The most important thing you need to know about completing your bucket list

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by Jessica Dang

Last year, I made a bucket list of some of the things I wanted to do in my life before I die. Usually, when I have an important goal to achieve, I would break down the goal – what do I have to accomplish by when? What do I have to do first in order to do second? Complex goals usually require complex planning.

However, I intentionally left my bucket list vague. Indeed, some of them are just one word long. Why? Because contrary to what it sounds like, the things on my bucket list are not goals. 

what a bucket list really is

My bucket list tells the story of an adventure – my adventure. A good story isn’t about the destination, but the journey there. No matter where you go or what you do, it’s what you learn, and how you grow on the way that matters.

Travel is about discovering yourself. The phrase ‘finding yourself’ usually conjures up the image of a mountaintop or some other glamorous destination. However, you won’t find out who you are by wading through the Amazon or meditating in a Zen temple. Everything you need to discover about yourself is already within you.

Knowing this is liberating. It means that you can find meaning in your own backyard. You don’t have to get on a plane – just going for a walk around the block, or taking a train to the next town, can be an adventure in itself. You can learn a lot just by being more mindful of the surroundings you’re in right now, and taking a moment to be grateful for what you already have.

However, if it’s possible for you, visiting other countries can also be worth your while. Going outside of your comfort zone, whether it’s in the same country, or within another culture, can open mind, and widen your perspective on the different ways of thinking by different people. It can challenge your beliefs – which is a good thing – and make you stronger as a person.

Wherever you choose to go, remember that there is a difference between travelling for the sake of travelling and going somewhere to enjoy the journey itself. In other words, are you just trying to get to ‘X’, or do you care about the road there? When people create bucket lists, are they really only thinking about reaching a destination? Or are they thinking about the journey too?

The real question is, which one are you thinking about?

real travel is about the journey, not the destination

by Jessica Dang

The Buddha’s story isn’t about reaching the goal of enlightenment itself, but about his pursuit of the rightful path

The concept is easier to understand when you look at the other things I have on my list. For example, ‘learn Japanese’ is so vague – how can one possibly know when they’ve ‘learned’ a language? The answer is that you can’t. I’m now living and working in Japan, and I could say that I’m fluent in Japanese, but I still haven’t crossed it off the list. I don’t think I’ll ever reach a place where I can say I’ve ‘completed’ this item, but that was never my intention. It was the process of learning that has given me so much. Because I’ve taken the time to learn a new language, a whole new world had opened up for me. I wouldn’t be where I am now if I hadn’t made the effort.

In the same way, I didn’t run a marathon for the medal. After all, it’s just a piece of metal. A medal and a free T-shirt is merely a representation of my hard work. It was all of those hours I spent running that mattered. By training for it, my body became healthier, I learned to eat better, and I built my mental and physical endurance. The actual marathon itself didn’t matter nearly as much as the sweat and tears I had shed in all the runs I did before it. The strength I gained didn’t just happen to me suddenly when I crossed the finish line, I collected it slowly, step by step, along the journey that I had already made.

So yes, you and I may never complete our bucket lists, but that’s okay. This is not an excuse. It’s not supposed to merely be a list of stuff to be ticked off one by one – it can be so much more than that.

Your bucket list should tell your story. How it goes is up to you. 

 

Making Miracles

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When life gives you lemons, make grape juice, and let the world marvel at how you did it.

What a great twist to an old saying. Sometimes, you don’t get everything that you want, or even everything that you need. If only you had a bit more time, more money, more resources.

Life can be full of challenges, mistakes and failures. It would be great if life worked out the way we wanted it to, but things aren’t always going to go according to plan. Sometimes, you’re going to be dealt a bad hand, and it’s up to you how you want to play it.

That’s the great thing about life. Even though it can be hard, it’s also full of opportunities and any number of wonderful things. As long as you learn from your past, keep your chin up, and face whatever life throws at you head on, you’ll be okay in the end.

