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Every spring brings a flood of new graduates to the world.

During my college years, I received a range of advice from people. Most of it felt sincere and wise while some seemed outlandish. Everyone has their opinions on what to do after college just like the ever-quotable ‘plastics” scene from The Graduate. I have compiled some of the best pieces of advice given to me when I graduated from college.

These are the five pieces of advice that stuck and have helped me most.

the-graduate-plastics1. Never stop learning (but time to start giving)

I was never much of a reader but I came from a family of readers, in particular my mother and grandmother. School always seemed to wear me out and the last thing I wanted to do was read for pleasure. When I graduated from college it dawned on me that I could now read whatever I like and my adult education began. It continued through reading 30-45 books a year, reading and re-reading Classics, history books, modern fiction, and even some other genres I did not study in college. I also have traveled more in some ways after college because when you read more, you develop a desire to visit the places you read about. By continuing your education, you gain a better understanding of the world and how to use your talents to help it. That is where the joy comes in a real education; you apply what you have learned to help others.

2. You will be judged not by test scores but by your head, your heart, and how hard you work.

I don’t miss testing in school and when I entered the work world I discovered that people were more interested in my thought process and work ethic more than what my GPA was in college. It was freeing because I felt I could work hard and be myself as opposed to fitting into a standard education system. For me, endless days caddying on the golf course in the summer showed me the value of hard work and relationships developed by talking with so many seasoned professionals. We are in a world where people serve other people and it is important to remember that people want to know who you are, not what you are.

Practically, my father encouraged me be curious. Take people out to coffee or lunch to learn about what they do. It shows you have initiative but it is also incredibly helpful to develop relationships for the sake of networking. The days are about over where you simply apply for a position and get it without some sort of personal connection.

3. Adventures don’t have to stop

I had a wonderful experience in college but I yearned for something more that was completely out of the ordinary.

In an internship, my boss told me to take time over a week to compile the top 100 things I wanted to do in life. It has become a ‘Bucket List’ more or less and without making it a simple checklist, it has become more of an exercise about dreaming and setting goals. I’ve learned that my goals and desires have changed as I’ve aged but what is underneath is a passion to live an adventure, accomplish things, and make a difference. That takes some serious thought, prayer, and work. It even takes acknowledging that a lot of these on the list can only be completed with the help of others. It even motivated me to graduate early from college and move to Scotland to work and learn about a different culture.

4. Be prepared for some setback

It is part of life. The greats of history (Churchill, Teddy Roosevelt, Harry Truman, Lincoln) all had setbacks. Their secret? They got back on their feet and kept moving. I have written about Churchill and Lincoln’s stories of failure and how they responded.

5. Embrace the unknown

It is okay to not know what to do. This is what happens on a true journey. Practically, you can test on your strengths (Strengthsfinder 2.0) and evaluate your personality (Myers Briggs)  to get a feel for what you want to do. In fact, as I took many of these assessments, they helped me figure out more what I did not want to do. The predictable life is boring, anyway. Pray, explore, and ask for guidance from those more experienced.

Last, I encourage you to watch David McCullough’s commencement speech to Wellesley High school titled “You Are Not Special.”  While the title gives you a double look, it is spot on to understand that we are ultimately part of a much bigger adventure. You are special in God’s eyes no doubt but on earth, the message is clear; humility, hard work, and taking joy in what you do is what will make the biggest difference for you in your journey.

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Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding:
in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. – Proverbs 3:5-6
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Cast your burden on the Lordand He will sustain you;
He will never allow the righteous to be shaken. – Psalm 55:22
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What about you? What is the best advice you received when you graduated from college (or moving into your career)? 

Today, September 18th is one of the most important days in Scottish history.

The people will have a chance to decide whether or not they want to continue being part of the United KIngdom, run from London, or completely separate as sovereign nation. Most Americans think that Scotland achieved its independence in 1996 due to Mel Gibson’s revisionist history epic known as Braveheart (Hey, I love it!). Scotland originally won their independence in 1314 after winning the battle of Bannockburn. Then came Mary Queen of Scots and it got very confusing for 150 years until Scotland and England rejoined in 1707 to form what now know today as the United Kingdom. There are some fascinating books on Scottish history that can explain more and I encourage you to dig deeper.

