The Impossible List is NOT a Bucket List

The Impossible List is NOT a Bucket List.

Not The Impossible ListThere’s a difference. Not just in the name, but in the entire concept.

Lots of people have a bucket list. They’re static things made up at one point in time that most people don’t end up actually incorporating into their lives and discard when things get tough.

The impossible list is different. It’s fluid, updating status of what’s coming, what’s next and where you’ve come from. It’s always changing, always updating and always evolving. The impossible list isn’t just a piece of paper, it’s a commentary to yourself on how you’re living.

I don’t have a problem with bucket lists. They’re probably better than nothing, but the worst part about a bucket list isn’t that it’s just a bucket list, but that it’s a just list. It’s a set of things waiting for you to check off. If you don’t get to them, you fail.

That’s a really bad approach.

The impossible list is different.

It might be a list, but the impossible list is a list that helps give narrative to your story. It gives purpose to your actions and it gives context to your journey.

I’ve said before, that the best way to write something that matters is to first do something that matters, and then write about it. Not the other way around.

The impossible list is a good barometer for that.

If you’re getting bored with your life, it might be because it’s because you just have a list of things to do someday, instead of a list of things that you’re actively living out day to day in an attempt to live a life worth writing about.

It’s a fine line to walk so here’s a quick rundown of the differences between a bucket list and the impossible list.

How the impossible list is different from a bucket list.

A bucket list is static, the impossible list evolves.

A bucket list is a set list of things you want to do. It never changes…mostly because you never do anything. The impossible list is different. It’s changing, not only because you’re busy actually doing things, but because you’re busy adding things as well.

A bucket list gets smaller, the impossible list gets bigger.

A bucket list is a set of things you check off and hopefully you get to them all before you die. Slowly,but surely, if you’re dedicated you’ll eventually cross everything off your  list. The impossible list is different. The impossible list expands what you’re capable of doing. You should be constantly checking things off the list, but you should be adding items as well. With the impossible list, your limits expand, your horizons get bigger, your dreams become larger. You constantly check things off your list, and you realize that what’s literally impossible to you now is completely different than what you thought was impossible even just 3, 6, 12 months ago.

A bucket list is focused what you do before you die, the impossible list is focused on how you live.

Hopefully you get to everything on your bucket list before you die. Hopefully. If not, too bad. The impossible list isn’t as concerned with doing everything on the list, but doing some of the things on the list, exploring the limits of what you think you can do, and going even further. When you have an impossible list, doing something is much more important than doing everything.

A bucket list revoles around you, the impossible list is focused on others.

A bucket list is focused on making your life as great as possible. The impossible list is focused on telling as good of a story as possible. Sure that involves doing some great things to enrich your own life, but it also involves actively helping and enriching the lives of others as much as possible, in order to help them tell a good story of their own.

A bucket list is focused on the event, the impossible list is focused on the journey

Most bucket lists serve as a highlight reel of life – a series of unrelated exciting accomplishments between which most of the time people are bored. The impossible list is a journey. The impossible list is a series of events, each building on each other in order to create a great story. Each list has a meaning and a purpose and the list expands and changes in order to tell a story of how you’ve grown, what you’ve overcome and how you’ve gotten to where you are from where you’re from. The check marks designate things accomplished, but the purpose is not to get to simply achieve specific accomplishments but to change in the process that occurs between those those events.

A bucket list has accomplishments, the impossible list has meaning.

A bucket list is focused on doing things. The impossible list is focused on doing things with meaning. Doings things over and over that you think other people will care about or doing what other people find impressive is not the point. The purpose is to stretch yourself to do things you never thought possible, regardless of other people’s opinions on the topic.

A bucket list is made up of someday dreams, the impossible list requires action today.

A bucket list is stuff people hope to do someday. “Maybe, one day when I get lots of money, I’ll do ‘X'”. The impossible list takes action today. It requires you sit your butt down, and go get stuff done. It’s not all pie in the sky and it won’t just happen if you think about it hard enough. It takes work and you have to actually do something in order to get there.

A bucket list expires, the impossible list aspires

There’s a countdown for the bucket list out there. The time ends when you die. If you didn’t get to everything, too bad. You lose. Failure. The impossible list is different. It’s focused on challenging you to question what’s impossible right now, and pushing you to bigger and better things rather than being comfortable with the status quo. It forces you to constantly expand the sphere of what you believe is possible right now. A bucket list expires when you die. The impossible list is about what you’re aspiring to do right now…because that’s the only time you really have.

Bucket List or Impossible List? What will you choose?


If this made you think, do me a favor and share it with someone in your circle of influence.

Also, if you want more of this be sure to subscribe via email. Besides getting regular updates in their inbox, email subscribers are getting a special invitation from me tomorrow (Wednesday, August 30th at 10pm CST) about how , so be sure to get on it.


Special thanks to Tim Dyer for helping me articulate a few of these thoughts.

[Photo Credit]

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  1. says


    I love it. This is one of the most inspiring things I’ve read in a while. Your writing gets better and better with every post. I always look forward to seeing what you’ll come up with next :)

  2. says

    … alright- I’m convinced that I’ve gotta make an impossible list. I actually think I already have one, but it’s not on paper yet and it could stand to become a bit more tangible. Look for it in your inbox soon :)

    A few of my favorite things you said:

    “…the purpose is not to get to simply achieve specific accomplishments but to change in the process that occurs between those those events.”

    “A bucket list is focused on doing things. The impossible list is focused on doing things with meaning.”

    Awesome… thanks Joel.

  3. says

    Exceptional blog post! What a fantastic way to consider how you are living your life. Are you taking action on your list or just creating one to impress your friends? The focus on creating your story and then writing about it is brilliant.

