How to Create a Reverse Bucket List of Your Creative Pursuits - In Tandem -

How to Make a Reverse Bucket List of Your Creative Pursuits

You may fall into one of two creative camps:

  1. You struggle with creative confidence. You feel awkward calling yourself “creative,” or you only consider yourself creative in one or two specific pursuits.
  2. You feel confident in your creative abilities, but you heap tons of pressure upon yourself to accomplish more in less time. 

Here’s an exercise that both creative camps can benefit from: writing a reverse bucket list of your creative pursuits!

Most likely, you’ve heard of a regular bucket list. You list the experiences you want to have in your life before you die. The goal is to articulate your dreams and to begin creating the time, space, money, and opportunities to follow through on them.

A reverse bucket list is—you guessed it—creating a list that acknowledges and celebrates your past experiences. I love the idea of crafting a reverse bucket list that specifically supports our creative selves. It can help both creative camps mentioned above: it reminds you that you already are a creative person, and it helps develop gratitude for what you’ve already accomplished (and that helps release the have-to-create-more-now pressure!).

Your mindset amid creating (or even re-reading) your reverse bucket list matters. It not only impacts its effectiveness as a clarifying exercise, it makes all the difference for your creative wellbeing. Unfortunately, most reverse bucket list resources omit the all-important first step: developing a healthy and self-compassionate mindset before writing (or before making a visual representation of your list, if that’s your creative style). 

Tips Before You Create Your Reverse Bucket List:

  1. Examine the beliefs behind your desire to write out your goals. There’s nothing inherently wrong with making a list of your goals; it’s a neutral pursuit in and of itself. But how you approach list-making matters. The desire to create a list of goals can come from a belief that you’re not enough as you are, and that you aren’t doing enough. The solution to those feelings of discomfort is not to try to motivate yourself through negativity and force; the solution is to have compassion for all that you already do.
  1.  Remind yourself that you’re more than just your accomplishments, and that’s not the only way to define yourself (despite what our culture says). Seriously, you’re a kind-hearted person; that matters most. In most developed countries, we are encouraged to define ourselves and one another by what we accomplish. And, oh, how we measure up and judge one another on those grounds! (I’m sure you’ve never become envious of a friend based on what you’ve seen them doing and accomplishing on Facebook.)

We do need to take action in life (even ancient mindfulness texts like the Bhagavad Gita acknowledge that). We’re not here only “to be” (nor would we be around for very long if we didn’t take care of ourselves and our loved ones!). But our modern cultures encourage us to boost our self-esteem by taking greater actions and, often, by overbooking and overscheduling ourselves. (For example, Gretchen Rubin’s book The Happiness Project was a popular bestseller. But, the book didn’t sit well with me. At its core, I felt like it implied that happiness emerges from doing more.) Seriously, you’re enough.

  1. Pause and accept where you are in the present moment. You can take steps toward change (like researching a future career). But, you’re only ever able to work from the present moment, and to take small action steps that may build toward longer-term goals. Besides, in all likelihood, something in your life is going well enough. It helps to develop gratitude and a mindful presence first and foremost. Then, take action from there. That approach often feels more easeful, and that can make the creative process more enjoyable.

As many Buddhist texts share, the pain of life is the “first arrow.” We shoot a “second arrow” when we struggle against life as it is now. In those moments, we heap additional suffering on top of the pre-existing pain. The good news is: this suffering (AKA our reactions) remain under our control. That’s the mindset work.

  1. Notice what you’re categorizing as ordinary and extraordinary, and remember the joys and simplicity in the supposedly “ordinary.” It’s not bad in and of itself to want to live a full life. But, often, we judge our current life as ordinary, uneventful, and not-enough. Modern culture (and especially the Internet!) encourage us to craft supposedly extraordinary lives—ones filled with travel, adventure, wealth, and socializing. Much of that is materialism and our consumer culture at work. They don’t create wellbeing in and of themselves (you know my refrain by now: your mindset affects your wellbeing!).  

Carry this mindset as you move into the exercise now. Write out a running list of your past creative pursuits. Feel free to include nontraditional creative pursuits; creativity happens in all arenas, not only in arts and crafts! Creativity appears in your approaches to parenting, work, and living in your community! 

A reverse bucket list acknowledges and celebrates your past experiences. Consider crafting a reverse bucket list that specifically supports your creative self. I watched it do wonders for one of my creativity coaching clients this summer! It reminds you that you already are a creative person. It helps develop gratitude for what you’ve already accomplished (and that helps release the have-to-create-more-now pressure!). Freedom and perspective. Win-win.

My Reverse Bucket List of Creative Pursuits:

Here’s my own reverse bucket list, as it currently stands:

-A childhood filled with imaginative play, writing stories, making art, enjoying music, dancing, and more! Unquantifiable!

-In second grade, I drew a picture and list showing three goals: becoming an artist, learning to play the piano, and having straight teeth. (I consider them all accomplished! I’m creative and a writer, I studied the piano, and I went through braces and a retainer twice!)

