Holy Sh*t, What a Ride!!! — Bucket List Art and Science for an Extraordinary Life


“As soon as you start to pursue a dream, your life wakes up and everything has meaning.”
–Barbara Sher


Robert Danger Byrd on summit of Mt. Hood, Oregon.
Robert Danger Byrd (yes, his middle name really is “Danger”) atop Mt. Hood, Oregon, July 12, 2016. In 2010, Robert set a goal of summiting the highest point of each of the 50 states by his 50th birthday on October 29, 2016. With 49 peaks now summited, he plans to celebrate with friends the completion of his trek on his birthday atop Guadalupe Peak in his home state of Texas.

The people I know who have lived the most extraordinary lives didn’t do so by accident. They made it happen through tenacity and determination, and they celebrated each and every success along the way. Domino Principle #3, Dance Passionately, teaches us to never stop dreaming of a better world, working to bring our dreams to fruition, and celebrating the gifts we already have in our life today.

When my mother, Jackie Kurtzman, recently completed her life’s journey, it was a chance to reflect upon what an extraordinary life she had, and because of what she taught me and the opportunities she gave me, what an extraordinary life I have had. I’ve been fortunate to have had the opportunity to travel much the globe, with treks ranging from visiting the polar ice pack north of Norway…

Northern Ice Pack, 1973.

to joining the “5 fathoms club” while spending a night at the Jules Undersea Lodge off the coast of Key Largo, Florida…

Jules Undersea Lodge, Key Largo, 2010.

to sharing the beach with penguins on the southern tip of South Africa.

Southern Tip of South Africa, 2010.

Over the past 10 years, I’ve had the privilege to work with extraordinary men and women around the world to help them create and live a bucket list of dreams. This article highlights the key factors involved in planning and living a life full of exceptional experiences.

Ten Buckets Are Better Than One

“Life’s journey is not to arrive at the grave safely, in a well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, totally worn out, shouting “Holy Shit, what a ride!”
–Hunter S. Thompson/George Carlin


When I speak with individuals and business groups about building a bucket list to create an extraordinary life, I take them through a process of establishing goals related to ten (sometimes overlapping) categories:

1. Celebrities and Inspirational Individuals Oriented — If you could have a chance to talk with someone and perhaps have your photo taken with them, who would it be? For many of us it might be a famous actor, musician, athlete, theologian, or politician. For others it might be an artist, writer, philosopher, entrepreneur or scientist. Who inspires you, and who do you think you could learn from if you met them in person?

Sue Hrib and Hillary Clinton.
In a CEO workgroup I led in 2011, Atlanta entrepreneur Sue Hrib told me one of her bucket list dreams was to meet Hillary Clinton. Sue has been able to cross that item off her bucket list now several times over!
Cliff Kurtzman and Billie Jean King
My personal love for tennis led me to start the first online tennis publication, The Tennis Server, back in 1994, and through that venture I’ve enjoyed being able to sit down and chat with many tennis greats whose skills, courage and tenacity I have truly admired, like Roger Federer, Maria Sharapova, and (shown above, in 2005) Billie Jean King.

2. Love and Family Oriented — Bucket list goals in this category often center on finding love, building a family, sharing experiences with and creating opportunities for family members, and improving their quality of life.

Twenty-three years ago I set out (with a bit of help) on a bucket-list project to make a new human being. Earlier this year, my daughter, Kira,  graduated from Emory University with a degree in neuroscience, and I am now starting to dream of the day in the future that I’ll be holding a grandchild in my arms.

kira-peanut  kira-graduation

3. Travel and Experience Oriented — People often dream of visiting interesting places in the world (and for a very few, off this world), and having special experiences in those places. They may want to sightsee at interesting cultural destinations and landmarks, enjoy exceptional cuisine, see favorite musical and theatrical acts, attend festivals or conferences, or cheer at premier sporting events.

My M.I.T. graduate school classmate Greg Chamitoff just might hold the record among my friends for the most ambitious bucket list accomplishment. Greg completed a bucket list goal that was literally out of this world when he spent 198 days on the International Space Station in 2008.

4. Business and Finance Oriented — Business and financial goals are oriented around achieving security and accomplishing professional objectives. Some people want to leave a business or accomplishment legacy that will endure beyond their lifetime. Others might wish to reach a goal of starting their own business and becoming their own boss, achieving a promotion, retiring comfortably, achieving business financial milestones, or helping others achieve their goals.

Entrepreneur and business coach Dione Spiteri (left, above) once dreamed of being able to learn from Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson. Today she has not only fulfilled that dream, she helps other entrepreneurs learn from him at annual retreats that she organizes on Necker Island, Branson’s private island in the British Virgin Islands. Living this opportunity is on my own personal bucket list!

