Maybe it’s because I’m about to have my first child (a baby girl), but I’ve been feeling a little philosophical lately. As in, reflecting and thinking about life, parenthood, self-growth, and even my bucket list.
As always, I feel that I have more to learn and grow than I could ever achieve in a lifetime. Still, I’ve had many experiences and adventures that have left their mark on me, and that I think are excellent teachers and motivators.
Today, I’d like to share 23 of them. I’ve done practically all myself, and can genuinely say that they’ve changed my life and made me a better person. Here they are.
23 Self-Growth Experiences to Have on Your Bucket List
1. Take A Trip to Asia
I’ve been to Asia once, on my honeymoon (we went to Hong Kong, mainland China, and Japan). To a Westerner like me, it’s an adventure, it’s stepping into another world. Like everywhere else, there are people, cars, and buildings. However, the culture and language barriers make it seem like you’ve landed on a different planet, full of wonders to explore.
Not only is it amazing and eye-opening, but I think it’s also humbling in that it shows that many societies (especially Japan) prosper while looking and feeling very different than Western countries. It is truly something that I think every Westerner should experience at least once.
And don’t worry too much about the cost – it is indeed possible to travel-hack your way to amazing international destinations! (For more on that, check out my favorite travel hacking blog, One Mile at a Time. My friend The Luxe Strategist also has excellent travel hacking articles).
2. Take a Trip to Europe
To put it simply, I love how fun life is in Europe, especially in countries like Spain, France, Italy, and Greece. The food is fantastic, and people just seem more relaxed and balanced than what you sometimes find on the other side of the Atlantic. Also, more walkable cities generally mean that folks don’t spend as much time in traffic.
I wouldn’t trade Miami for anywhere else, but I think we can learn a thing or two about life from the Europeans (hey, there are many things they can learn from us, too).
3. Study a Foreign Language
Studying a foreign language is a great bucket list idea and self-growth activity because, first and foremost, it’s good for you. As NPR explains, some potential benefits of bilingual education include improvements to brain executive function and empathy, as well as protection against cognitive decline and dementia, among others.
As a bilingual person myself, I can also tell you that it’s the first step to being bicultural (having the capacity to understand and fully function in two different cultures). It opens up a different world, sometimes even in your own city. So, download a language-learning app, and practice a little bit every day!
4. Box, Play Full-Contact Football, or Practice Martial Arts
There’s something powerful about feeling your own physical fragility, and how someone else can exploit it; it’s a strange kind of vulnerability. As a kid and teenager, I got punched in the face a few times by other kids; it’s an incredibly jarring experience that I carry with me to this day.
Obviously, sports like boxing or football represent risky experiences that only you can decide to have. What I can say is that it will stay with you, and will probably make your worldview darker, but more realistic.
It’s a way to learn a bit about the terrible reality of human cruelty, on a direct, physical level. Via sports, it allows you to relate (to an extent) to those that are hurt by others in anger. Depending on how you process the experience, it may even make you kinder and more empathetic towards others. It may also make you tougher (in a good way), and more resilient.
5. Get a Professional License
In terms of self-growth, the value of this is that you’ll be forced to learn to set a long-term goal, and work towards it relentlessly. I don’t care if you become a Certified Public Accountant, Master Sommelier, or attorney. The lesson lies in the process, rather than in the credential.
The bonus is that you’ll wind up with a title that you’ll carry with you for life, and that will probably increase your earning potential.
This common bucket list idea is probably one of the most thrilling things a person can do. And, it’s actually pretty safe – the fatality rate is about 1 death per 100,000 jumps. Put another way, “[i]f you make one jump in a year, your chance of dying is 1 in 100,000”. Compare to a person that drives 10,000 miles per year, who has a 1 in 6,000 risk of dying in a car accident (per year) (Howstuffworks).
So, don’t be too afraid of testing your mettle by jumping out of a plane at least once in your life!
Few sports are as exhilarating as skiing. For me, however, its awesome value lies in that it makes you focus on nothing else at the moment – indeed, you have to focus, lest you fall or hit a tree. Therefore, it offers an unparalleled mental “break” for us with Type-A personalities.
So hit the slopes! You might just find you love it so much that you want to do it every year.
8. Try Foods Completely Outside Your Comfort Zone
To me, this one is about becoming comfortable with trying new things and experiences. After all, it’s food – if you don’t like it, just don’t have it again. (Bonus if you’re at a tapas-type restaurant, so the courses are on small plates and you’re not stuck with a main course if you don’t like it.)
I’m no psychologist, but I think that someone that actively seeks out new foods to try will probably tend to be more receptive to enriching new ideas, experiences, and people.
9. Do Some Public Speaking
Public speaking should be on your bucket list because it scares the living daylights out of most of us. I’ve done it multiple times, and I can say that the preparation and anticipation is one of the most uncomfortable experiences anyone can have.
However, the feeling after you’re done is one of triumph and confidence almost without equal. And, it’s long-lasting, since you’ll know, with 100% certainty, that you can do something that makes many others quake in their boots.
10. Play an Engrossing Video Game
To me, this is one of the most underrated self-growth experiences, because few appreciate that it teaches the art of storytelling (in addition to entertaining). Games like the first three Mass Effect titles (which are space adventure role-playing games) will draw you into their world and make you feel like the protagonist in a thrilling movie.
Some games can also educate in a very real way. I still marvel at all I learned about government and politics from the Civilization series, and urban planning from Sim City!