To most around the world, the Scottish vote will not mean much except to economists and a few people who appreciate Scotland for what it represents. As an American, I have always had a fascination with Scotland and its deep, majestic history.

I visited and lived in Scotland three separate times. I first visited in 1999 as a college student studying in the UK.

In 1999 at the borderlands of Scotland and England, my first visit there.

In 1999 at the borderlands of Scotland and England, my first visit there.

I fell in love with Scotland so much that I found a way to graduate early from college to then move there to live for my last semester in 2001. I ventured to Scotland without a job but with the hope to immerse myself in the culture enjoy the journey.

What I found this time in Scotland was something I did not expect.

I figured I would live in Edinburgh, which is the quintessential, picturesque medieval city. Who does not fall in love with the Romantic and more well-known Edinburgh? I did like many others but I realized that I needed to get out of the comfort zone of the tourist city and venture to Glasgow, which had far fewer Americans and I’d be forced to engage with the culture. It was an adventure after all. Mark Twain wrote,

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

I worked two jobs in Glasgow; Glasgow University and a coffee shop in the evenings. I met friends from around the world, traveled to the Highlands, toured the cities of Stirling and St. Andrews, joined a church, ventured frequently with a hiking group, and mostly listened to the people and their mesmerizing accents. It was pure majesty and I made it my home away from home.

I even revisited in 2003 with some great friends from college, Adam Zuber and Steve Griffin, as well as a friend from Germany (Tobi Schneider), whom I met in Scotland when I lived there. It has been eleven years since I last visited and I miss like it is home.

I love Scotland for many reasons and here are a few pieces of my journey to share that I hope you will enjoy. It is a beautiful country and no matter what happens with the people’s decision to be a part of the UK or not, it will always be my home across the pond.

Here are a few pictures from my Scottish journey.

My parents visited me when I lived there in 2011 and we took a trip to St. Andrews. Here we are on top of the historic Swilcan bridge.

My parents visited me when I lived there in 2011 and we took a trip to St. Andrews. I even got to play The Old Course in 1999.  Here we are on top of the historic Swilcan bridge.

View from Portree on the Isle of Skye. The perfect day in Scotland.

View from Portree on the Isle of Skye. The perfect day in Scotlan

The ubiquitous hairy coos

The ubiquitous hairy coos

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Tobi, Adam, Steve, and I at Edinburgh Castle in 2003 revisiting Scotland

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Our 2003 team eating haggis in the highlands. Mike Myers once said, “My theory is that all of Scottish cuisine is based on a dare.” Well, it’s probably true.

The Scots love their football. I adopted Glasgow's Rangers. Simply the Best.

The Scots love their football. I adopted Glasgow’s Rangers. Simply the Best

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I was blessed to work at Glasgow University. This was my walk to work.

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On the Isle of Skye, this was a glimpse of heaven. See for yourself.

If you want to get a taste for Scotland, I recommend the following:

READ

WATCH

VISIT

Well, that is a completely new post but no matter what happens, go support Scotland and explore the beautiful country. Just go.

 

The Beauty of Longing

September 1, 2013 — 6 Comments

A couple of weeks ago I challenged a friend to put together a bucket list. My friend was at a crossroads of life and I felt it was helpful to suggest she endeavour upon this journey to create such a list of things she would want to do in this life.

When I got home, I realized that my list has dust on it.

Last I checked I may have achieved roughly 35 of the 100 items on my list so there is much adventure to be had. At this point in life, the list represents an unfulfilled ‘longing’. But a longing for what? No matter what amazing things happen in life and what I check off on the list, I still feel this longing. C.S. Lewis said,

“There was something we grasped at, in that first moment of longing, which just fades away in reality.”

CS Lewis

Sheila Walsh calls this a “sacred ache”, as we long for a world or life that we cannot fully attain. Heaven and earth collide. As Lewis noted, ‘reality’ takes hold of us until we are fully with our maker.

