Before I die…

No, this isn’t me being morbid.  It’s the name of a global public art project, started two years ago in an abandoned neighbourhood in New Orleans.  It’s become a global phenomenon.

“It’s easy to get caught up in the day-to-day and forget what really matters to you” says Candy Chang, the founder of Before I Die.  She lost someone she loved very much, and struggled to maintain perspective.  She wanted to know what was important to the people around her, and she wanted to be reminded of it every single day.

So she painted the side of an abandoned house in New Orleans with chalkboard paint and stenciled it with the sentence “Before I die I want to _______.” The idea was simple: anyone walking by could pick up a piece of chalk, reflect on their lives, and share their personal aspirations in public space.

This paragraph, from her About page, explains it better than I ever could:

“It was all an experiment and I didn’t know what to expect. By the next day the wall was entirely filled out and it kept growing. Before I die I want to… sing for millions, see my daughter graduate, eat all the candy and sushi in the world, straddle the International Date Line, be someone’s cavalry, live off the grid, build a school, hold her one more time, abandon all insecurities, be completely myself…  People’s responses made me laugh out loud, tear up, and feel consolation during my own tough times. The wall transformed a neglected space into a constructive one. It helped us understand our neighbors in new and enlightening ways. It showed us we are not alone. It provided a contemplative space to restore perspective and remember why we want to be alive in the world today.”

San Francisco


What strikes me is that these arent the usual “bucket list” wishes that we’re all encouraged to make before we’re 30.  These aren’t about someone measuring success as seeing the Great Wall of China, or getting a top job, or earning millions.  These are a whole range of dreams, from “Before I die I want to fix myself” to “Before I die I want to make someone else’s life better” to “Before I die I want to save a life”.

There are dreams of finding someone with whom to start a family, dreams of being happy. dreams of making the world a better place.  There are walls all over the world.  And what strikes me is that we all want the same kinds of things.

Orlando, Florida

I’ve written before about how bucket lists and “things I HAVE to achieve before I am 40″ frustrate me.  They boil life down into a series of events to be crossed off a list.  You aren’t ever going to have “get a hug from the next-door neighbour’s kid” on that list, but that hug could make your week.   You’re not going to have “bake a cake for those guys at work who are really, really having a hard time” on your list but your response to their reaction is what you want to feel like all the time.

What these walls are about, what these sentiments require us to do, is to think big.  To not see life as a list of achievements but to vow to make changes to ourselves, to the way we operate.  To vow to make someone else’s life better.  To promise to spread joy.  To promise to look at the forest instead of continually banging your head against that same old tree.  To live much, love much, make some else happy.  Those are the kind of “bucket lists” we should be making.


When we build AOW B&B, we’ll obviously have such a wall, and you can come round and write on it to your hearts’ content.  For now, we’ll make do with the comments.

So, readers…what would you write?   This isn’t easy.  It takes guts, squeezing your eyes shut and praying that you don’t sound too American to write something like “Before I die I want to change the world”.  (That’s mine).

Categories: Life Experience, Written By Anna
69 interesting thoughts on this


  1. Vivienne
    Posted January 31, 2013 at 7:18 am | Permalink

    I think with AOW you have started to change the world a little already Anna.

    Before I die I want to teach my children to be brave.

    There has been so much I haven’t done, things I haven’t said and leaps I haven’t made, because of fear. I want them never to be scared to say yes, to say no, or to shut their eyes and go for it, if it’s something that will make their heart sing. I don’t want fear to hold them back – whether it be going down the really big slide at soft play, trying to make friends, moving to a different country, letting their hearts rule their heads over a career choice, or taking a risk with love. I’ll always be there to hold a hand if needed, but I hope the will feel loved and secure enough to make choices on their own.

    • Posted January 31, 2013 at 7:54 am | Permalink

      *love* this comment. I think I might have to use this as a starting point for mine too.

      Before I die I want to ensure my children are proud of who they are and see themselves as worthwhile for all the abilities they have and all the things they do rather than focussing on what they haven’t got or the things they aren’t so good at. I hope to encourage thrm to follow their dreams and take some risks – we only get one short life after all and it was made to be lived with our minds, hearts and arms wide open.