-I studied the piano from fourth through ninth grades.

-I joyfully and creatively volunteered nearly every week in high school, via the Key Club. I helped an elementary school teacher with classroom prep work, did crafts and activities with kids at the local Boys & Girls’ Club, and visited seniors in assisted living facilities.

-I took a photography class at the local art center and fell in love with photography in my late teens.

-I took a History of Photography class in college, and fell further in love with the medium.

-I took guitar lessons on the cusp of my late teens/early twenties. Along the way, I enjoyed going to tons of concerts (I think I saw Radiohead five times in nearly as many cities. And my love of music is what originally connected me to my husband!).

-I wrote poetry in college—some in my English major creative writing classes, and some posted above my bed.

-I had poetry published in the University of Michigan undergraduate English journal, Xylem.

-I took a Creative Musicianship class in college and wrote and performed my own songs on the piano during the class.

-I worked at the Ann Arbor Hands-On Museum, a children’s science museum. I read stories and led creative play in their preschool gallery.

-I worked at the original Borders Books & Music store, and learned about so many genres of books.

-I wrote my nearly one-hundred-page Masters in Women’s Studies graduate thesis on narratives of personal and cultural healing.

-I saw a portion of my thesis published in the academic journal Women’s Studies.

-I designed my own curriculum and taught two semesters of an undergraduate Women’s Studies humanities course called Women: Images and Ideas.

-I creatively tutored undergraduates in writing, while a graduate student.

-I’ve volunteered for, and written and edited for, many women’s health nonprofit organizations, like the National Women’s Health Network, Planned Parenthood, World Pulse, and more.

-I creatively supported women as a volunteer birth doula for one year.

-I co-created and co-facilitated workshops on body image and media literacy for pre-teens and teens.

-I enjoy the creative outlets of decorating my house, and choosing my clothes each day.

-I’ve learned about the joy of creative movement thanks to yoga, my Rockette/movement expert sister, and Zumba class.

-I creatively counsel survivors of sexual assault in my job as a Survivor Advocate.

-I parent creatively every day! (There are probably twenty subcategories here!)

-I write here on this blog and experience the joy of connecting with other creative souls!

When I put my creative pursuits into writing, I’m in awe. I feel invigorated, without a sense of striving or not-enoughness. I feel the joy of creativity.

I hope you try this and feel awe-inspired by your own creative pursuits!

P.S. Thanks to Kara of Boho Berry; your post on reverse bucket lists stuck with me and inspired this post.

P.P.S. Discover 2 Mindset Shifts to Build Creative Confidence.

Share a comment: What are three of your own past creative pursuits? 

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Photo Credits: Woman via tookapic and Desk via Kaboompics.


20 thoughts on “How to Make a Reverse Bucket List of Your Creative Pursuits

    1. Thanks! Yes, I love an exercise that helps us keep what matters to us at the forefront of our minds. Most of us could stand to remember all that we do, and to feel good about it all!

  1. I have a really hard time with acknowledging and celebrating my accomplishments. This is a great way to do that. (FYI – Would love to read your thesis 😉

    1. Marina, don’t we all? 😉 I hope this idea helps people.

      My thesis topic was (and still is) close to my heart. I wrote specifically about the work of writers Aurora Levins Morales and Linda Hogan. Have you ever read any of their books? They’re gorgeously written and very “activist” too!

      1. I’m so glad I read this post!! And I learned about you too 🙂 My thesis was similar to yours I think (Literature & narratives of A-Bomb survivors as cultural healing and activism) — which I’ve been contemplating turning into a book. I would love to talk with you more about it some time!
        Also, I think Matt and I are going to make reverse bucket lists. He falls more into the first category and I into the second, so I think we could benefit co-creatively <3
        As always, very insightful and inspiring! Hugs to you and the kids :))

        1. Thanks so much for reading, Aletha! I’ll have to talk with you more about your thesis…

          I love the idea of you both benefitting “co-creatively.” Yes, you are both very creative souls!

    1. Thanks for the kind words, Aaronica, and thanks for stopping by. Your blog banner shows that you take healthy credit for your accomplishments–“writer…creator…mom-extraordinaire.” I love that! Take care!

  2. one more comment — reading your blog helps open me to the possibility of having family AND keeping my creative pursuits a priority… as that has one of my biggest fears about having kids.

    1. Thanks for sharing that, Aletha. I’m happy to hear my words inspire possibility! I’m sure you’d prioritize creativity because it’s something you value greatly; I think that’s key, and that it is doable.

      Take care. Maybe I’ll see you again sometime soon!

  3. Love your page! This is a wonderful idea. A reminder of the creative within. A friend and I were chatting the other day, she wasn’t feeling like a musician as she hadn’t written music in a while. But of course she’s still an artist!

    1. Thanks so much for your kind words, Ruth! I love that example because I think so many of us feel that way. I’m glad she has a friend like you; we really do need to have creative community for ourselves to sustain us!

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