The Contribution List: Another Alternative to the Bucket List

I’ve already talked about why I think the bucket list is a bad idea. And I’ve proposed one alternative which I called The Soul List.

Now, I want to discuss another proposed alternative to the bucket list, what I’m calling The Contribution List.

What Is a Contribution List?

A contribution list is a list of the ways that you want to make a positive contribution to the world.

Similar to my proposed soul list, the items on a contribution list will probably be things that you’ll never cross off because you’ve completed them.

Instead, they will likely be ongoing items that you’ll work on throughout your life. You may, of course, chose to add items or delete items as you grow, change, and evolve.

How Do You Create a Contribution List?

My instructions for creating a contribution list will be somewhat similar to my instructions for creating a soul list. Of course, you are free to modify the instructions in any way you want.

1. Find a quiet place, a place where you can be alone for at least a couple of hours without any disturbances. A place where you can feel calm and centered and at peace.

2. Get yourself into a quiet space. This may involve meditating for a few minutes or perhaps just closing your eyes and taking some deep breaths. Whatever it takes so that you can let go of your ego and connect to your spirit.

3. Reflect or journal on any of the following questions:

  • What do you want your life to stand for?
  • What message do you want to send with your life?
  • How do you want to contribute to making the world (or your world) a better place?
  • How do you want to be remembered by others when you’re gone?
  • If you could grant just one wish to one person, who would you chose and what would you grant them?
  • What are your most important values and how do you want to use those values?

These are, of course, sample questions and you are free to modify the questions or use other questions that you prefer.

4. Write down your answers. The answers you write down when you first do this exercise may not be your final answers. But it will help you to remember what you came up with and give you the ability to tweak your answers later.

5. Narrow down your list. You may end up with a fairly long list of ways in which you’d like to contribute to the world.

The goal of a contribution list, however, isn’t to overwhelm you. It’s to focus your energies. Which means that you’ll need to narrow your list down to 1-3 key ways in which you’d like to make a contribution.

This is probably the most difficult step of the whole process because you’ll need to give up some things that you value.

But remember…in that giving up process, you’re choosing to honor things that you have personally decided are more important to you.

Also, no one can do everything. You’re better off focusing on a few areas rather than overwhelming yourself with lots of ideas and doing nothing.

Here is the question I am going to suggest using in order to narrow down your list:

“If I could chose only one area in which to contribute at this point in my life which would it be?”

If you want your contribution list to have more than one item, then repeat the question a few more times. Again,  I would suggest a final list of no more than 3 items (though extra motivated people may want to go as high as 5).

6. Figure out the how.

Now that you have your list of 1-3 items, you need to figure out HOW you’re going to make a contribution in those areas.

Some questions to consider include the following:

  • Who do I want to contribute to in this area? This could be either a specific person or a type of person.
  • How am I already contributing in this area and what could I do to contribute even more?
  • What strengths and abilities do I have that I can use to make a contribution?
  • What are some simple ways in which I can contribute in this area?

What Does My Contribution List Look Like?

As an example, I want to share part of my contribution list with you. I’m not going to share the whole thing because of space limitations.

One of my most important ways to contribute to the world is by creating a world that is more humane towards all living creatures, particularly animals. Here are a few of the ways that I do that:

  • My wife and I care for a boxer and a beagle, both of which were rescued from the streets.
  • I help my wife with her ongoing efforts to rescue street animals by raising money, giving my own money, and helping her find homes for the animals.
  • I eat a vegetarian diet.
  • When I find a bug in our house, I capture it and release it back into the world.

These are just some of the ways in which I try and contribute to creating a more humane world for all animals.

A few things you can see from this list is that: 1) you can make valuable contributions that have nothing to do with your job, 2) there are a wide variety of ways in which you can make a contribution, 3) there are lots of simple ways in which you can contribute in your chosen area(s).


As I conclude this post, I’m struck by one additional thought. Above I suggested that your contribution list should have 1-3 main areas in which you want to focus your efforts to improve the world.

At the same time, we ALL contribute in lots of ongoing ways that are easy to forget about.

Because our ongoing contributions tend to be a routinized part of our lives, we sometimes forget about their value.

An example from my list above is eating a vegetarian diet. I’ve been doing it for so long that I don’t even think about it.

Perhaps there’s value in adding those ongoing, routinized contributions to your contribution list – even if they fall outside of your 1-3 primary areas of contribution. That way you can easily remember ALL the ways in which you’re contributing to a better world.

So there’s you have it. A contribution list (your external work) and a soul list (your internal list). And since I believe in balance and having fun, maybe a bucket list is okay as well. Just as long as it’s not the only list you make…

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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Your post made me think of a recent conversation I had on my FB page. I’d received the yearbook for the elementary school where I volunteer as a tutor/mentor and posted that it felt great to see so many familiar faces. These were kids whose lives I’d touched through two different volunteer programs, one at the pre-school level and one at the early-elementary level.

    My former “boss” at the pre-school “job” posted that anyone who thinks they can’t work with children because they don’t have any should talk to me. I realized that, without planning it, early childhood education has become the area where I have made the greatest contributions since my retirement.

    Good article!

    1. Awesome story Sheri, thanks for sharing! And I’m glad that you found a way to contribute that resonates with you.

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