It was life as usual for Sebastian Terry… until tragedy struck. Now, having lived life according to a very personal bucket list, he reckons writing your own is a path to happiness.

It’s always hard to explain to someone exactly what I’ve chosen to do with my time on this planet. To an outsider, I am a young-ish Australian who has shirked responsibility in order to pursue a life of adventure, travel and fun. I’ve married a stranger in Vegas, skydived naked in France (yes, it was cold) and delivered a baby in the aptly named Canadian town of Regina (the place, as the locals joke, that rhymes with fun!).

The short answer is, I have a bucket list of 100 things to do before I die, and I’m going to tick them all off. But it’s a little more complicated than that.

At the age of 24, I was working in Canada when, late one night, I received a phone call. The news was not good; a close school friend, Chris, had passed away overnight during a silly party stunt gone wrong. The call stopped me in my tracks. I remember sitting there in the dark, grasping for reasons as to why this had happened, questioning everything that I knew. My purpose in the world. My passions in life. My pride at what I’d accomplished. But mainly, my thoughts boiled down to one simple question: if I was to die today, would I be happy?

Chris’ life was made up of all the things he loved. I believe he was happy. But I wasn’t.

Sure, I had a university degree – albeit in something that I still don’t understand – and a track record of doing all the things encouraged as sensible in life, but I had no idea who I was or what I loved. So I began writing. What kind of life would fundamentally enrich my sense of happiness? Though only half aware of what I was doing at the time, I was plotting a route on a map, writing the blueprint for a plan that would help me navigate to a happier life.

Ask most people what’s on their bucket list and inevitably, you’ll hear about their travel dreams. Particularly among Australians. Perhaps it’s because we’re constantly looking outward, a result of our isolation; perhaps it’s because, as a nation, we are young and therefore curious. I was never one of those people who want to visit 50 countries, just for the sake of doing so – that seemed a bit arbitrary to me – but different destinations, different contexts… travel made it onto my bucket list because I believe true discovery of ourselves is only accomplished by seeing and experiencing as much as we can. (Plus, a lot of the things I wanted to achieve just weren’t possible in Sydney.)

Number 33 on my list was to ride a tiny 100cc scooter across Australia. Up until that stage I’d only ever flown across our great country and I’d always wondered what the ground 30,000 feet beneath me looked, smelt and felt like. Breaking down on my scooter a few months later, halfway across the Nullarbor was perhaps not the ideal way to find this out, but it certainly answered my questions; the earth was red, the scent was warm and after hours of wrestling with my rear tyre, my numb backside told me that the ground was hard. The silence of the land I experienced at that moment was something I’d never witnessed before, either. Miraculously, riding away (at a top speed of 80 kilometres an hour), my smile beamed and my engine squealed in the knowledge that my trans-Australian journey had not only shown me a part of our country that I’d previously only heard about, but allowed an insight into the type of person I was; resilient, dedicated and mechanically inept. Tick!

On another occasion I decided to sleep on the streets of Sydney for a week (number 41). This consisted of walking out my front door and into the CBD with nothing but the clothes on my back. My plan, in the depths of Sydney winter, was simple: survive. Lining up at soup kitchens with hundreds of homeless people, begging for money and sleeping on the cold hard pavements put me so far out of my comfort zone that I couldn’t help but grow and learn. Homelessness was an issue I’d never thought about previously but it’s now something I’d like to try and assist. This is the benefit of travel, or in this case, adventure.

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do,” said Mark Twain. “So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.” I couldn’t agree more.

Australia is a country rife with beauty, uniqueness and opportunity; a more alluring backyard would be hard to find. (Though I would only recommend riding across it if you have a particularly resilient backside.)

Eight years on from starting my journey, I type this article from a plane headed to Sydney. I’ve completed 64 items, raising over $100,000 for Camp Quality in the process, through what is now a global audience on my website. My journey has allowed me to answer the very question that stumped me not so many years ago. I smile now, as I type this: am I happy? Yes!

These days, though, I find myself more interested in a different question, and one I hope you can answer well: What’s on your list?

You can read Sebastian’s story (and start your own list) at 100things.com.au

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