Are you or someone you know celebrating a ‘Big’ Birthday (a number with a zero at the end such as 30, 40 etc.) and contemplating writing a ‘Bucket List?’

Julia Myerscough

Julia Myerscough

The growing popularity of this ‘significant birthday’ phenomenon intrigues me.  I’ve personally always associated Bucket Lists with finality, sadness or angst. Isn’t it a number of activities that one decides to carry out before one actually ‘kicks the bucket?’  Justin Zachman, the person who coined the phrase and wrote the screenplay ‘The Bucket List’ thought so.

So, when, on the cusp of turning the big five-oh, my friends and family began casually enquiring as to whether I was about to jump on the Bucket Lister bandwagon, I was ready with my answer. No Bucket List for me, thank you very much!  The very thought of sitting down at my kitchen table over a glass of Pinot Grigio and penning a shopping list of ‘stuff to get on with before I snuff it’  only made me want to weep buckets. I was filled with zero excitement, joy, and heart-stopping nervous anticipation. In fact, the very idea only served as a constant reminder that one day, in the not too distant future (and maybe even tomorrow) something or someone will zero in on me, my heart will stop – forever- and that will be that.

And then I had a brainwave. 

At fifty, I took the plunge, asked my closest friends to choose ten mystery challenges for me to complete, falling into three categories: Face your Fears, Do Good Deeds and Self Improvement, and embarked on a voyage of adventure, growth and self- discovery.

There was only one stipulation. My challenges must be about living life, giving back, being a positive role model and doing something useful. I made it very clear that this life-event was nothing to do with a mid-life crisis, the menopause, FIMO (the fear I’d somehow missed out on something that I should do before I get too old) or a token red carpet event - with badge of honour - that ticked off another milestone in my life.

So what happened?  Well, it ended up as being one of the most rewarding experiences ever. I got back my zest for life, I celebrated who I have become and the person I could be, and I realised that there’s so much more that I have to give. 

And then, a few months later, something totally unexpected happened. The learning I gained from undertaking those ten challenges unlocked something deep and special within me, and I discovered a previously untapped talent and passion. – writing. My experience inspired me in ways I’d never imagined possible, with the result that my debut novel, ‘51 Weeks’, was published earlier this year.

My list of challenges was personal and unique to me. Yours will be different.  Use mine for inspiration, perhaps, put together your own bowl of challenges, get off the sofa, and try everything you’ve ever secretly wanted to do. I guarantee you’ll learn something surprising about yourself on the way.

My Ten Challenges:

Go Scuba Diving at sea.

A Face Your Fears challenge, this was all about trust and doing something completely out of my comfort zone. I’m not a strong swimmer, I’ve never even gone snorkelling as I fear getting lost at sea and drowning and without glasses or contact lenses I’m as blind as a bat. I had to pass control to a stranger and trust that when he pushed me backwards out of the boat into the shark infested waters (!), I would survive!!!!

Learn a skill to impress.

I learned to bake ten different types of cakes and cookies including jam donuts and a Bake-Off style Show-Stopper for an afternoon tea party.

Do something worthwhile for a Charitable Cause.

I arranged a 70’s fundraiser for the charity Hospice at Home in a local hotel for 100 guests including meal, raffle, quiz, retro sweet stall and entertainment. The most important thing I learned is that a verbal ‘yes’ I’ll buy a ticket does not actually mean they will buy a ticket. A week before the event with thirty dropouts I had to become a sales woman extraordinaire and I discovered a new talent!

Enrich the lives of those you love.

Teaching my grandma to Skype and shop online was one of the most rewarding experiences ever. Watching her smiling face as she saw my daughters waving to her online and tapped the screen to check they were really there made me cry.

Get a set of HD Brows.

Although I felt ridiculous looking like the victim of a stag night prank, this experience taught me about the importance of keeping connected to my children as they grow up. Whatever my personal views, if I respect their likes, dislikes and opinions during the difficult teenage years, there’ll be a much better chance of keeping connected and maintaining a good mother-daughter relationship in later life.

Have a 21st-century anti-aging technique.

I challenged my views on whether fillers would really made a difference to my self-esteem. I felt amazing after I was filled. Nobody noticed the difference but my confidence soared.

Go snowboarding.

Learning: Determination, drive to succeed, a sense of humour and the realisation that my weekly sessions at the Gym have helped me keep in good shape. However, after a two hour private lesson, I dribbled into the bar, requested a glass of water, a coffee and a vin chaud to be brought all together, downed the lot and didn’t speak for another two hours!!!

Go Ape!

I let all my bodily hair (including moustache) grow and darken for a month. I hated this challenge but it taught me a great deal. The realisation of how easily I allowed others to get to me and knock my self- confidence, self- esteem and behaviour – all because I was ‘different’- troubled me deeply. The effects and consequences of prejudice that I experienced impacted negatively on my personality and my life and I became a different person. It made me reflect on how we so easily judge people when we shouldn’t do so.

No thumbs for a day.

Appreciating disability, I taped my thumbs up.

Tell the truth all day.

A moral maze! I learned that we all bend the truth so as not to offend or create conflict and if we have children, we do it instinctively to get ourselves out of certain situations…