  2. Siobhan
    Posted January 31, 2013 at 7:27 am | Permalink

    Mine was change the world for the longest time but I got quite disillusioned.

    You are changing the world with any other woman.

    Two competing things came to mind with this. Have a family. Live by the water/sea. And then somewhere quietly putting its hand up gingerly in the back of my mind “be the me I’ve always felt I could be”. No idea how to do that whispered dream, the others aren’t straightforward either. But just writing them here? Its pretty liberating. Thank you.

  3. Posted January 31, 2013 at 7:33 am | Permalink

    ‘Dont sound too American’ ? Sorry, AK but I hate that!

    Anyway, I think mine would be ‘make a meaningful contribution to a cause I believe in’.

    • Posted January 31, 2013 at 7:52 am | Permalink

      The British are often very embarrassed at making big passionate statements. They need to get better!

      • Posted January 31, 2013 at 7:58 am | Permalink

        But Americans don’t really do that either!

        • Posted January 31, 2013 at 8:59 am | Permalink

          I think they’re much brave at making bold statements, and being proud to make big, passionate, courageous speeches. Think of Presidential speeches vs Prime Ministerial ones for an example of what’s seen as palatable to both nations, they’re incomparable! Studies have shown that bold, passionate speeches like Obama’s would bomb in the UK. We in the UK should shrug off our collective sense that being bold, or making statements like “i want to change the world ” is somehow self promoting or worthy of ridicule. I’m obviously not speaking for every Brit, but many!

          • Posted January 31, 2013 at 4:13 pm | Permalink

            But that’s just political rhetoric. And actually I think behind the bluster a lot of statements aren’t so bold: “maybe we’ll restrict your ability to buy certain types of assault rifles”, “we’ll reform healthcare so you have to buy insurance, but don’t worry, we’re not instituting universal healthcare”.
            I guess we just have opposing views on this, but too frequently I see Brits (including myself) using “American” as a synonym for some show of excess or self-promotion. Americans really aren’t like that (in my experience)

  4. Posted January 31, 2013 at 7:41 am | Permalink

    On the Philadelphia wall, someone wrote ‘eat 30 cheeseburgers’ which, I have to admit, I kind of admire.

    • Posted January 31, 2013 at 8:59 am | Permalink

      I have a lot of time for this guy!

      K x

      • Posted January 31, 2013 at 9:07 am | Permalink

        This has prompted me to consider a cheeseburger for breakfast.

        • Posted January 31, 2013 at 11:10 am | Permalink

          I think my little brother may have already attempted this challenge with his friends. It didn’t end well.

          • Amanda M
            Posted January 31, 2013 at 1:43 pm | Permalink

            It kind of depends whether it’s all at once or over time – be it weeks, months or years!

  5. Posted January 31, 2013 at 7:51 am | Permalink

    Mine, I think, would just be ‘make a difference’.

    I’m not sure how yet, or to whom, but if there’s one thing I really really want to do before I die that is to make a difference, an impact. It might be small, or it might be huge, only time will tell that but when I’m old and grey (if I get that far) I want to be able to look back and say that I changed something for the better.

    L x

    • Posted January 31, 2013 at 8:58 am | Permalink

      Have you thought about volunteering/mentoring Laura? Sure you’d be fab! There are loads of charities and projects where your very many skills could be very valuable.
      I had a massive ‘made a difference’ moment a couple of weeks ago when some research came out to say that the smoking ban had reduced childhood asthma – because I was working for the british lung foundation when we were campaigning for the ban – it felt amazing to see that long term impact.

      • Posted January 31, 2013 at 9:27 am | Permalink

        The only think I know how to do is raise money by running at the moment (Hence Marathon running for Cancer Research UK. *insert shameless donation request here – visit my blog for just giving page*)
        I travelled to Madagascar 5 years ago and helped to build a school & teach children about hygeine but would love to do something closer to home – I just wouldn’t know where to start. If all I do is run and fundraise, that’s a good start :)

        • Posted January 31, 2013 at 9:50 am | Permalink

          Sounds like you’re already doing great!