I recently read in Alister McGrath’s biography C.S. Lewis that when Lewis realized he was not going to live longer, he acknowledged that his name and most importantly, his books would move toward obscurity. The world was changing in the sixties and so he thought his words with them. We know now that his self-analysis was wrong but it revealed how until his end, he wondered if all of it was in vain. He longed for a greater significance.

So why is there longing? Why do we try?

Is longing there to pick and prod us to the point where we sit up in our chair, move the chair back, and stand up? Sometimes, that is the case I am learning. I am also discovering that courage is in the subtleties of life. It is in the thoughtful decisions about how to spend time. It is how I will prioritize and develop richer relationships. It is trusting in God in my career (which is difficult) and dust off my bucket list. I am 34 and have so much life ahead of me. My wife and I both feel this urgency to make a difference but often feel paralyzed by the grind of busyness.

So, I can retire to my excuses or I can act.

Philippians 1:21 points out the Apostle Paul’s struggle with this very thing.

“For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.”

It is evident that God has purpose in life as well as death. I am confident though that God knows what he is doing and this is why the longing exists. I was a daydreaming child and now a daydreaming adult. I do know that I feel most alive when I am moving, trying new things (and even failing at them). I question my motives though and ask God if I even should be longing? Is it selfish? I don’t want to get lost in the busyness, I want my time to mean something. If C.S. Lewis had questions about this then I should pay close attention in my life.

My thoughts drifted to the movie Finding Forrester (2000) when the reclusive writer Robert Forrester recites the poem from his young mentor Jamal.

“…we will find that the wishes we had for the father, who once guided us…for the brother, who once inspired us….The only thing left to say will be: “I wish I had seen this, or I wish I had done that, or I wish…”

As Forrester reflects on what he learns from the young man, no matter young or old, we feel these words.

“Someone I once knew wrote that we walk away from our dreams afraid we may fail, or worse yet, afraid that we may succeed.”

Roth_FindingForrester

I have very few regrets in life mainly because my faith comforts and reminds me that it is all part of God’s journey. But the longing is real and as life’s clock ticks and without that prodding, I won’t be pushed to act.

Thankfully regrets are fleeting though and I am comforted most by Lewis’ words,

“We can never know what might have been but what is to come is another matter entirely.”

So I will continue to look ahead.

Tomorrow I will sit up straight in my chair, gently push back the chair, take a deep breath, and pray. After all, longing is beautiful trust and I will stand up and begin walking in faith.

Remember Lewis and Clark?

I, like most of you in the United States read about them in American History classes growing up. I was taught a basic overview of their journey, primarily because I lived in the midwest where they traveled. It was as if they were bullet points in a textbook and I learned the following:

  • They covered a lot of ground in a boat
  • Met some Native Americans
  • Made it to the Pacific Ocean
  • Recommended to the President we go west.

Simple enough but there was little story, only bullet-points. In truth, I thought of them more as a punchline as used in the opening of the movie National Lampoon’s European Vacation (1985) in the ridiculous Pig in a Polk quiz show opening scene.

Ten years ago, I read Stephen Ambrose’s Undaunted Courage (Simon & Schuster, 1997), the epic narrative about the American explorers Merriweather Lewis and William Clark. I loved studying history and even minored in it in college, but I had never read any book that was written more as a story prior to this one. It was as if the Lewis and Clark’s almost mythological story finally made sense and I could get the accurate picture of these two explorers as if they were in a movie. I could visualize their adventure, share in their ambitions, trials, frustrations, hunger, fears, joy, and even sadness. History became alive to me in their story.

Their story resonates with me today and is pushing me to ask my question,

“What do I need to discover?”

Last month I read a BBC article titled What Adventures Are Actually Left?. It was about how we may be approaching the end of “discovery”.  According to the article, genuine firsts are hard to find these days. The mountains have all been summited. With GPS, it is hard not to easily discover remote islands in the Pacific or visit Antarctica in the winter with modern technology. It seems as if the ocean and space are the last frontier and are largely undiscovered.

