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what are you waiting for?
my list of things to do before i die.
by matt morin

About seven years ago, one rainy Sunday morning, my then-girlfriend and I sat in bed and decided to each make a list of things we wanted to do before we die. I had never actually sat down and thought this through. It was her third list. The idea was, no matter how big or small the thing was, you write it down.

After about an hour of thinking, I had 23 things on my list. Most of them were accomplishable, although some only with some serious luck. Some were ones that would take years to do. Others could have been done that very day. I tucked the list safely into my journal and promised that as I finished each one and crossed it off, I would also add one more.

1. Get married.
2. Have children.
3. Own a home.

A little while back I came across that list again. It was the first time I had looked at it since I wrote it that long ago winter's day.

There wasn't one thing I could cross off it.

Looking over the list again, I was bothered. I made this list when I was 24 years old. Did this mean my life was going nowhere? What had I been doing all these years? Working? For what? What was the purpose of my life if I wouldn't even attempt to do the 23 things I wanted to do most?

6. Drive a racecar.
7. Attend a World Series game.
8. Get a tattoo.

Now obviously some of the things on the list I couldn't just jump out of bed and do. Getting married and having a family are rather dependent on a second party, and to date no one had applied for the position. But I have been at least trying, and despite the fact that it probably won't happen, if I've given that a real shot I can't be too disappointed.

10. Sell a photograph I've taken.
11. See a Great White Shark up close.
12. Run with the bulls.

I started to rationalize that many of them were too costly. The 3-day race car driving school at nearby Sears Point Raceway is $1400. A World Series ticket will run me $250 at least. And of course, owning a home is way out of my budget unless I amend my business card to read "Bank Robber."

But then I stopped and thought. By the time you read this, I'll be snowboarding in Utah on a six-day vacation. Total cost - within a few lift tickets of racing school. $250 for the October Classic? That's a night at the opera and a nice meal, which I do once a year. It became obvious that the money aspect was just an excuse.

15. See the northern lights.
16. Own my own ad agency.
17. Save a life.

Many of them simply took too much time. #9 traveling for one solid month - really, when was I going to do that? And there's certainly a ton involved in #14 - completing an adventure race. Even #22, writing a book, takes a good amount of time.

Once again, I halted my inner naysayer. I freelance. I can set my own schedule. I can work four days and make enough to live on for the month. There was plenty of time if I really wanted it. And I spend hours on Intrepid, at the gym, watching reality TV - a million other fun but unnecessary ways that I occupy myself.

19. See the pyramids.
20. Go on a photo safari.
21. Own a classic car.

I know I'm not the only one. Everyone has something they say "Oh...I've always wanted to do that!" So what stops us from doing it? Fear? Possibly. Laziness? Probably. The fact that we enjoy things being comfortable and familiar and most of the things on our lists aren't? Maybe. But then I thought back nine months ago when I went hot air ballooning with my girlfriend at the time. That was on her list of Things To Do Before She Dies, so I decided to take her for her 31st birthday. We had an amazing time, but I think it was more fun watching her realize she was crossing something off her list. It's more than just run-of-the-mill satisfaction when you can set a goal for yourself, write it down, then go out and actually do it. Does that satisfaction outweigh the fear, laziness and unfamiliarity? For me - definitely.

So a few months ago I decided to stop making excuses. I was going to work my way through that list. I realized that Rome couldn't be built in a day (or even seen in a day: #23 on my list), but I was going to start. Some I may fail at. Some I may decide I don't want on the list anymore, which will simply lead to new list additions. But I'm going to stop sitting around and waiting for my life to happen, and instead, go make it happen. The recent Columbia disaster just reiterated the fact that, "Do this before I die" doesn't mean I necessarily have 50 more years to get it done.

Six weeks ago I met with a real estate agent to devise a plan and see realistically how much I would need to save/make to own a place in San Francisco. I've signed up for SCUBA lessons and in November I'm going to visit my sister and Jack Bradley in Australia - I promise not to leave before climbing into a shark cage and seeing a Great White swim by. And by the time you read this, it'll be a week since I crossed #8 off my list.


Matt would love to be George Plimpton...welll, except for the being dead part. He supplies the doing and the writing. All he asks of you is the reading.

more about matt morin


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published: 5.24.02

how intrepid changed my life
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topic: general
published: 9.18.02


robert melos
2.14.03 @ 1:35a

A few points.
1. If you've met with a Realtor, you've already been in the presence of a shark.
2. If you're waiting for someone to apply for the position of wife, I hope you're offering some great benefits, including dental, and plenty of vacation time.
3. Where's the tat? What is it? Very cool.

I like the gist of the column. I was never good at goals and lists. I did manage to write two books, now getting people to buy them is another goal.

erik myers
2.14.03 @ 7:39a

Yeah! Where's the tat? What'd you get?

tracey kelley
2.14.03 @ 9:55a

I know what it is...and I know where it is...'n I'm not tellin'.

I think the list idea is cool. If anything, it just allows you to dream for a little while.

I think Jack wrote a column a year or so ago about living life right now, instead of next year or "sometime." While some things do requiring planning (purchasing a home, owning a business) other things are just a matter of saying "yes" "no" or "how 'bout tomorrow?"


sarah ficke
2.14.03 @ 9:57a

Matt, tell us what and where or we'll send Heather to find out!

heather millen
2.14.03 @ 11:57a

Ha ha....I already know! Mostly because Matt and I were exchanging stories. Must've been something in the California air, as we got tattoos in the same week.