  6. Leni
    Posted January 31, 2013 at 8:03 am | Permalink

    Have not heard of this before and love it! Thanks Anna.

    Before I die I want to have helped make someone’s life better. Hopefully more than one person, but even if its only one……

    Not sure how to do this yet but I think through lots of the AoW posts you are doing this.

    There is a blog called “Life as a Widower”. I read it every day (like AoW). I don’t know Ben, the man who writes i,t but I really think he is making so many people’s lives better (maybe better isn’t the right word…. less lonely, or isolating, or rawly painful?) at a time when most people want to curl up into a ball and tell the world to do one. He has been on Breakfast TV recently and there is an article about his blog and the story behind it in the Guardian.

    My gosh Anna…… How to make a girl realise there are many more important things to think about at 8am than whether I have time to do my photocopying before staff meeting! x

    • Posted January 31, 2013 at 9:02 am | Permalink

      Leni, I’ll be reading that blog ALL DAY.

      And you should tell him what you said about him above. That’s incredible.

      • Rach M
        Posted January 31, 2013 at 11:11 am | Permalink

        Ladies, I read that story about Ben the Widower on the Guardian website the week before last.Not sure if we can post links here, but if so, here it is:

        I have been thinking about it ever since. It’s an almost unbearable read. Ps This post is great, has really got me thinking! x

        • Posted January 31, 2013 at 1:34 pm | Permalink

          Very few things bring me to tears on the Internet (I know. I am heartless and miserable), but I genuinely dissolved into floods reading that amazing piece in the Guardian, and then reading his blog. How that man has the strength to get up in the morning and face the day is beyond me, let alone write so eloquently and honestly about it. Thank you for posting it ladies xx

    • Posted January 31, 2013 at 1:29 pm | Permalink

      I’ve just read every post on his blog this morning, had to struggle to keep the tears back at my desk!! xox

  7. Crysta
    Posted January 31, 2013 at 8:10 am | Permalink

    Before I die I want to learn to accept myself for who I am.

    And yes, you are changing the world, Anna.

    • Posted January 31, 2013 at 9:32 am | Permalink

      I love this. I hope you do x

    • Posted January 31, 2013 at 10:52 am | Permalink

      Crysta, that’s a bloody brilliant one. The first sentence. I now want that to be mine, too! But more than “accept”…I’d have “be unapologetic for who I am”

      • Posted January 31, 2013 at 12:31 pm | Permalink

        You can have more than one can’t you? I just feel a lack of acceptance drives my fears and worries, and often stops me from taking risks. I did think of “make a difference” and “change the world” but I have to agree with others that if we’re generally good people, we probably do that anyway, even if it’s just in a little way.

  8. Mahj
    Posted January 31, 2013 at 8:43 am | Permalink

    Before I die, I’d like to change someone’s life for the better. I don’t know whether this will be in a small or big way but if I get the chance, that’s what I’ll do.

    Lovely post K.


  9. Posted January 31, 2013 at 8:53 am | Permalink

    I really want to go and see one of these walls! Might have to look up where that SF one is.
    Mine is move to the seaside.

    • Posted January 31, 2013 at 9:01 am | Permalink

      There are some in the UK too Amy!

      • Posted January 31, 2013 at 9:02 am | Permalink

        OK just seen the link *facepalm* – going to browse and pick one to go to.

  10. Posted January 31, 2013 at 8:55 am | Permalink

    This is really lovely I enjoyed reading though the site.

    I think mine would be live abroad and do something meaningful (whether that is haber a family or find a satisfying careeer or both)

  11. Posted January 31, 2013 at 8:58 am | Permalink

    To live life without fear.

    THAT was hard to type. I wanted to type ‘help people’ or ‘make a difference’ because mine seems selfish, but I truly believe that everyone makes a difference in their life. We often have no comprehension of the value and importance of simple acts of kindness, and anyone who loves and is loved in return, by friends or family or children in any way at all, is making a difference to someone’s life. Everyone who has written make a difference, change the world, or make someone’s life better above, I want you to know that you already have, you already do, you’re all so amazing, it’s obvious. Most of you have made MY life better at least once. And I don’t mean that it isn’t a good thing to have written, they’re fantastic aims, there’s so much generosity of spirit, I just want you all to know that you’re already doing better than you think. You make much more of a positive difference to the world and people around you than you realise.

