How I Found Bliss in a Bucket List

UPDATED: May 2, 2016
PUBLISHED: May 2, 2016

You can say I’m somewhat of an adrenaline junkie. But for me it’s not so much about the rush as it is a reminder of the pure joy and privilege it is to be alive. Turns out, having a heart attack at age 19 really jolts your perspective on life. Time, it seems, is something we never plan to run out of, and for this reason we fail to value it accordingly. (Lesson learned.) So, since that fateful January seven years ago, I decided that I would not waste my days with only great intentions to show for it; I promised myself that I would do one crazy, out-of-my-comfort-zone, bucket list item each year. And since I’ve always been quite the curious person, my list (there is, in fact, an actual list) gives me plenty to work with.

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I started out small with my first-ever 10k, seven months after “the incident.” Next, I went through a jumping-from-heights phase with a little skydiving, bungee jumping and paragliding. Until I found my true calling as an explorer. Yes, explorer. I know in the 21st century this is more commonly referred to as a world traveler, but that title reminds me a stick of gum that loses flavor after two minutes. Because I don’t merely travel to new places—I immerse myself and go out of my way to “do as the locals do.” Within reason. I’ve accepted that bidets are just never going to be my thing.

Having grown up in Southern California, I set my sails to the ocean first, getting SCUBA certified and later diving the North Wall in the Cayman Islands. Now let me tell you, if you’ve ever found yourself happily entranced with your local dentist’s aquarium, THIS is the hobby for you. Diving in the Caymans was like being lowered 100 feet down, straight into the incredibly vibrant opening scene in Finding Nemo. Fish swirled, seaweed swayed and everything was beautifully composed and in place, including the more introverted creatures camouflaged among the sand and coral. And there’s something magical about the silence. Though you can see your scuba buddies not 10 yards away, gliding past the sea life without conversation gives the impression that you are the first to be there—that what you’re seeing has never been, nor ever will again, be seen by another individual. It’s an experience unique and entirely for you, which in our digitally polluted world is a significant feat all on its own.

Yet, however momentous these underwater adventures can be, I have to admit that I empathize with Ariel’s desire to explore “up where they walk, up where they run,” and next set my sights on a spontaneous backpacking trip through Bali with my close friend, where we did in fact spend all day in the sun. Perhaps a little too much (wear your sunscreen, folks). We snorkeled. We sunbathed. We rented a motorbike, talked our way out of a ticket after being pulled over by the police (“do as the locals do…”), got hit by a taksi, bit in the arse by a monkey, hiked a volcano to catch the most stunning sunrise, celebrated the national Balinese New Year and visited nearly every major temple on the island. It was a 12-day-long whirlwind of trying new and slightly questionable foods, never quite feeling clean enough after a shower and ever flowing laughter.

I’ve stayed true to my promise and carried on to experience a hockey game in Canada, ride a camel through the Sahara, run a half marathon on the Great Wall of China, trek the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu, eat French fries in Paris, get misted by Niagara Falls…  And though you would think it’d get smaller, my list of things I want to accomplish only continues to grow. To the extent where I fear I won’t have enough time (or PTO) to achieve them all. Although, I’ve come to believe that is precisely the point, to be endlessly curious about the world beyond our daily limits. It’s as if by habit my brain has become so accustom to asking why not me— and with each of these accomplishments a silent propeller for the next seemingly impossible feat— I’ve become one of “those people,” who actually believe you can do anything if you truly focus and set your mind to it. Again, within reason; I do acknowledge I’m nowhere near able to climb Mount Everest. Yet.

 I catch myself saying this more and more often after trips like these: This was the experience of a lifetime. But perhaps this mentality is wrong. Because to me, the trips, the crazy, out-of-my-comfort-zone, bucket list adventures are what make up my existence. They aren’t something that just happened; they’re a part of me.

Each time I complete one of these checked boxes, there is a moment. Sometimes it only lasts a flash of a second, but on the lucky days it lingers for minutes or hours. It’s a moment, a fleeting moment, where I can honestly say that I’ve found bliss. It’s every part of you, from your fingers to your toes nearly bursting with light and full with purpose. It’s the amazement, pride, triumph and an overwhelming sensation of the purest self-love. It’s your entire perspective changing after seeing the world from a different lens. It’s the feeling of feeling completely in the moment. It’s being alive.

Some say it’s the adrenaline; but I say it’s so much more than that.

Related: I Quit My High-Paying Job, Lived Out of a Backpack for 6 Months, and Now I Couldn’t Be Happier

Megan Nicole O’Neal is a writer with a passion for storytelling, traveling and whenever possible, mixing the two. The UCLA alum lives in Los Angeles; more specifically westside coffee shops with equally strong wifi and dark roasts. Connect with Megan on Twitter at @megan_n_onealor her website