Checking Things Off the Bucket List

The bucket list item Kristen cherishes most is winning Teacher of the Year.
The bucket list item Kristen cherishes most is winning Teacher of the Year.

If you’ve ever wondered whether creating a bucket list is worth your time, Kristen Kushner of downtown Orlando is a veritable poster-child for how profound and fun the experience of having one can be. The go getting 27 year old, has already accomplished 38 items off the bucket list she created just two years ago. As a result, watching Kushner steadily tick items off her list (and having a blast while doing so) has inspired many of her friends, family, and students to create bucket lists of their own.

Kushner’s passion for goal setting began in high school when, as part of a student government project, she created a list of things she wanted to accomplish in college. Flash forward a decade, and now Kushner is a middle school teacher who shares the importance of strategic goal setting with students in her civics and leadership classes. Kushner created her own personal bucket list as part of a desire to bring a fun element to the topic of goal setting for her students. More than just setting important goals for higher education, Kushner also wanted her students to dream of experiences they aspire to have as part of living a fulfilling life.

Something to Strive For
“If you really want to get the most out of your life, you should have a visual representation of what you want to do,” says Kushner. “If a goal is just in your head, the thoughts come and easily go. A goal written down somewhere is something you can revisit every once in awhile. But when you have a visual that you see every day, that goal stays front of mind making it more likely you will actually accomplish it.”

In addition to the obvious academic and career benefits of mastering successful S.M.A.R.T. goal setting (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely), Kushner also recognizes that helping students think ahead is an important skill needed for them to positively navigate the impulsive, often consequence-ignoring years of adolescence. “I teach students who are trying to figure out who they are,” says Kushner. “So much change happens in middle school. Asking them to seriously think about what they want in both their immediate future and their long-term future allows me to see a totally different side of most of them.”

Knowing the positive experiences teens want to have now and in the future helps them view their daily choices and decisions through a new lens. “I’ve had students come back to visit me a year or two after creating their goals/bucket lists,” says Kushner. “They are so excited to tell me what they’ve accomplished. I love those smiles on their faces because those are smiles from the heart.”

A List With Meaning
When Kushner made the decision to create a bucket list, she opted to forgo the simple, more traditional hand-written list, as well as skipping digital online options (creating and following “Bucket List” boards on is very popular.) “I wanted to be able to put everything I accomplished in an actual bucket,” says Kushner, craving a more satisfying post-accomplishment gesture than simply making a check mark on a list. She colorfully decorated a framed corkboard across which she attached string, like clotheslines. At the bottom of the board she attached a small, painted metal bucket. Each of her bucket list items are written down, attached to a clothespin, and then clipped to a string. When Kushner completes an item, she removes that pin and drops it, with a satisfying ‘clunk,’ into the bucket. “Everything about my bucket list board has meaning to me,” says Kushner. “Even the photos behind the strings, which are of people in my life who support me and always inspire me to go for what I want in life.”

Inspiring Others
Many of the people in Kushner’s life have been bitten by the bucket list bug after watching her accomplish so many of her goals. Her younger sister, 20-year-old Sheridan, is among those following Kushner’s lead. “Growing up, Kristen was always the adventurous one,” says Sheridan. “When I turned 18, she asked me what was on my bucket list. It was in that moment that I really began to think about all of the options and opportunities I wanted to seize while I was young.”

The two sisters decided to go skydiving together, after which Sheridan was a full-blown bucket list convert. Since that first adventure, Sheridan has gone parasailing, scuba diving, joined a sorority, worked for a non-profit and continues to live life to the fullest. “Kristen really instilled in me that life is a valuable thing,” says Sheridan. “A bucket list puts a face to the idea that one can do anything they wish to accomplish in their life.”

Moments that Matter Most
Though Kushner has completed 38 of her bucket list items already, there are still 47 items remaining with more being added regularly. “I feel my life has been enriched through the bucket list experiences I’ve had,” says Kushner. “The list has pushed me to do things I really had to challenge myself to accomplish. And nothing feels better than that.”

When asked which of the goals she has already accomplished are among her favorite, Kushner says that many have been notable, such as sky-diving, seeing a ball game in Fenway Stadium, finishing her master’s degree, and running her first half marathon. But the accomplishment she holds closest to her heart, and of which she is most proud, seems fitting considering she initially created her bucket list to inspire her students. Kushner’s No. 1 favorite bucket list accomplishment achieved thus far was being named Bridgewater Middle School’s 2014 Teacher of the Year.


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Written by Bill Heneghan

Bill is an author, investor and serial entrepreneur.