11. Seek the Sting of Rejection
Whether it be for a date or job, rejection is an inevitable part of this adventure we call life. The sooner you learn how to handle it (and even embrace it), the better.
So try and “punch above your weight”. Ask that sexy stranger that’s “out of your league” out on a date (without being a creep, obviously). Apply for a job you’re unlikely to get. It’s not a bad thing to get rejected. To the contrary, you’ll learn to take it and will become stronger, since each rejection will make you fear it less and less, leading to perseverance.
12. Go on a Cruise
We’ve all got to relax, right? Cruises are easy, pre-packaged vacations. I love ’em, especially if you’re with friends.
Give them a try; you might find that they’re your thing.
13. Read Machiavelli
I majored in political science and philosophy in college, and then went to law school. In all my reading, I have never come across books that teach so much about humanity as Machiavelli’s most famous works, The Prince and Discourses on Livy. I promise you, if you appreciate hard-edged realism, you’ll find self-growth in these tomes.
For a more modern take, check out Robert Green’s The 48 Laws of Power.
14. Make a Risky Investment that you Believe In
Failing to heed my own advice, I sold my Netflix shares back in like 2009, despite believing in the future of streaming. Guess who lost out on thousands of dollars?
The lesson: if you believe in something, invest in it. Obviously, don’t put all your eggs in one basket, but don’t be afraid to make a small bet on something that really calls to you. If you turn out to be right in the long run, you don’t want to regret it.
Meditation is a proven way to better yourself; indeed, per Psychology Today, its benefits include greater health, happiness, and productivity.
I recommend you start meditating with the aid of a guided meditation app such as Headspace (it’s the one I use). All it takes to see some serious benefits is 5-20 minutes a day.
16. Interview Someone
Interviewing someone forces you to think deeply about their life; in a way, it erases you for a moment. I believe that this is a fantastic self-growth opportunity because of what it teaches you about empathy (not to mention everything else you can learn).
You’ll also become a better conversationalist, since you’ll now have a mental list of questions that you can ask anyone to get them talking about themselves and their ideas – which pretty much all of us love to do!
17. Visit Another Religion’s House of Worship
In college, I took a class called The Religious Quest, where one of our assignments was to visit different religions’ houses of worship. To this day, it’s marked my life as one of my most memorable self-growth experiences.
In short, it opens your mind and makes you feel connected to others, even when we don’t all agree on everything.
18. Dance in Public
I avoided this for many years, until something “clicked” and I began to tear up dance floors during my clubbing 20s. What’s the self-growth aspect? That it teaches you to be unafraid of others’ judgment, and to not give a F–K.
To this day, I’ll dance in public at any party where I’m in the mood. As an introvert, I can’t begin to tell you what it’s done for my confidence and self-esteem.
19. Get Very Tipsy
Ok, don’t do this if you’ve got an addictive personality or a serious objection to (or health issue with) alcohol.
However, if you don’t have any of those hurdles, I think it’s worth it to have a least one (safe) night of drinking in your life, just to know the experience personally and know what others are going through when you see them drunk.
To be as safe as possible, make sure you won’t drive that night. Plus, it’s better to do it at a house party and in the company of a friend or significant other who’ll take care of you.
Fully optional – if it’s not for you, it’s not for you!
20. Make Friends with an Animal
There’s something magical and beautiful about the pure goodness and loyalty displayed by a furry friend. A lesson about beauty, purity, and innocence that you don’t often see in humans.
21. Fire a Gun
At a safe, legit range. I’ve fired a few hundred rounds in my life, and can tell you that it’s a unique feeling that can prompt you to think about humanity and our capacity for both beauty and horror.
I’m not saying that guns are good or bad; this is not a political blog. What I’m saying is that there’s a particular feeling to using a tool that’s made for taking life in an instant, and realizing the destructive power that that implies.
It can teach you a lot about the fragility of life and about human nature.
22. Live Abroad for at Least One Month
Immersing yourself in the daily happenings of another society is a great bucket list idea and opportunity for self-growth. Not only will it show you a different way of living (with things that you may love and others that you may hate), but it will also force you to learn to be resourceful and creative.
Plus, it’s an adventure that you’ll carry with you for the rest of your life!
23. Argue for a Position You Strongly Disagree With
In my view, there are few “intellectual” bucket list ideas as compelling as signing up for a debate where you’ll take a side you strongly disagree with. You don’t have to lie, especially if you do it in a debate-club setting where it’s understood that each participant is simply practicing their advocacy skills.
The true treasure in this, I believe, is that it teaches you critical reasoning and persuasion. Also, it will make you realize that there are two sides to every story, with valid points for each. That’s not to say that no one is wrong or right – sometimes the evidence for one position is clear. Still, the best way to really analyze an issue and see who’s right is probably to do this exercise, to stand in the other person’s shoes and see if they’ve really got a point.
It will also make you more flexible, since you’ll realize that you’re not always right, and should sometimes change your beliefs. After all, who wants to hold on to a wrong idea?
Summing It Up
I strongly believe that life is meant to be lived to the fullest. Indeed, we are the only living beings on this planet that have the capacity to think and reason. So, why not take full advantage of it?
If you implement these 23 self-growth ideas, I can confidently say that you’ll become a better person, and have experiences that many only dream of. You know what they say: you won’t grow if you always stay in your comfort zone.
I leave you with one of my favorite quotes, from Hunter S. Thompson:
Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming “Wow! What a Ride!”
What are your best bucket list ideas? What has led to the most self-growth in your life?