While there less “firsts” for man to discover, the battle for discovery of the heart is at stake for each individual. It is the never-ending adventure of man. We as man are not meant to give up so easily because we are made to reach for the next thing. Discovery-adventure is needed to grow culturally and spiritually. Each person has their own reasons and they real what is true to their heart. Here is one of my favorite.

March 18, 1923 issue of the New York Times. The headline was “Climbing Mount Everest is Work for Supermen.”

Why did you want to climb Mount Everest?” This question was asked of George Leigh Mallory, who was with both expeditions toward the summit of the world’s highestmountain, in 1921 and 1922, and who is now in New York. He plans to go again in 1924, and he gave as the reason for persisting in these repeated attempts to reach the top, “Because it’s there.

We may never know exactly what was at stake personally for Hillary but his tenacity to achieve such a feat shows that something deep within him was stirring.

I can come up with excuses all day long about why I don’t have time for this adventure and how there is never enough money. My wife and I don’t want to live life with any regret. I think that is why the Pixar movie, Up (2009), resonated so much with me. You watch the main character as a boy growing up to become an old man in the movie. His life, much like yours or mine was not easy and complete with all sorts of unexpected twists. It shows that all we have in life are excuses unless we move our lives into the intentional mode.

My wife and I have realized that if we don’t show our two daughters how to be adventurous, we will all get lost in life’s busy shuffle.

Lewis and Clark, Mallory, and the movie Up, all remind me to not to just “do things” but to do them with a purpose bigger than me. Do them because it matters. Not just to cross it off like a simple bucket list but for the purpose of a story to tell that matters for the ages. After all, God knows what true adventure is and his adventure flows from his story in The Bible. Our real adventure is with Christ and without his purpose, all of this is meaningless, a mere earthly thrill.

What is the adventure in your life?  

I’ll leave you with one of my favorite songs about adventure. My daughter’s faces were lit up when first hearing the song, Learn Me Right, by Mumford and Sons (featuring vocals by Birdy) in the movie, Brave (2012), It later became a sister song called Not With Haste in their new album, Babel, as well. I may even add it to My Funeral Mix.

The Big Fish Irrational Life

February 23, 2012 — 2 Comments

Recently my friend Nathan Martin shared with me an obituary article about the man John Fairfax. Fairfax lived an extraordinary yet insane life filled with adventures rowing boats across the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, being a pirate (yes a pirate), living in the Amazon, and playing professional baccarat like James Bond. The article’s writer said it best, “He crossed the Atlantic because it was there, and the Pacific because it was also there.”  Read his amazing obituary here.  Fairfax seemed like quite a lost person but his sense of adventure and imagination is what inspires me most.  If he were alive today, Mark Burnett or another reality show producer would be begging to follow and record his life.

So why do these crazy things?

Fairfax describes why in context of his rowing adventures.

“I’m after a battle with nature, primitive and raw.”

Fairfax reminds me of the movie Big Fish, one of my top 5 inspirational movies.  It has so many lessons in it and the main character Edward Bloom is probably related somehow to John Fairfax.

Edward Bloom’s son shares about his father’s immortal life,

In telling the story of my father’s life, it’s impossible to separate fact from fiction, the man from the myth. The best I can do is to tell it the way he told me. It doesn’t always make sense and most of it never happened… but that’s what kind of story this is.

It’s easy to dismiss a life like Edward Bloom’s in Big Fish. Edward learned early about his purpose.

It occurred to me then, that perhaps the reason for my growth was I was intended for larger things. After all, a giant man can’t have an ordinary-sized life.

The movie is a reminder that we are all meant for big things in God’s eyes.  I want to be remembered for having taken risks and gone on great adventures like John Fairfax or Edward Bloom. Perhaps I yearn for these adventures with a little more purpose to them and do them in a way to help others. Maybe at the end of life, those irrational experiences will actually be my reality, which is in God’s hands. My practical challenge to you is to start with a bucket list and write out 100 amazing things you want to do/experience before you die. I did this when I was 20 and have been keeping track of it since. Go one step further to describe why you will do each item and what the achievement will mean to you and others.

Have you ever imagined your funeral and what would be written in your obituary?

What would they say?

What stories would they tell?