Ben Nemtin, author of What Do You Want To Do Before You Die? and cast member on MTV’s The Buried Life, shared the story of how a simple bucket list changed his life forever and taught him about the power of resilience in the face of uncertainty in Tuesday’s Game Changer.
As a young man, Ben began to experience crippling anxiety and later depression; he lost his scholarship, dropped out of school and was cut from the Canadian national rugby team – all things that had previously made him happy.
It wasn’t until he went away with friends for a summer job that he began to realize they were all feeling the same pressures and stresses that he was. He wasn’t alone. It was during that summer he also spent time around young people who inspired him.
Surrounded by friends who brought out the best in him, they were also inspired by the poem The Buried Life by Matthew Arnold. The poem, from 150 years ago, illustrates the same feelings that so many have today: that their hopes and dreams in life are buried by day-to-day responsibilities and tasks.
They decided to write a bucket list with 100 things that answered the question, “What do I want to do before I die?” They knew that even with money and time, they would need the help of others, so they vowed that for every item on their own list they accomplished, they would help a stranger achieve their dream.
They started making a film based on a two-week road trip to cross things off their list, which then led to a TV show. Ben and his friends started to have a real sense of purpose. They quickly learned that the original list of things they at one time thought were impossible weren’t. They were doing what they loved, and they found that inspired others to do what they loved.
“That ripple effect goes further than you ever know,” Ben said.
Over time, they pushed themselves out of their comfort zone and set their sights higher than they thought was possible. They had a drink with Prince Harry, were interviewed by Oprah, delivered a baby, helped a young girl get a bionic arm, and even played basketball with then President Barack Obama.
“We were relentless,” Ben said. “We had no idea how to get it done, but we knew there had to be a way.”
By doing what they loved, Ben and his friends helped others give themselves permission to go after their big dreams. When you do that, you’re not just helping that one person, Ben said. You’re helping their friends, family and every person who they come into contact with going forward.
Associations create that same impact in the lives of those they touch through their advocacy work, industry and public education, and the collaboration that leads to new ideas. While you may not know the full extent of those you reach, the impact you have is real, Ben said. That’s why it’s so important, when you’re feeling like you’re buried in the to-do lists and long hours, to think of the impact you’re leaving on this larger world.
Of course, you can’t help others if you don’t take care of yourself. It’s easy to get overwhelmed with fear and anxiety, but life continues to go on, so focus on what’s in your control. Ben created his Resilience Toolkit that includes habits that are good for you and allow you to be your best self, including:
- Gratitude: Think of one thing you’re grateful for when you get up in the morning and when you go to bed.
- Exercise: Move your bodies to release negative emotions.
- Mindfulness: Meditate or take deep breaths.
- Detox: No news and social media for one day a week, for example.
- Connect: Talk about your struggles with a loved one or therapist.
- Purpose: When you’re doing what you love, you have more energy and feel more alive.
- Help others: Acts of service take you out of your own head.
- Nature: Just 20 minutes in nature has been proven to make you happier.
Finally, while it can feel selfish to go after our own goals, Ben said it’s actually a service to ourselves, others, our careers, our association and even our legacy that we leave behind to go after our dreams. When people get to the end of their lives, they don’t regret what they did in this life; they regret what they didn’t do, so act on your hopes and dreams and live the life you want starting today.