Sometimes, life only gives you lemons. You may have wanted oranges, or apples, or anything else but lemons, but you didn’t get what you wanted. Well, now’s your chance. Go on, make some magic happen, and let them marvel.

My Tokyo Minimalist Bedroom and Workspace

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The last time I wrote about my minimalist bedroom, I was living in Kobe with a host family. My room was simple – just a futon, a chair and a desk. There was also a piano in the room that belonged to my host sisters, which I would use from time to time.

It turned out that it was all I needed. I learned a valuable lesson that year – that the less stuff I had to hold me back, the more I was free to do what I liked, and enjoy my time in Japan.

Since then, I have lived in a couple of different rooms and apartments. Amongst them, in the UK, I lived in a beautiful apartment with a wonderful view of Leeds, then in a small flat in London, and then, after a short time back at home, I moved back to Japan.

In Kochi prefecture, I was lucky enough to live in a countryside house with three tatami rooms. I would love to share photos of all of these places one day, but since people have been asking, here is where I’m living right now.

my minimalist bedroom (tokyo edition)

When it was time to move to Tokyo, I spent a long time trying to find a place to live. It was difficult to find an apartment that I liked the look and feel of, but after many, many hours of searching, I settled on an apartment near the centre of the city, pictured here.

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The bedroom isn’t large, but it is comfortable. I liked the clean white walls and the simple flooring. The big window lets in a lot of natural light, and the large shiny desk felt like it was inviting me to sit down and write.

Notice that I don’t have a wardrobe. Initially, it wasn’t out of choice, but now I’ve realised that I don’t even need one. I own very few clothes anyway, so I just hang a few work shirts and my black suit jacket on the rack, and fold the rest of my clothes on the shelf.

I shifted the desk slightly after taking these photos so that I would have space to roll out my yoga mat. I don’t own much else except for a few books, which I put on the shelf, and my trusty laptop, which sits on my desk.

my minimalist workspace

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I prefer to keep the top of my desk as clear as possible. My laptop has a permanent position in the middle (unless I’m studying from a textbook), and I usually allow just a few notes, and a cup of coffee, of course.

I find that having too many bits of paper, knick-knacks, and even my phone on the desk distracts me from my work. (I’ve since moved the lamp pictured above to my bedside instead.) Perhaps I’m easily distracted, but this has always been my style.

The kitchen and bathroom is just as you would expect in a big city. Small, yet functional, it has everything I need, and nothing more.

from minimalism to freedom

I’ve talked before about how minimalism, far from restricting you, actually can grant you more freedom. Not having suitcases of stuff to drag around with me every time I move means that:

I can move all of my possessions in one trip. I can take all of my necessities without breaking my back while dragging things across train stations and airports.

I can live relatively small spaces. In a city as expensive as Tokyo, that makes a big difference.

I can live more comfortably. It’s easier to maintain a place that isn’t overflowing with stuff. I spend very little time cleaning – just brushing the floor and wiping down surfaces every couple of days. This gives me plenty of time to do the things that I want to do, from reading in bed to exploring the city.

I don’t earn much money, and I don’t have a lot of free time, but not having to worry about all of the above is especially beneficial for a nomad like me. It’s time like these that I’m really grateful that I found the minimalist way.

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Do you have any thoughts or photos you’d like to share? I would love to hear from you in the comments! Or, join Minimal Student’s new Facebook page for immediate updates on future posts, minimalist inspiration, throwback Thursdays, quotes, photos and more.

 

 

The True Meaning of ‘Success’

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What do the most successful men and women in history all have in common?

Not all of them were smart, or good looking, or had either poor or wealthy backgrounds. They weren’t all gifted from birth, or went to college, or happened to be in the right time and place. They were from all walks of life, and were completely different except for one thing.

They changed the world.

Isn’t that the true meaning of ‘success’? To be remembered for doing something remarkable. It’s not about making money, being famous or inventing something. It’s about changing the world, even if just a little bit. Even if it’s just for a few people. And preferably for the better.

