Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The Reverse Bucket List: An Unlikely Tool to Combat Conversion Frustration

If you haven't picked up on this yet, I'm a Type A list maker extraordinaire. I love lists and checkboxes and forms. This means that the beginning of both the Jewish and secular years make me re-think my lists and habits. It's always much worse as the secular year approaches because it seems the entire world is thinking the same thing, and you can't escape it. Of course, I don't want to escape it. I love productivity and personal growth literature and tools, and they've changed my life significantly over the years. 

My conversions weren't immune to this attitude. I made learning lists, observance lists, scheduled increases in observance on my Google calendar, and otherwise acted like a crazy person. For example, there is the observance checklist page here, but I also sought out every conversion "test" I could find. (Yes, that page is coming back soon, but I need to rework it.) 

But this week I discovered a very different way of using lists. It's not groundbreaking because I know other people use lists to mark the past rather than plan the future, but it had never occurred to me as a useful thing to do. Maybe you also haven't considered the power of the retrospective list or specifically how that could be applied to the conversion process.

I have had a very good year in many ways, including finally finishing the orthodox conversion and marrying an excellent man. However, it's also been a very hard year in many ways, and times are still tough. Stress drives me to organization, and it's been a very productive few weeks. One of the ideas I had was to finally create a bucket list. If you don't know the concept (I never saw the movie), it's a list of things you "must" do before you die. I suppose I don't take it that seriously, but I liked the idea of making a list of things I'd like to do eventually but that don't deserve a spot on my regular "someday" list. So far, I have over 200 entries, ranging from travel to learning to experiences. (I'm trying out Wunderlist for the first time to house these lists. My "normal" lists live at Remember the Milk, which I highly recommend.)

As I made this massive list, I noticed how many of the "suggestions" I found online that I'd already done. Then I came across a "Reverse Bucket List." It was a list of "bucket list" activities the author had already done. It was midnight and I wasn't sleepy, so that sounded like a fine idea.

When I finished, I remembered what an interesting person I am. I frequently get complimented on being interesting, but I always reply that I'm really a very boring but happen to tell a good story. My theory is that I'm a really interesting person on paper, but pretty boring almost all the time. 

The reverse bucket list reminded me that I've accomplished some great things in my life, and I felt very grounded and content. The stress had subsided, if temporarily. Then I realized how great a tool this could be for the stressed-out conversion candidate. 

As my former roommate reminded me as I lamented my conversion woes before Chanukah last year, things are always darkest before the dawn. And erev Shabbos Chanukah, I got "the call" to schedule my conversion mikvah. As I talk to other converts, it seems common that we fall very low and feel the most frustrated when things finally turn around for the better. 

In times like that, the reverse bucket list can remind you how far you've come and how much you've accomplished, whether Jewishly or generally. You can make a list of the observances you've taken on, the subjects you've learned, the books you've read, the positive life changes you've made, the "accomplishments" you've achieved, the ways you've grown. The possibilities are endless, and your list might include entries from all these sources. In fact, some of them may be useful for your conversion rabbis (or may even be required), such as a checklist of topics learned with a tutor/mentor or books read. 

Hopefully, when you're done making such a list, you'll feel some inner calm and beat back the monsters of self-doubt and frustration. 

Because I find that it's always easier to learn from an example, below is a list of some of the entries in the "I survived..." section of my own reverse bucket list. My list also included sections for cool places I've visited, weird food I've eaten, things I've learned, things I've accomplished, etc. I thought this part would be the most interesting to you, assuming you care to read it at all!

I've survived...
Three hurricanes
The Blizzard of 1993
Swimming in the Dead Sea (Ouch! It burns!)
Law school
Getting my tonsils out at 20 (It can be very dangerous as an adult.)
Being hit head-on by a tractor trailer truck (I was not driving.)
Two Jewish conversions
Driving from the Pacific to the Atlantic...four times...with pets.
Saturday night of Mardi Gras in New Orleans with my dad…at 17 (Awkward. We were there for a college interview, not Mardi Gras.)
A broken engagement
Starting a blog and not being a failure at it
Planning a wedding
The deathtrap known as a ferris wheel at Coney Island
A combination Eastern/Western toilet (Double eww.)
Internet dating before it was cool
Seeing a dismembered body in a motorcycle accident

As you can see, there is no rhyme or reason to this list. I simply wrote what popped into my mind at the time. Some of these things were very bad, some painful, some scary, and some just funny in retrospect. But it reminds me how strong I am and how many obstacles I've overcome in my life. I survived those things (and many more that I didn't publish here), so I can survive anything life throws at me. Empirical evidence says so. 

Chazak, chazak v’nitchazek!

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