    Okay I just got super-overemotional. Good times.

    K x

    • Posted January 31, 2013 at 9:00 am | Permalink

      You’re the least selfish person KL! (says the girl whose goal is to live somewhere pretty where she can surf every day)

      • Posted January 31, 2013 at 9:13 am | Permalink

        My lifelong ambition is to somehow persuade my entire family and Gareth’s family to move to Cornwall so I can open a teashop/bookshop there, and walk on the cliffs everyday.

        K x

        • Sandie
          Posted January 31, 2013 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

          Can I come too? x

    • Posted January 31, 2013 at 9:15 am | Permalink

      You honest to goodness just said what I was thinking about making a difference and changing the world. Everyone makes a difference to someone, and changes the world for somebody. I’d second the fact that you’ve all done the above for me. Including you, Katie.

      And I don’t think your goal is selfish at all. I think it’s wonderful.

    • Posted January 31, 2013 at 3:45 pm | Permalink

      Your words made me rather over-emotional too Katie.

      I don’t think it (or you) are selfish. Or at least not selfish in a bad way. I think we can be interested in ourselves without it being to the detriment of others or without there being no space to care about others.

      More to say on this but it keeps coming out wrong, gah! xx

  12. Posted January 31, 2013 at 9:13 am | Permalink

    Mine would be ‘stop worrying’.

    Like Katie, I feel bad for not having something that would be less ‘for me’ but I spend my life worrying about the destination while on the journey and then worrying about the journey back whilst at the destination (metaphorically and literally!). It ends up where I often don’t enjoy things or allow myself to be happy because I’m too busy worrying about what might happen.

    I have very real anxiety issues but the fact this is my answer makes me realise I should go back to trying to do something about them rather than ignoring them.

    I wasn’t expecting that on a Thursday morning!

    • Posted January 31, 2013 at 9:36 am | Permalink

      Good luck with it – I found counselling and CBT really helpful with my anxiety, them and time as it took time to sink in. It still comes back sometimes but the main thing I’m learning is not to get anxious about being anxious if that makes any sense?

    • Posted January 31, 2013 at 9:47 am | Permalink

      I would also have put this, but am struggling so much to actually deal with it/find anything that helps I don’t think mine will ever go away. I find it more helpful (for me I must stress) to focus on other things that aren’t me.

      • Posted January 31, 2013 at 10:21 am | Permalink

        I worked on mine for years and it got a lot better but then I had a life-changer of a trauma that brought it all back (and then some) – for me it works best to address it head on but I’ve been putting off because I’m worried about it.

        It’s a vicious cycle!

        • Posted January 31, 2013 at 1:36 pm | Permalink

          Fee, I think you seem really strong. And it’s amazing that you’ve realised you might need to take action – I know when I did this a few years ago I found it really empowering. And please remember we are all here should you need us (you too Laura).

    • Posted January 31, 2013 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

      I really identify with this as well Fee. I’m so terrified of the future right now that I’m stalling and trying to avoid it but of course that doesn’t work and the you’ve put yourself in a position where the things you’re scared of are more likely to come true.

      Sorry, a bit cryptic and self-involved!

      Sending you love and strength (now a bit twee, ha) xx

    • Posted January 31, 2013 at 5:26 pm | Permalink

      I’m with you on this one as well Fee, seemed to be wracked with anxiety at the moment, seems to be as I make progress to deal with it, it is getting worse, or I am becoming more aware!

      It’s nice to hear I’m not alone with struggling with this, Love to you all xoxo

  13. Lee-Anne
    Posted January 31, 2013 at 9:37 am | Permalink

    Leni, that’s me getting no work done today now as I read that blog.