It all begins with a vision of the future, of a better place. And then with a little bit of persistence, fearlessness, and yes, even a dash vulnerability, they made it. Of course, it takes a lot of courage. It’s not an easy road to take, being a world-changer.

Children have an amazing ability to see things through rose-tinted glasses. This isn’t a bad thing. They think they can change the world, and they probably could have, except as they grow up, they slowly become sceptical about their chances. Most people call this ‘coming to terms with reality’ but the truth is, as adults we make lot of excuses for not even trying.

If only we could all leave the world a better place than before we entered it. If only we were all brave enough to keep on our rose-tinted glasses for just a little longer.

 

Positive mindfulness – how to be grateful for the good things in life

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Kochi Castle Candle Festival - Jessica Dang

2013 was undeniably my best year so far. In the last twelve months, I have lived in three different cities, ran a marathon, graduated, moved to Japan, and got my dream job. 13 really is my lucky number.

If only I had more to remember it by…

Well, I’m not going to make the same mistake next year. My new year’s resolution will be short and sweet – to be grateful for the good things in life.

It’s easy to let one bad thing ruin a good day. Sometimes, we need to be reminded of the good things we have to realise how lucky we are. I like to call it ‘positive mindfulness’.

There are so many things that can brighten up our day. A smile from a stranger, trying something new, seeing old friends, a challenging task, giving to others, a fulfilling job, a partner’s affection, overcoming an obstacle, finishing something, family gatherings, learning a new skill, a good workout, a genuine hug… the list goes on.

Almost everything that makes us truly happy in life doesn’t cost a thing. We just have to be mindful of them. Here are some ideas…

Three practical ways to stay positively mindful next year

1. Keep a ‘Gratitude Box’

Find a shoebox or something similar and place a notepad beside it. Every time something good happens to you, or if you feel particularly grateful for something, write a note about it, along with the date, and pop it in the box. Try to write one thing a day, or at least a couple a week.

At the end of next year, hopefully you’ll have a box stuffed full of notes… and hopefully reading back on them will make you smile/cry/laugh.

2. Make an ‘Amazing Day Collage’

Make a colourful collage or simply write a few post-it notes of all of the the things you can think of that would make your day. Stick them somewhere that you’ll see every morning. The notes will remind you of what to keep an eye out for throughout your day.

You’re more likely to notice the good things if you’ve been reminded to look out for them. Add more as you notice new things that make you smile.

3. One second of every day of 2014

This is such a simple idea. It’s a video showing just one second of everyday in a man’s life. Just as he saw it, just as it happened.

It inspires me to do the same. Some might think that recording their lives is an invasion of privacy, but personally, I have such a weak memory that I would be more grateful, rather than paranoid, if I could recall all of the lovely memories I made this year. Also, I don’t have to share it publicly, and I don’t get up to that much mischief anyway!

At the same time, some moments are made to be enjoyed, not photographed. In any case, whether or not I decide to record the moment, the most important thing is that I’m having fun.

Do you have any suggestions to stay positively mindful next year? Let me know in the comments.

Happy New Year folks!

One Important Question for Life

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What happens if you follow your instincts?

Despite my best intentions to take a year off to relax, I somehow landed myself a job… at the British Embassy in Tokyo.

It seems I have found the reason why I was drawn back to Japan. My instincts were right – this is where I’m supposed to be.

I will be continuing my work from Whitehall, working to increase international cooperation on climate change. I will also be helping the UK and Japan collaborate on essential research such as neuroscience, medicine, stem sell research and aerospace, amongst others.

Advanced technology is one of our finest achievements. By working together, we can learn to use it well, so that we can save the Earth, our loved ones… and save ourselves. As I write, Egypt, of all places, is going through a ‘historic’ snow storm. To me, that’s a sign. We need to act now. Although my part in it all may be small, small changes have the tendency to turn into a big difference.

