You Deserve More Than a Bucket List

There is a famous book out called The Experience Economy. I had a chance to hear one of the authors lecture on the topic. He said (truthfully) that Americans, especially those over 50, are driven more by experiences than goods, services or commodities and he used coffee to explain the difference:

Coffee beans start out as a commodity. They are bought by the pound and you can see them stacked in burlap bags as you enter a coffee house.

Once coffee beans are roasted, they now become a good, or brand. These can be ground, labeled and marketed as such, adding value to the commodity. Think of Folgers (“mountain grown!”) or Maxwell House. Trivia point: The Maxwell House was a swanky hotel and one of their guests said their coffee was “Good to the last drop!” That guest was Teddy Roosevelt, which is not a bad way to get a slogan.

A service is when I make the coffee for you and hand it to you.

But an experience?

An experience is when you are sipping that coffee in a mug with a swirl in the foam, in a well decorated coffee house, chatting with your elitist friends about Proust or Dostoevsky while smooth jazz in a language you don’t understand plays in the background.

The author went on to explain that the profits can be measured by the square foot.

The one or two bags of raw beans in stacked a corner (small)
The roaster and grinder and bags of brand-named coffee along a wall (medium)
The workers behind the counter, brewing, pouring, mixing and passing stuff through windows (large)
And then the large and impeccably decorated space where people sit on leather chairs and couches next to a fireplace and cutting-edge art (huge)

And so we are now off to the races. Entire industries building business models on experiences, from Disney World to cruises, concerts and travel destinations. We call these experiences items on our Bucket List. Here is the problem with that and the purpose of this letter and a recently recorded I Like That Story podcast (a little cross promotion—hint, hint! Click here to subscribe).

A Bucket List has become a one-size solution—made, sold and marketed to fit any situation. Because it is being sold for profit, we have come to define a truly great experience as:


These experiences are good! These Bucket Lists usually do deliver a good experience. But, well, call me greedy, but what I want is an excellent experience. And excellent experiences are definitely doable but different from Bucket List experiences. They are:

Sometimes small
Absolutely customized to the individual

Here are some examples of an excellent experience.

Bill loves camping. Here’s why. He sleeps in a tent and in the early morning dew, he sips a cup of coffee poured out of a battered tin kettle, sits on a canvas lawn chair and waits. He smells the dew, earth, pine and blossoms, and the fresh, crisp morning air and the coffee. He hears the hushed rustling of wildlife, the hint of a breeze moving the trees. Suddenly a hawk of enormous wingspan sweeps in from overhead and perches silently on a pine branch.

The experience was small, surprising and perfectly tailored to Bill. It was excellent!

John is retired, his girls are grown and gone. He is walking through a JCPenney’s store and sees a memory. A mother and daughter, looking at prom dresses, the girl, smitten with a certain dress, her face glows with delight. The mother sees the price tag and sighs, world weary and sad. John overhears:

“I’m sorry baby. This one is out of our budget- maybe we should look around a bit more.”

John approaches and says “My daughters are grown now. It would be my honor to buy this dress for your daughter as a gift to their memory.”

There was surprise and joy in that moment. It was an experience of medium expense, an unexpected event completely tailored to John. It was excellent!

I got an invitation to travel to Peru. There would be wonderful scenery, chef-prepared local cuisine. I have no doubt it would have been a good experience.

But in March I was asked to write and present America’s Story, about a country I love, to a crowd of 250 or more. It was a swanky affair which included the Governor and a Medal of Honor winner. It took a lot of work. It was a little bit scary. It was fleeting. And it was perfectly tailored to me. It was excellent!

I don’t know what is perfectly tailored for you. Maybe you don’t either. But it is doable, and it is there for you if you will just think about it for a bit, then go out and seek it. Once it’s yours, I promise it will be excellent! ?