Make Your Life List

Make Your Life List

Knoxville leadership coach Sharon Hoover was in a restaurant in Italy recently when she struck up a conversation with a couple sitting nearby. “What are you planning to do today?” Hoover asked them. The husband explained that they’d rented a car and were planning to just drive “and have a hundred wonderful adventures” along the way. “Or have a hundred fights,” the wife chimed in.

Hoover was stunned, but later enjoyed the brilliance of the moment. “I wish I’d had the presence of mind to say, ‘Isn’t that always our choice?'”

Choices. That’s what life lists are all about. Life lists–those rosters of things you want to do or places you want to visit in your lifetime–have become immensely popular. The June 2005 issue of Men’s Journal magazine featured the life lists of some celebrities: NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon wants to win another NASCAR championship, swim with sharks, and travel into space. Today Show host Matt Lauer wants to climb Kilimanjaro, see the aurora borealis, and throw a dart at a map and travel where it lands. Basketball coach Phil Jackson wants to write the great American novel and motorcycle around New Zealand’s South Island.

Don’t let these guys’ daring and expensive dreams scare you off, though. Hoover, a former UT student and staff member, says the best life lists aren’t filled with outrageous stunts. Rather, great life lists are evolving collections of goals you really want to achieve and enjoy.

“I think life lists are very important,” Hoover says. “Having something out in front of us that we are called toward adds richness to our experience. It sparks our enthusiasm and sense of adventure.”
Although some people don’t bother to write them down, “most people have, at some level in their consciousness, those things that they really hope to achieve during their lifetime,” Hoover says. “I like to look at it in terms of legacy–if I could look back at the very end of my life and say, ‘What’s the legacy I left?'” She suggests asking yourself a few key questions as you compile your life list:

  • What really fits me?
  • What are my most preciously held values?
  • What is it that I’ve always held in my heart as a dream?
  • If I could fully let go of what others expect of me–my family, my friends, my society–what really feeds me? What would I want or choose to do?

While life lists don’t have to be loaded with thrills and chills, they shouldn’t be stagnant either. At age 65, Hoover is still changing her life list. “It’s important not to feel locked into the goals you set for yourself at twenty–or at thirty, forty, fifty, sixty, or beyond. Life is full of twists and turns, and life lists need to be flexible enough to navigate the road.”

For instance, Hoover says, “I’ve changed my career six or seven times in my life. When I was in my fifties, I was working for an international career outplacement company. I kept thinking I want to have my own business.”

Although her head told her it would be prudent to wait until she retired to try her hand at something new, her heart told her to go for it. So in August 1996, she left her job and started her own leadership coaching company, CoachingWorks (

Formal or informal, life lists can be especially important as retirement age approaches, says Hoover, who coaches a lot of business owners. Ask busy people what they plan to do when they retire, and too many jokingly say “absolutely nothing” or “play golf every day.”

That just doesn’t work, Hoover says: “After a couple of weeks of retirement, the vacation sense goes away. People who don’t have plans often don’t have a sense of purpose.” Meandering country roads may be more scenic than super highways. Still, a road map is a useful tool. “Most people just let life happen to them,” she says. “As a coach, I often ask people, ‘What do you really want?’ You ask a three-year-old or six-year-old ‘What do you want?,’ and they can tell you. But when you ask an adult, they are stymied,” she says. “We have so much stuff to take care of, so many have-tos, so many obligations, so many responsibilities that we don’t set goals.”

When Hoover started her company, she not only fulfilled a goal on her life list, she found a way to make her passion her work–not vice versa. Her husband, John, is now part of CoachingWorks, too. Now that she’s “retirement age,” and her husband is 68, people keep asking them when they’re going to retire. “We tell them retirement is for people who don’t like what they’re doing. We’re just having a whale of a good time doing what we’re doing, and we love it.”