Where I will go from there? I have no idea. If this year has shown me anything, it’s that I can’t even predict three months into the future. All you can do is try to make the best decision you can at each crossroads, and hope it works out.

It has taken me time to learn this, but now I know how true it is – the best thing about life is that it’s unpredictable. 

 

The Sweetest Reward

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They say that it’s best to aim for the low hanging fruit. A lot of the time this is true, but it isn’t always the case.

In the short term, it might make sense to take advantage of whatever comes your way first. The low hanging fruit are easy to reach, but they aren’t necessarily the best fruit on the tree.

In the long term, only doing what is easy won’t get you very far. If you only go for low hanging fruit, you’ll never taste the sweetness of overcoming a difficult challenge, and achieving something worthwhile.

Learning to climb a tree takes patience and perseverance, but if you take things step by step, you can reach the top.

It helps if you’re not weighed down by stuff. Carry too much, and your burden will hinder your progress. Let go of the things that don’t matter, and focus on the things that do.

You only get one chance at life, so why not aim high? The sweetest fruit grow at the top.

 

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Wing it for all you’re worth

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A lot of changes have happened in my life over the past few months. I completed my final exams, graduated, worked in central London… and moved to Japan.

I’m here to start a new life. No, I don’t have a job waiting for me. No, I don’t have a clear-cut plan. No, I don’t know what will happen tomorrow.

But that’s the exciting part. If you’ve been reading for a while, you’ll know that I’ve always been up for a good adventure. My job in London was based in Whitehall, for central government. It was a great job and it paid well. I learned a lot, but it was too… safe. So instead of staying, I packed everything I owned into a suitcase and came to Japan.

Something irresistible pulled me back to this country. Maybe I left my heart behind when I lived here two years ago. Maybe it’s my intuition telling me that there is something important that I need to do. Whatever drew me back, I have a feeling I’ll find out the reason why soon.

tano river

From the bustling city, full of traffic and too many people, I am now living in a cosy countryside house with three tatami rooms. The view from my window is beautiful. Green mountains stand tall against the clear blue sky. Golden fields stretch far into the distance. The river by the house flows calmly towards the open sea.

Some might call my decision reckless, but I don’t care. After I find my bearings again, I might move to Tokyo or Osaka. And I can always go back to England if things don’t work out – not that I would give up that easily.

For now though, having peace to write, room to breathe and a reason to smile makes it all worth it.

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The Most Important Lesson You’ll Ever Learn About Opportunity

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Two shoe makers go to a remote village.

One of them immediately gives up and goes home, declaring, “It’s hopeless! Nobody here wears shoes.”

The other, smiling, declares “What a glorious business opportunity! Nobody here wears shoes”.

Opportunity is something that you discover, not something that you wait for

 

Whether it’s new business idea, a new career direction, a new journey, or a new friend or lover, however you define it, the opportunities in life are endless. They surround you like air.

You don’t have to have an expensive education, or special training to see them. You don’t even have to go looking for them.

You just have to keep your eyes and mind open.

Right now, there are countless problems that needs to be solved, people who need help, places to go, people to meet, and so many things to learn and discover about the world.

Most people trundle through life, blindly, on auto-pilot. Like the first shoe maker, they may see a glass, but they can’t help but think it’s half empty.

It’s not complicated. If you’re waiting for a new opportunity to come to you, you should know, it’s already there.

Can you see it?

 

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How running taught me the value of persistence

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A few years ago, I wrote about the importance of perseverance. The ability to see things until the end – it’s the difference between make or break.

Little did I know, I would one day go through one of the biggest tests of perseverance – a full marathon. I would end up putting my money where my mouth is.


lessons in starting out

When I first started running, it was to lose weight. I dragged myself to the treadmill about once a week, or sometimes just once a month. There was no ‘big goal’, and I was never really that good at it. I got out of breath, my chest hurt, and I made a hundred excuses. It took me a year to run more than three miles.