And for me, it was similar to what he discusses here too. I've known what I've wanted and where I've wanted it since I was 17. Finally I decided to put away my hesitations (Mostly, the pain, Man, THE PAIN!) and went ahead and did it.

I love it. And you know what, it didn't hurt a bit! Proving once again to throw caution to the wind and just do it. You only live once.

As for Matt's tat, can't wait to compare. But like Trace, I'll wait for him to tell ya!


sarah ficke
2.14.03 @ 12:01p


russ carr
2.14.03 @ 12:03p

Matt, lick 'n' stick "Hello Kitty" tattoos do not count.

adam kraemer
2.14.03 @ 12:08p

They do if you iron them on.

heather millen
2.14.03 @ 12:26p

So has anyone else gotten a tattoo? Or not necessarily that, but did something they'd wanted to do for a while and were so happy they finally did.

Share, people, share!

jael mchenry
2.14.03 @ 3:53p

Tat? No, no, no. I can't think of anything I love so much that I want a picture of it on me for the rest of my life.

michelle von euw
2.14.03 @ 4:19p

If I were to get one, it'd be a tiny little baseball on my lower back. I've been saying that since 1994, and I've yet to do it.

heather millen
2.14.03 @ 4:29p

Hey, I've been saying a star on the small of my back since about that year too! Never too late... ;)

Of course there are much bigger things on my "Infamous To Do List." Many that are a tad scarier than a little needle.


jael mchenry
2.14.03 @ 4:47p

My list is short.

a) Give the Commencement speech at Tufts.

b) Go to Australia.

c) Play Lola in "Damn Yankees."

You may think it odd that writing books and/or succeeding in the business world are absent from this list, but a) strongly implies that I'll have to do something awesome to get invited to do that speech. It's a short, but powerful, list.

russ carr
2.14.03 @ 5:33p

Come on, Jael... don't you need a Settler tattooed somewhere?

matt morin
2.14.03 @ 8:38p

I'm on vacation, so this will be quick.

The tattoo is an Alaskan/Pacific Northwest Native American design of an eagle in a circle (the sun). It's black and red and right inbetween my shoulder blades. It's big - about 4 inches across.

It took about 2 hours. No, it didn't hurt at all. (Really.)

And I love it.

Back on Tuesday night.

robert melos
2.14.03 @ 10:27p

I've wanted to get a tattoo for about 12 years, but I always thought it would hurt. I have this low pain threshold, that's why I can't listen to republican speeches for very long.

I know what I want, and where, but I also want a reputable artist to work on me.

Matt, your tattoo sounds cool. post a photo when you get back.

Heather, you post one too.


jack bradley
2.14.03 @ 11:23p

Love this column...LOVE it. And Matt? If you swim with a Great White while you're here, I'll go with you. That's on my list, too.

Oh, and my tattoo is in the same place yours is. It is a small emblem I drew when I was a teenager, then laminated and used as a bookmark for two decades. On my 35th birthday, I had it tattooed on my back. Loved the experience, and no regrets.

I'm looking forward to the shark thing.

jeffrey walker
2.16.03 @ 5:47p

I've had a tat since the early 90's.

If you buy a classic car, either:

A) spend the $10K or so to have it redone completely, or;

B) have an alternative way around. They'll fail you in ways you'd never imagine. But I still regret the day I sold my 1968 Camero.

Next vehicle on my list is a chopper (motorcycle, not aircraft).


wendy p
2.17.03 @ 9:11a

Jack and Matt.. if you two end up swimming with the sharks, can you at least arrange it with a group that will shoot video of it? Sharks aren't on my list, but I'd love to watch the two of you cross this one off your lists.

matt morin
2.18.03 @ 11:43a

What better way to kill time while waiting for a flight...

Jack, you're on. Get your SCUBA certification (if you don't already have it) and we'll shark dive! I've been looking into a few places that offer those trips.

matt morin
2.18.03 @ 10:49p

Ok, now that I'm home, let me respond to a few comments.

Robert - I found the design I wanted, then took it to 4 different tattoo shops and talked with 6 artists. One really stood out as far as his work and the questions/comments he had as we talked about the design. A good artist can make all the difference in the world.

Michelle - get it. The baseball would be cool.

Jeff - I really want a '55 Mercedes 300sl with the gullwing doors. However those run about 100k. I'll settle for a '64 Impala.

Everyone else - so? What's on your list of things you've always wanted to do?

jael mchenry
2.19.03 @ 3:18p

Russ: maybe Ivory, since the elephant would also represent Jumbo, my school mascot.

It's 1858 and I, Joan, have just signed a Mutual Protection Pact with Xerxes, and am marshalling up my Cavalry to go destroy the Germans.

Oh, wait, wrong column.

Matt -- if the timing weren't slightly off, I'd think that Fight Club picture was you after all.

matt morin
2.19.03 @ 6:49p

FYI: Thanks to Erik, my tattoo pictures will be available online soon. (As will post-Fight Club damage pictures.)

matt morin
2.20.03 @ 10:16p

Here's my tattoo for those who are interested. This picture was taken by the tattoo artist immediately after he was finished.

Special thanks goes to Erik for putting this photo online for me.


adam kraemer
2.20.03 @ 11:14p

I had to get five small tattoos when I had my radiation therapy, so I have five small blue dots on my body for life. I don't know if that really counts, though.

mike julianelle
2.22.03 @ 7:15p

Save a life? Don't wish to be in that sitch, but yeah, deliver if you are. Oh, and see a WS game, man. If you've got the money, you need to do it.

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