    Katielase, that’s my dream – Move to St Ives and open up a bookshop with a tearoom attached. Will probably need to wait until I’m 65 and retired but I am going to try my hardest to make it happen.

    Before I die I want to see my daughter grow up into a strong and independent woman who is happy in herself. I have always felt like I don’t quite belong and that I’m not good enough, pretty enough or smart enough and I do not want my daughter to feel like that ever. I hope that I can teach her to believe in herself and to take chances and make sure she lives her life to the full.

    Oh and I also want to feed a Giraffe.


  14. Posted January 31, 2013 at 9:54 am | Permalink

    I would say before I die I want to have been there for my parents, my (not yet) husband and my (as yet nonexistent) children.

    This is very selfish. Basically I don’t want to die young and live a good life. The idea of leaving Dan behind or young children I really hate..

    If I was bring unselfish I would say I want to get at least some more people to recognise climate change and do something about it. But I did a geography degree and work in energy, so hopefully I am a little.

  15. Lucy S
    Posted January 31, 2013 at 10:16 am | Permalink

    Before I die, I would like to make sure that those I love really know how very much I do love them- through actions and not just words alone.

    Hopefully, I won’t die until there are a few new (and little!) people included in that.

    Great post. xxx

  16. Posted January 31, 2013 at 11:18 am | Permalink

    Before I die I want to be content.

    I am content at the moment, I should add. But in a whole lifetime I don’t think you can’t be content all the time. I think as long as I can die knowing I’m at peace with how it all worked out, I’ll go peacefully. I can’t ask for more.

    Although living by the sea would be nice too.

  17. Posted January 31, 2013 at 11:19 am | Permalink

    There’s a can’t that should be a can, there. Oops.

  18. Kandra
    Posted January 31, 2013 at 11:26 am | Permalink

    Love this post. Mine is very selfish I think. I would like to learn to live for me rather than others. Of course I still want to be there for everyone in my life and make a difference, but I am a hopeless people pleaser and everything from where I live to the job I do is not what I want but what others wanted.
    To be able to say I really lived my life I need the courage to make it MY life.

  19. ClaireH
    Posted January 31, 2013 at 12:38 pm | Permalink

    I think mine would ‘before I die, I want to be the best that I can be’ and know that I’ve given it my all and been the best girlfriend, daughter, sister, friend, colleague (and hopefully one day wife and mum) that I can be. Not to be a pushover and always put others first by any means but to know, when I’m old and grey, that I’ve been supportive, not intentionally hurt anyone and always tried to do what I’ve felt is the best option at the time.

    I am definitely failing at being the best sister I can be, so maybe I should start there.

  20. Abi Cowley
    Posted January 31, 2013 at 1:19 pm | Permalink

    Before I die I want to help someone turn their life around, through encouraging them to get education, helping with CV & Interview preparations and generally just keeping someone motivated when they loss their way….
    This is where you all tell me where I can volunteer to do this… THANKS ;-)

    oh and write a book. and try and find a job that I love… still trying to work out what that could be.

    • Posted January 31, 2013 at 1:38 pm | Permalink

      Maybe speak to connexions?

      • Abi Cowley
        Posted January 31, 2013 at 3:05 pm | Permalink

        Thanks Amy – I’ll have a look, but have feeling we don’t have that in Wales ;-) x

        • Beth
          Posted January 31, 2013 at 10:43 pm | Permalink

          Hi Abi, I went to a session at the School of Life called… wait for it… ‘how to find a job you love’ and it was very inspiring. It’s in London so perhaps not practical as you’re Wales based but I think they have just produced a series of books that could be worth a look; also it drew heavily on a book by Po Bronson. I really enjoyed it; it’s all about realising your hopes and aspirations by lots of little actions and experiments rather than the pressure of big, drastic leaps. Really recommend London based AOWers che k out their website… Lots of cool events including secular Sunday sermons. And they serve yummy cake!

          Further tangental thought January Red mag has a great piece at the back called ‘Flourish’ which is essentially a survey of the positive psychology movement. Lots of food for thought.


          • Helena
            Posted February 1, 2013 at 10:44 am | Permalink

            Thank you, that sounds like just what I need at the moment :-) . I will have a look at it.