  4. Ryan says

    The timing of this post could not be more perfect for me. The past few weeks while I’m out running, I’ve been contemplating that I want to put together a “bucket list,” and what I want to put on said list. After reading this post, I’ve realized that at 23, it’s an Impossible List that I need. I feel that some of my best years of life are taking place and that I need to embrace them and do the impossible,not create a checklist that counts life down. I want to create lasting experiences and stories, other than just the end result. Thanks for the inspiration, great post!!

  5. Kurt Swann says


    I nominate this to be the Best Joel Blog Post EVER!!

    Sometimes I read “bucket lists” and I get an uneasy feeling. Your article explains more clearly what bothers me about some of the lists. I’ve seen “bucket lists” with items such as “meet a certain Hollywood celebrity.” Everybody has their own priorities but just meeting a famous person? Really?

    I prefer lists that as you say have “meaning”, “focus on how you live” and “focused on the the journey.”

    Maybe even “Impossible Lists aspire” but also “inspire” too.


    p.s. KFC? Too funny :)

    • says

      EVER! :)

      i think a lot of bucket lists are outwardly focused. Not based on what you actually want, but based on what you think will make you look good in front of others. If that’s the case, then you’re really fighting a losing battle because there’s way too many people out there with different opinions of what “looks good” and there’s no way you’re going to be able to please them all.

  6. says

    I’ve read this twice today my friend. And it’s a rare blog post that I read more than once.

    Your comparison of the bucket list the impossible list is spot on. And it makes me realize that I have neither at this point.

    Time to put in work. Many thanks.

  7. says

    Joel, like Vic I’ve read this post twice. In fact, I just read it aloud.(Gimme a break. It’s what we theatre folk do.)

    There is such a wealth of material here that I’d think, “Oh! That’s my favorite line!” Then, a moment later, “No! THIS is my favorite line!” Followed quickly by, “Wait! What about this? I forgot he said this! Maybe this is actually my favorite?!”

    It’s like flippin’ Sophie’s Choice! I can’t pick a favorite because they are all. too. damn. good.

    Kudos!! (Also? As Kurt pointed out? The KFC bucket is kind of genius.)

  8. says

    I love this: “I’ve said before, that the best way to write something that matters is to first do something that matters, and then write about it. Not the other way around.”

    I’m the kind of person who lives in her own head, thinking and sometimes even illustrating how that awesome backpacking trip in a continent I’ve never been before must be like… when I really should be backtracking and thinking, well, why am I not already doing this?

  9. says

    I’m actually reviewing my own list as I type this, the main difference is in keeping with the name of my blog ( Gates of Infinity ) I called my list The Infinity List. However, like your impossible list, it is NOT a bucket list either, it evolves, it changes, it gets bigger and better.

    Quite a few of the items on the list I could actually be doing right now, like writing that children’s book, I really need to give myself a kick up the hole at times as well!

  10. says

    Love it! I HATE the term “bucket list” and I hate it even more when people refer to my list of goals as such. Of course, I never knew what else to call it, but I’ve always been opposed to calling it a Bucket List.

    I love how you’ve defined what a Bucket List is all about, and how your list is different. I’m not sure I’m willing to call my list of goals an Impossible List either, though, since I don’t believe in that word.

    Since starting my list almost 3 years ago, I’ve added 80 goals…I’ve almost doubled it! The list keeps growing, and the more I explore and learn about, the more things that get added!

    I also like how you make the distinction that a Bucket List is about you, and your personal milestones. I think that’s hugely important. There are many Bucket List bloggers who only ever talk about their list, and not what happens between those milestones. I get frustrated sometimes with other list bloggers who don’t talk about their struggles, their failures, their insecurities…I feel like I’m alone in my stumbles, and that all these people have it totally together. I hope that my blog shows other people that it’s okay to be insecure and unsure.

    Right now I’m months away from leaving for Africa to join the Peace Corps, and it scares me to death. I will give up my entire life as I know it today in order to be a part of something bigger than myself. I love that this could (if I’m accepted) be a part of my story, but I’m terrified of leaving behind my “old life.” My girlfriend. My career path. My education.

    A Bucket List is more about sitting around in the comfort of your life and once in a while doing something cool. I don’t like that aspect of Bucket Lists. It really is about constantly making moves to do better, be better, change your life, and improve the world.

    I hope I can be a part of your Impossible League. :)

  11. says

    I just stumble your blog by chance and caught my attention. I’m working on something similar to you, but a little different. You said you want to write your story (Manifiesto), I want to write the story of my life, literally, but for my future kids (I have none yet, but I’m writting twice per week some kind of diary that I will give to my kids when they grow up, instead of writting my memories when I’m old and I don’t remember them, better to write them while they happen) and related with this, the next year (2014) I’m starting a without-end trip around the world and in the process of preparing the trip I’m working on a blog related to my trip, for my friends, family, future kids and anyone interested on it.

    Getting back to the point, I do have my bucket list (is on my blog), and contains similar stuff that your impossible list but I treat mine as you treat your Impossible list.

    In my case, each end of the year I make the plans for the year and I pick up 4 or 5 things on my bucket list and I treat them as my small impossible list for the year and do them.

    So, for me the Impossible list IT IS a Bucket List, in the end is a matter of perception and not the name.

  12. Umar Hafeez says

    Great blog… aspiring, challenging and really motivating…Love it keep it up.. Hopefully I will do some of things suggested here right now…


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  2. […] This is my adaptation of Joel Runyon’s Impossible List. The concept behind it is awesome, rather than the static bucket list the impossible list grows with you. I like to do things differently and make every moment in my life an experience, this falls right in line with the impossible list. If you’re interested in reading more about the mentality behind the impossible list check out Joel’s site. […]

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