5. Religious and Spiritual Oriented — These goals are oriented towards meeting devotional objectives and expanding one’s existential understanding of their role in the world and universe.

6. Philanthropy and Public Service Oriented — Goals in this category include ways to volunteer, give back to the community and provide public service, set up or contribute to philanthropic causes, or hold political office.

7. Skill and Milestone Oriented — Goals in this category might include getting an educational degree, learning to play a musical instrument, reading the entire works of a beloved writer (like Shakespeare), and becoming proficient in a sport or game of skill.

8. Treasured Possession Oriented — We can’t take them with us when we are gone, yet many of us still take joy in setting and accomplishing goals related to obtaining physical items… such as owning a dream house, car or boat; obtaining beautiful art and wearing fashionable attire and jewelry; or collecting items that we love or that are rare.

Hypersthene Chondrite meteorite
One of my most treasured possessions is a meteorite (L4 chondrite) that was found in Montague County, Texas in 1957. It is a rather unassuming little rock, but how many of us own something that didn’t originate on this planet?

9. Health Oriented — Many of us set goals related to living a long and healthy life, and completing achievements that require physical conditioning and fortitude.

Sometimes our challenges are truly life-and-death. On August 6, 2006, my friend Jenny Mulks Wieneke was given a diagnosis of metastatic liver cancer and told she had very little hope of survival. Jenny found herself eye-to-eye with her own death and facing the prospect of leaving this world, along with a four year old son, with so much left to do, to experience, to serve, to share, to create, and to love. Ten years later, Jenny is a healthy mother of a teenager, as well as the mastermind of Along Comes Hope, a wonderful non-profit group that gives hope to children faced with a cancer diagnosis.

Jenny in 2016. Visiting with Jenny at an Along Comes Hope benefit, 2016.

10. Intimacy Oriented — Many people view expanding their horizons in terms of intimacy as a life long journey of personal growth and adventure, and creating an intimate bucket list to facilitate such growth is rapidly gaining in popularity.

Joining the “mile high club” is high on my own intimate bucket list. And I’d never pass on a chance to reprise those goals that have already been accomplished!

I was once inspired by the scene at the end of the movie “The Princess Bride” in which Peter Falk notes: “Since the invention of the kiss, there have only been five kisses that were rated the most passionate, the most pure. This one left them all behind.” I set a bucket list goal of sharing a kiss with someone special that would be so passionate that it would leave all the others behind… and last summer on a tiny beach in Santa Cruz, California, with waves crashing onto the rocks all around us, that dream came true.

My friend Albert has an intimate bucket list of 30 items, of which 12 are now completed and 18 are left on his “to do” list. And he is having the time of his life completing his list, noting that “I have been very fortunate to have experienced far more interesting experiences in my life than any man has a right to hope for.”

Make Your Dream, Then Live It!

“Sing with me, sing for the years
Sing for the laughter, sing for the tears
Sing with me, just for today
Maybe tomorrow, the good Lord will take you away”
–“Dream On” by Aerosmith


Time, money, opportunity, and determination all come into play when we try to live out our bucket list. For each bucket list goal, living it requires we answer the following nine questions to line up the dominoes and make our dreams come true:

1. How am I going to pay for it? Travel, tickets, equipment and other items are often necessary in order to bring our bucket list goals to fruition. For all but the wealthiest among us, that means putting a plan in place to earn and save the money to make the dream a reality.

2. Where am I going to do it? Some bucket list goals require planning and connections to gain access to a necessary location. Transportation needs, permits, passports, visas, and other paperwork require advance planning.

One can’t just knock on the door of the Playboy Mansion and attend a party with Hef and swim in the Grotto, but some years back I managed to finagle an invitation and have a really fun evening!

3.  When am I going to do it? Some events and opportunities only happen at certain times, or upon completion of many prerequisites, so planning is required to bring our life path into timing and alignment with factors outside of our control.

4. How am I going to find the time to do it? Many bucket list items require learning complex skills or engaging in time-consuming travel to bring them to fruition. One must plan and prioritize to have the time in their life to bring such dreams to realization.

5. What prerequisites are necessary? Many bucket list goals require completing a journey of many steps, and sometimes some of those steps are outside of our control.

Scuba diving in Antarctica is an item on my personal bucket list, but I can’t move forward with it until I learn further skills. I have well over 100 dives under my belt, but still need additional training in dry suit diving and in diving in cold climates before I can live this dream safely.

