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Opening Monologue: Big Goals and “Bucket” Lists

The following is a transcript of the opening monologue I do at the top of each show on WGN Radio. My show, the Saturday Night Special, is a single-topic program on which I discuss one topic all night. This week, I discussed big life goals and why we might want to stop calling it a “bucket list.”

This week, mountain climber Alex Honnold became the first person to climb Yosimite’s El Capitan without ropes or safety harnesses, and the reaction on social media was everything from “this guy’s got a death wish, no way I’d do that!” to “oh, yeah, bucket list!”

Which left me wondering, what did we call our big and sometimes larger than life goals before the two thousand seven morgan Freeman and jack nicholson film of the same name? Weren’t they just simply ‘big goals’…?
Digging deeper, I looked at a lot of public lists declared as bucket lists, and social media postings from people of all ages declaring various activities as quote unquote bucket list material. And, on social media, on blogs, by famous people and un-famous, two things quickly emerged.
One, while one person’s regular old Wednesday is another’s bucket list item, we seem to throw around this term “bucket list” pretty casually. Argument in favor of calling it something else? Perhaps.
But, the bigger thing that snapped into focus in my lengthy but hardly scientific bout of field research on the matter was this: there’s almost always a catalyst that nudges most of us to do these things outside of the comfort zones of our day to day lives. Whether it’s an eye-opening event that leaves us thinking, “ok, I’m not going to play it safe ever again!” or a vague feeling of needing to break out of our routines that grows louder until it’s un-ignorable– there seems to be a through line of not just wanting but needing to push ourselves, a moment in which the reward is suddenly greater than the risk.

And, research backs this up–an Australian university study recently found that there’s been a long misunderstanding of what motivates us to do especially extreme activities. It’s not about irresponsibility or having a death-wise. In fact, quite the opposite. The study finds that those who dare, such as the record breaking mountain climber earlier this week, have, in fact, deep self-knowldge and trust, who know themselves and their skills and are often seeking an experience that is life-changing, who are compelled to take on something at one end or another of human agency that can be so very life-affirming, offer the potential for transformation, and so often calls forth greater sensory experiences than in our daily lives.

Because rarely is an item on our bucket is really about just that one thing. It’s not just that we want to climb a mountain, it’s that we want to immerse ourselves in the woods, in nature and our own minds for hours or days and emerge having a measurable thing by which to declare our achievement, and hopefully having has epiphanies and come just a tiny bit closer to understanding the meaning of life en route. It’s not just swimming with sharks or dolphins or riding an elephant, it’s connecting vulnerably to another creature so different than ourselves. It’s challenging ourselves and rising to the occasion. It’s sacrificing to save for a trip to the other side of the world because we know, somewhere deep down, that we’ll be different when we return. It’s expansind our horizons and emerging proud for having moved the needle day by day, or for having stared fear in the face.

But maybe we’re overthinking it. Maybe some things are on our big lifetime lists of things to do simply becaue they sounds fun. But, maybe by considering the why, we can expand and better enjoy the what.

So tonight, that’s what we’ll consider: big life adventures, and what drives us to name something worthy of our so-called bucket lists.

I’m Amy Guth and it’s time for the Saturday Night Special on WGN Radio.

(Break for show opener music)

Tonight on the program, we’ll be talking about those irresistible yet sometimes terrifying things on our big life lists, our bucket lists as they’re so often called. But, we’re not just going to talk about where it would be neat to visit, or the wild adventures we dream of taking once we win the lottery, but about the motivations behind them, the benefit of facing our fears or committing to a wild idea, and certainly of the life-changing joy of having experienced something we’ve dreamed of doing for so long.

We’ll be talking with Dr. John Duffy about human motivation. With author Robert Moor about how a huge, life-changingly big undertaking like the Appalachian Trail is really about a lot more than hiking or trails, and with journalist Laura Carney, the woman behind a project called My Father’s list.

We have a pretty packed show, so i can’t swear we’ll be able to take too many calls, but esteemed producer Tom Hush will be the voice on the other end of the line if you would like call and share an amazing story of a big adventure.

We’ll be right back to get the conversation underway, on 720-WGN.

(Listen to full show)