Embracing life with a bucket list

Posted at 3:59 PM, Jul 10, 2015
and last updated 2015-07-10 15:59:13-04

(CNN) — At 23, Laura Lawson was miserable, living off of junk food, drinking on the weekends and avoiding social situations. At nearly 200 pounds, she didn’t recognize herself in the mirror.

Bullying had caused her to drop out of school at 15. Beyond being called a nerd for playing in orchestra and having good grades, Lawson was “threatened, tripped up, stolen from, pushed and made to feel like nothing.”

Other students threw her clothes in the shower during gym. Even though her parents were supportive, Lawson started missing classes to avoid her bullies. She eventually left school.

“I knew I was capable of a lot more than I was doing and had been stuck in a rut: Work, sleep, Xbox,” Lawson said. “The thought of being on my death bed — having spent my whole life like I had been — scared me and I wanted no regrets.”

Lawson was looking for something that could turn her life around. When a roommate suggested they try bungee jumping, she initially said no. But watching the film “Yes Man” gave Lawson the push she needed and she started to say “yes” to life again.

Bungee jumping was just the beginning.

“What a rush!” Lawson wrote in her iReport. “Why hadn’t I done this before? It made me realize all the other life experiences I had been missing out on.” While preparing for her bungee jump, Lawson came across the idea of bucket lists and decided to make a small list of cheap and local things she could do on her own.

She ran her first race, dyed her hair pink, learned how to cook and started growing her own vegetables. The list expanded to include places she wanted to see, foods to taste, what she had always wanted to do and the fears she wanted to conquer.

Her list isn’t what you would call “typical.” And three years later, it has grown to include 350 items. Lawson estimates that she has crossed off around 150 so far.

“I have no plans to climb Mount Everest or run a marathon,” she said. “There was no point adding things that didn’t interest me or I have no intention of doing. By starting to say yes to opportunities, I have had so many amazing experiences I would have missed out on if I continued living as I did.”

She has met countless, “amazing” people by pushing herself to try new things, like roller derby and burlesque classes. Being active and learning to cook healthy meals helped her lose 45 pounds, improving her health and confidence. In between life-changing experiences, Lawson took time to study, which helped her become more qualified for better jobs and as a result, she started a new career.

“Mainly, I’ve learned to be happy with who I am and not just to ‘fit in’ with what is expected,” she said.

One of her favorite experiences has been flying a small plane. Lawson loves being up in the air, and she’ll never forget the view or sitting in the pilot’s seat. Next at the top of the list for Lawson is “wing walking,” or standing on top of a flying plane.

On a deeper level, Lawson is also partial to the time that she performed in a play. Because of her low confidence, it was something Lawson never thought she would have the nerve to do. She was offered the chance to be a zombie extra, performing in front of 200 people for three nights.

“The old me would have made up some kind of excuse and turned it down, but with my ‘say yes’ approach to life, I decided to go for it,” she said. “This experience helped bring me out of my shell and has definitely contributed to my increased confidence.”

Lawson’s friends have witnessed her personality and outlook on life shift in a positive direction. Her family and friends now describe her as “more confident, happier and a little crazy.”

“They wouldn’t have expected the old Laura to zip line over alligators, swim with sharks, parasail down waterfalls or any of the other amazing experiences I’ve had in the last few years,” she said.

Lawson also married the love of her life in between bucket list experiences. They met at the end of 2010 and had their wedding in Las Vegas in 2014, sky diving together the day after. They often complete her bucket list items together.

Lawson hopes that by sharing her adventures and her growing bucket list that it will help to inspire others who feel like she did three years ago. After her own eye-opening experience, Lawson wants to encourage others to take charge of their lives.

“Say yes to life more,” she said. “Don’t wait until it’s too late to do everything you want to do. Take a chance and enjoy your life, as you only get one.”