In 1997, branding guru Sasha Strauss (2nd from right), along with four of his friends, promised each other that if UC Irvine ever made it to the Big Dance (the NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Championship), they would meet at the game. Last year it finally happened, and they boarded flights in different cities and met in Seattle to cheer on their Anteaters. Zot zot zot!

6. What connections do I need to make to make it possible? We sometimes need help from others in making connections that will allow us to complete our dreams. Social networks and sites like LinkedIn can come in handy. Don’t be afraid to ask your friends and business connections for help!

Sometimes joining a business group can help facilitate an opportunity. For many years of my business career, I have been a member of the Entrepreneurs’ Organization (EO). Part of EO’s mission is to provide its members with once-in-a-lifetime experiences that they could not easily gain access to on their own. The group is member led, so anyone with enough support from other members can help define experiences for the organization to pursue. Through EO, I’ve had dozens of incredible experiences that have included meeting heads of state, enjoying a banquet for 500+ people in the middle of the Grand Bazaar Istanbul, and attending the aforementioned party at the Playboy Mansion.

Iron Man & Pepper
I might like the idea of going out on a date with Gwyneth Paltrow, but without a mutually trusted party to make a connection, this one isn’t too terribly likely to happen. But hope springs eternal. If any readers can help facilitate, please don’t hesitate to drop me a line!

7. What are the risks involved and how do I minimize them? Living a bucket list can involve significant physical, financial, and emotional risks. Before starting your journey, it is important to ask yourself if you are willing to accept the risks and live with any possible negative consequences. There is always a chance that in spite of a huge expenditure of time, money, and effort, the goal will never be obtained or your health will be adversely affected by the experience.  Training, preparation, and constant attention to safety are necessary to help mitigate risks.

8. How am I going to stay accountable to making it really happen? Like New Year’s resolutions, bucket list goals often disappear into thin air not too long after they are made. Some people bring on a bucket list coach who will keep them on track in creating and pursuing exceptional dreams. For others, finding a friend or family member who will keep them accountable, or simply posting their plans and progress to their friends on Facebook helps keep them on track. If you keep your goal to yourself, your chances of completing it are far less likely than if you share it with others.

9. How am I going to preserve my memories? This article is full of photos of incredible memories of people who have dared to live exceptional dreams. Photographs, memory books, videos, journals, and news coverage are all tools that allow us to remember our achievements, share them with others, and leave a legacy to future generations.

When I found myself on the cover of a magazine this month, chronicling a chapter of my life that has been full of positive changes and making many of my life goals come true, I then framed the cover and the associated story to preserve and share the memory.
Steven Tyler of Aerosmith
Aerosmith’s “Dream On” is, in my opinion, one of the greatest rock songs ever, not to mention directly on-topic with this article. Hearing and photographing Steven Tyler sing it up close and personal was one of my bucket list items that I’ve now had a chance to live several times over. 

Your Adventure Is Just Beginning

“Be ambitious: a good bucket list should grow over time, not shrink. Just like you.”
Laura Vanderkam


Sales coach extraordinaire Jack Daly (shown below) is approaching his goal of completing 100 marathons (85 are done), playing the top 100 golf courses in the country (92 are done), running a marathon in all 50 states (48 are done) and completing both a marathon and a triathlon on all seven continents (all 7 triathlons are done, just one more marathon to go in Asia).

At age 67 Jack currently has 287 items remaining on his bucket list. His amazing journey reminds us that one does not simply create a bucket list and then go and cross items off it until they are done. Rather, creating and living your bucket list are ongoing processes that last your entire life, with the list typically growing as you gain life experiences and open your eyes to new opportunities worth aspiring towards.


Surround Yourself With People Who Inspire You

“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.”
–Ursula K. Le Guin


At the start of Robert A. Heinlein’s classic science fiction novel Time Enough For Love, protagonist Lazarus Long finds himself, at 2000 years old, dying and refusing to undergo another physical rejuvenation because he feels he has experienced everything worth living for. Those who love him set out to convince him that there are indeed new adventures worth pursuing and experiencing.

The people we surround ourselves with either raise or lower our standards. I could have written this article ten times over highlighting the incredible life experiences of others who I am proud to call friends. We all need people in our lives who raise our standards, remind us of our essential purpose, and challenge us to become the best version of ourselves. I am so lucky to have such people in my life — they inspire me and make me a better person each and every day.

If you found this article to be of value, kindly so others may enjoy it as well.

Cliff Kurtzman enjoys speaking to business groups and at corporate retreats on “Bucket List Art and Science for an Extraordinary Life.” He also works with a small number of individuals each year as their personal “bucket list coach” to help them plan and live an enriching and exceptional life. You can use this link to contact Cliff

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