I wasn’t making much progress, especially weight-wise. Mostly, it was because I didn’t do it enough.

Then one summer, when the weather was particularly good, I went for a run. Just a gentle jog in the June breeze, and to my surprise, I actually enjoyed it. I ran a couple more times that week, then a few more the week after, and within that month, running turned from a chore to a hobby.

While I was running for superficial reasons (ie. to lose weight) and not making much progress, I would be completely put off by just the number on the scales. I would think, ‘What’s the point?‘. But, after that month, I started to truly appreciate running as something fun and healthy to do, not just as a means to an end.

Once I actually got going, it wasn’t so bad. In fact, I grew to love it. Now, I run because I enjoy running itself, not because I wanted to lose weight or impress others. It gives me more energy, the opportunity to clear my mind, and a sense of accomplishment. I had persevered, and eventually, everything clicked into place.

Before I knew it, I was running a half marathon. Finishing it was one of the best things I had done in my life up until then. I felt so proud of myself, and so happy that all of my hard work had paid off. Instead of asking, ‘What’s the point?’ I came to ask, ‘What more can I do?‘.

I read into minimalist running. I took up yoga, swimming lessons and spin class. I had neglected my body for years, but now it was one of my highest priorities. Being healthier became a part of my daily life, rather than something I begrudgingly tried to fit into it.


screw it, it’s now or never

A few years after that transforming summer jog, I found myself signing up for a full on marathon.

What an idiot. Training went fine until a common cold turned into a chest infection, which turned into a check-in in the emergency centre of the hospital. It happened right when I was supposed to be running the most miles. I had probably made it worse from running outside in cold and rainy weather. The doctor told me to stay in bed.

Flash-forward to the big day. I hadn’t had a proper run in weeks. I had my doubts, but I wasn’t going to give up. I didn’t want to give up. No way. At the start line, I said to myself, ‘Screw it, it’s now or never.’

Twenty miles later, my feet felt like they were going to explode with every step. My hip had locked up, my shins felt brittle enough to snap, and if I had to go up another incline, I might didn’t think I would make it.

Despite all this, somehow, I kept going. I saw a sign that read, ‘Run as if zombies are chasing you!’ In other words, keep going as if stopping wasn’t an option. 

So I put one foot in front of the other. Again and again. I did it ten thousand times until I saw the finish line.

When it was in sight, I sprinted.

My foot crossed the line. I did it! I cried. I waddled. I smiled my oxygen-deprived head off.


5 lessons on persistence

What did I learn that day? That band-aids are a runner’s best friend? Well, yes, but also some great lessons on the value of persistence.

1. Persistence is what separates people who are successful and people who are unsuccessful. They persist and persist until they finish. They may adjust their course, slow down or speed up, but they just don’t give up. It’s as simple as that.

2. If you look at the most successful people in the world, the one thing they have in common is that they didn’t give up. You can look at any field, and at any measure of accomplishment, or at all their different backgrounds, but you will see that to get to where they are, they simply got started, and kept going. Their common characteristic was their perseverance.

3. It’s easy to give up, but hard to carry on. That’s what makes a ‘success’ something to be admired. Anything worth achieving is worth working hard for.

4. Finishing creates momentum. The sense of accomplishment you feel from finishing carries forward into your next project, and then the next one, and then the next one. Life is a series of ‘projects’, whether at work, in relationships, or for yourself. Whether they end in success or failure, you will never know unless you finish. 

5. It’s not about luck. People don’t just get lucky, they finish things and learn from them.  By reaching your goal, you open new doors and opportunities. You end up with more and better chances of doing more stuff. In other words, luck doesn’t find you, but if you just keep going, and you’ll find it.

What can you achieve by being persistent?

 

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Phew, now that’s crossed of my life list, where am I going from here? To my next project of course. Sports-wise, my aim is to complete a duathlon in the next year or two, and a triathlon after that. Find me on Fitocracy, if you like. My course has been set, and I’m determined to reach the end. See you at the finish line!

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