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Beyond the bucket list

What the story of a frog in a well taught me about making things happen

When I tell friends I’m doing such and such thing, I often get this response. Oh, that’s been on my bucket list.

I wonder why it resides there? That thing you want to do so much. That place you so want to go. Something that you always wanted to learn.

Why is it still there?

When I probe, I get these responses.

“No time”

“Life gets in the way”

“I can’t take so much time off”

“I don’t have that kind of money”

I’ve been there. Plenty of times. Tricking myself into believing that it’s because of someone or something that I’m not doing what I want to do. I still catch myself doing that.

Years ago, a friend in Atlanta told me about a Satyajit Ray movie called Agantuk (The Stranger). In that movie, the protagonist is a traveler. After traveling in the West for decades, he returns home to Kolkata before continuing onto the East.

He shares his travel experiences with his little nephew who’s all ears. At one point, he advises him not be a kupa manduka or literally a frog in a well.

That expression – frog in a well – stayed with me.

There are many versions of that story. Here’s one.

The frog in a well

Once upon a time, there was a frog in a well. He thinks that the well is all there is to the world. A lark that’s on a long flight stops by.

The frog and the lark have a little chat about life.

The lark tells the frog that there’s a big wide world out there. There are huge oceans and endless skies. Jumping about in the well, the frog refuses to believe the lark.

He thinks water is only found in a well. He thinks the sky is round.

Giving up, the lark flies away.

In the end, the frog dies in the well.

Amen.

Beyond the bucket list

I always wanted to drive a motorcycle to Khardung La, the highest motorable road up in the Himalayas. That dream gnawed on me for years. I never did anything about it.

Tired of dreaming, I asked myself, how would I exactly go about doing something like that?

The answers were simple. I needed a motorcycle. I needed maps.

I bought both. Without knowing exactly how to drive a Royal Enfield. A book of maps showed the way to get to Khardung La.

Holy cow, it seemed far from where I was. I realized that I didn’t have that kind of time, even while I was busy building my company.

Then I wondered how else I’d be able to do it. I could break the journey up. Shorter breaks were doable.

So I drove from Mumbai to Delhi. Parked it with a friend in Delhi.

Took a flight back to work.

After about a month, I flew back to Delhi. Got the motorcycle serviced. And started driving up into the Himalayas.

Not only did I get up to Khardung La, I went beyond it. To the point where the road goes no more.

That was back in 2007.

That trip changed me good. Putting a wedge right in between my life – demarcating it with a before and after.

And nothing bad really happened. At work or elsewhere.

Now, I had a method. To do something about my lists. All I had to do was act.

To ask, if I really had to, how exactly would I make it happen?

That question works like magic. Because when you actually come up with a specific plan, you begin to wonder why wouldn’t you (or anyone!) act on it?

When you research, you actually realize that most dreams don’t even cost as much as you think they do.

My list kept expanding over the years.

All I had to do was figure out a plan. And then ACT. At least, take a baby-step in that direction.

Even about things that made no apparent sense at all. Like performing magic in front of a big audience. I didn’t question why I desired something like that. I simply acted on it.

Last year, I performed during our company’s annual day. Amuse yourselves – the video is below.

How do you live out of your bucket list?

After you are done looking at your bucket list, pick one and ask a simple question. If you really had to, how would you make it happen? What specific steps would you take to make it happen?

Say you wish to go to Machu Picchu or climb Kilimanjaro (I’ve done both).

Break the desire down into bite-size chunks. For example, if you really had to go to Machu Picchu, how would you make it happen?

  1. Find flights to Cusco, Peru from your location (I searched on Kayak)
  2. Find costs of flights either in currency or in miles (I figured I could use my miles and the flights actually cost me $73.40)
  3. Search for the time of the year, travel group (I used one called Alpaca Expeditions)
  4. Figure out the duration and how to get away from your family or work situation (this friend of mine runs a busy gastroenterology practice in South Carolina. He took a week off and showed up on my trip)
  5. Search for places you can work out of (I was disconnected from work for possibly 3 days – most places had good Internet and business continued wherever I was)
  6. Figure out visas and what to carry (especially if you are trekking)

That’s it.

The point isn’t about travel or checking off on some bucket list. It’s about building a mindset to get things done. Of not blaming someone or something else for our situation.

You’ll notice that you’ll bring the same mindset to everything else that you do. For me that meant building electronic health record software at work with our team. To compete with the big boys out there.

All we had to do was ask the question. If we really had to build this software, how would we make it happen?

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