffeine.” I was never able to accomplish any of them because I lacked the motivation to do them. I like drinking coffee and hate going to the gym. The only reason why I ever made those my resolutions was because I thought I should. I never actually wanted to do them, when I think about it.

With my 30 Things List, I was very specific and it was from top to bottom things I WANTED to do. It made planning for those things almost as fun as crossing them off. And crossing them off was the most fulfilling thing I had ever done.

So, how did it change my life?

I stopped settling. I no longer gave the time to things that I didn’t absolutely want to say yes to. It was either 100% “Fuck yes!” or it was no.

I left that job that wasn’t challenging. 

I stopped dating boys I didn’t really care about just to fill my days.

I started focusing on spending time with my family and friends.

I traveled. 

I planned out my free time to do things I wanted to do.

I am proud of myself and had the best year of my life accomplishing what I had set out to do: to get out of my comfort zone and start saying yes to myself before anyone or anything else. And now, I am no longer working off a list, but following my heart, fully and completely, for the first time ever. 

The truth? I never finished my list. I got to 27. But I am more than okay with that. 

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Joanna Jefferson

Joanna Jefferson quit her corporate job and sold everything to fund her travels. She authors the blog Only What I Can Carry.

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