            • Beth
              Posted February 1, 2013 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

              So worth it! Promise you won’t regret it! :)

  21. Posted January 31, 2013 at 3:33 pm | Permalink

    Before I die I want to feel satisfaction at a life well-lived.

    For me, this would mean a mixture of happiness, contentment, self-acceptance, “making a difference” and love of course so I suppose I’m cheating a little.

    Loved this post and everyone’s answers. I want to hug you all xx

    • Posted January 31, 2013 at 5:21 pm | Permalink

      Thanks :) I do love a random virtual hug…less creepy than in real life :)

  22. Posted January 31, 2013 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

    THIS is my eternal problem. I am far too wordy. I annoy myself. I read over my book swap questionnaire after being matched to my (very eloquent and concise) partner and cringed so much at my own answers!

    • Posted January 31, 2013 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

      Ha ha, I’m used to 4 minute long pocket calls from my mom so that would probably be a welcome change!

      I leave rubbish voicemails where I just state the obvious (Hi, it’s Lara. Um I was trying to call you but you’re not there). Yes, well done, have a prize love.

      • Crysta
        Posted January 31, 2013 at 8:10 pm | Permalink

        I sing songs to my friends until they pick up…sometimes when I have a song in my head, I call them on purpose when I know they can’t pick up, just so I have someone to sing the song to.

        Crazy lady here…

        • Crysta
          Posted January 31, 2013 at 8:11 pm | Permalink

          By sing till they pick up, I mean I sing on their voice mail until they answer…

  23. Alex
    Posted January 31, 2013 at 5:27 pm | Permalink

    Before I die I want to live to a ripe old age and be laid with my wonderful husband reminiscing about our amazing life, beautiful memories and experiences and all the love we have known through our families and friends.

    I realise this may sound cringy, but that would be make me really happy. I don’t think I am going to change the world or do anything incredibly inspirational to others but if my life is full and complete in the ways that make me and those around me happy…I’m pretty sure I will die happy.

    Perhaps I should also learn to write shorter sentences?? I have time yet!
    Love reading everyone else’s comments and I am about to venture onto the aformentioned blog and probably become addicted to something else!


  24. Carly
    Posted January 31, 2013 at 8:41 pm | Permalink

    Before I die I want to do what makes me happy and travel the road I want to travel without worrying what everybody else thinks.


  25. Beth
    Posted February 1, 2013 at 8:14 am | Permalink

    Thanks Anna so much for sharing this – so brilliant and thought provoking. I fell asleep last night still thinking about this and woke up thinking before I die I want to have laughed with others more than i’ve cried for myself.

    I love everyone’s comments – as ever so comforting and wise.

    Lots of Friday AOW love. Hoping the book I ordered in a flash of inspiration for bookswap will arrive today! So desperate for my swapee to like it X

    • Helena
      Posted February 1, 2013 at 10:49 am | Permalink

      Yes, this! I’ve read through all these comments and recognised so much of what people have said and share the same thoughts myself (wanting to help others, change the world, even having a tearoom by the sea!!) but this is the wish that has resonated the most with me. And is so much better articulated than I would have managed!

  26. Zan
    Posted February 1, 2013 at 9:34 am | Permalink

    So I’ve been thinking about this for a full 24 hours now… and I’m still a bit unsure! There are many things I wanted to do that I’ve done and I’m probably in the best place now in my life than I’ve ever been.

    But, I guess I’d want to be able to look back on my life before I die and say that I lived a ‘good’ life, whatever that means to me at the time. No one is perfect after all, but if I can say I did more good than bad and helped people and maybe made a bit of a difference in some way and loved and was loved…well that’d be grand :)

  27. Sandie
    Posted February 2, 2013 at 11:28 am | Permalink

    I too have been thinking about this for a couple of days.

    Before I die, I want to learn to let go of the negative, and embrace the positive. I spend far too much time worrying, feeling stressed about work and thinking about things I haven’t done. I have so much to be thankful for, and must learn to appreciate all I have.

    I fear it may take the rest of my life to achieve!!


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