Do We Need Two Bucket Lists?

A dear friend of mine, Leslie Goh, sent me a link to a piece in the New York Times. She suggested it reminded her of me. The piece, written by David Brooks, suggests the need for two bucket lists. Brooks, who is successful from a business sense, talks about meeting others who seemed to be successful in a way he was not. This led him to think about a different bucket list not tied to business goals or personal goals, but rather moral or virtuous goals. The way he organized these different groupings is into resume virtues and eulogy virtues.

Resume Virtues

For resume virtues, Brooks suggests you want to understand and highlight what makes you attractive and memorable to the potential employer. The types of things in this category fall into areas that include tactical/technical, work ethic and future potential (for the employer) for your ethos and skillset. The specific tactical skills are whether you can complete a task such as entering accounts receivable entries in a ledger, selling a product to a customer, or writing code that is well-formed and can be compiled and run. The work ethic is focused on business social skills, such as coming to work on time, being a good corporate citizen and playing nicely with other office or business members. The future potential is focused on your openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness and neuroticism, and the amount you have of each. Many think that different mixtures if these areas provide a good indicator of whether you can become a future leader or future follower. Mixed together, these virtues offer the people you meet and companies you interview with the first (and lasting) impression of you.


When I talk with people I mentor, eulogy virtues are usually what drives the conversation. These goals are how you will be remembered when you die, and the best example I can think of is Ebenezer Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol”. In the book (and movies) he is a soulless but successful business person that believes acts of kindness are for fools and a good business person always focuses on getting the most they can for the least investment. Spoiler Alert - the ghost of Christmas Future shows him how he is remembered when he dies and he changes his behavior to change how he will be remembered. While I have little resemblance to Ebenezer, I do think about how I will be remembered when I die and that helps drive my daily actions. For instance, when visiting with smaller children I try to remember the awe I had at that age and carry that mindset into any conversation I have with an 8-year old.

Balancing The Two Buckets

There’s a balance that you must strike between these two (somewhat) opposing mindsets. Most of us who (more often when we were young) focus on the resume virtues wake up one day surrounded by moderate or great success in achieving our goals and wonder what’s next. If you can start younger with a set of personal goals that reflect business and virtuous success, maintaining a balance becomes much easier. Stray too much to the virtuous side and when you should be able to have the most positive impact on the world you are not positioned to do so. Too far the other way and you get caught in a race and forget what you are trying to win, just that you need to always win and be right. Here are some things to consider as you start to balance these two forces: 

Do think about what you will remember or regret when you are sitting in your rocking chair at the old folks home.

Do consider what people say about you when you are not there and why they say it.

Do find a close friend that will tell you what you’re afraid to tell yourself when you look in the mirror.

Do not lean too far in letting either side of this equation control you.

Do not worry, and know that you are who and what you are, and that your gut will tell you when you are heading the right way.  

No matter whatever else you do, be honest with yourself and totally own the path you decide to take. Being confident in yourself and living with no regrets will help you sleep at night.

Andy Ruth
SEI Mentor
Apprenticeship Program