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The Buried Life: Living the list of a lifetime

By Jonnie Penn on February 1st, 2008 •

This is the story of four guys on a mission to complete a list of "100 things to do before you die" and to help and encourage others to go after their own lists. It's taken 20 months, 7,000 miles, 2 countries, 1 robbery, 12 hours of silence, 1 MTV video music awards crashing, 2 hospital visits, 1 graduation, 1 night in a haunted house, 4 hours of bull riding, and a passionate rendition of our national anthem in front of 20,000 people to get here, but now #56, Write an Article for a Major Publication, is officially off the list! This is the story of The Buried Life told by one of the guys who started it all...

  • The Buried Life
  • The Buried Life
  • The Buried Life
  • The Buried Life
  • The Buried Life
  • The Buried Life
  • The Buried Life
The birth of The Buried Life

The Buried Life--a soon-to-be-released feature-length documentary and an online community centered around the question, "what do you want to do before you die?"--began in a garage in 2006. Dave Lingwood and I were leaving our high school break-dancing days behind to start college in Montreal. Duncan Penn, my older brother, and Ben Nemtin, his rugby teammate, were working and studying in Victoria, BC, our hometown.

We ended up on the phone together one day because, like most our age, we had no idea what to do with our lives. Overwhelmed by school, work, family and life in general, we wanted to create something new, but we didn't know what. Everywhere we looked the media was claiming that our generation was fat, lazy and violent. A long look at our friends and ourselves, however, suggested something different. Underneath our generation's seeming sluggishness lay an often-untapped potential that was, for some reason or another, "buried."

To uncover the truth, we decided to write a list of all the things we wanted most in life--all the things we wanted to experience and achieve before we died -- and do them. We promised that for everything we were able to complete, we would help a stranger do something on their list. And every new place we went, we'd ask the question, "what do you want to do before you die?"

That summer, Dave worked three jobs in Calgary, Duncan and I labored in the Arctic oil fields, and Ben used a phone book to cold call local companies and ask for their support. Together we raised enough funds to take two weeks off work and drive 2,000 miles in a borrowed Winnebago to accomplish 24 items on our list. Such dreams as Open the Six O'Clock News (#1), Kick a Field Goal in a Stadium (#12), Get a Tattoo (#3), and Kiss the Stanley Cup (#39) were crossed off the list--things we had dreamed of doing our whole lives, but had put off or forgotten because they seemed impossible.

We also managed to help strangers we met on the streets, in cafés, and through our website (theburiedlife.com) with their dreams. We set up a recovered drug addict with a truck for his first business, helped a mother and son kiss the Stanley Cup, and got a group of street kids into their first concert to see Rob Zombie.

The Buried Life--stage two

Before we knew it, MTV was knocking on our door about a potential reality show. With a desire to go in our own direction and not yet ready to give up our commitment to complete our film, we returned home to make a stunning realization--we weren't the only ones feeling "buried." Emails from people around the world asking for and offering help showed us that becoming "unburied" and pursuing one's dreams are desires shared by people from all walks of life. So we decided to keep going... BIGGER.

One year later, with a new website, a 1968 purple biodiesel bus donated by Levi's, and a professional film crew, we set out into the world once again. This fall, with cameras in tow, we traveled 5,000 miles through five western states and fought to complete more items on our list. We Slept in a Haunted House (#45), Learned How To Surf (#92) and managed to Sing the National Anthem (#35) in front of 20,000 people at a sold-out Suns vs. Sonics game. Dave and Duncan completed #8 Ride a Bull, and with some crafty moves and matching women's suits, we snuck all the way into the MTV Video Music Awards and asked Akon, 50 Cent and Kelis, "what do you want to do before you die?"

To give back, we helped a lonely man in San Francisco cope with a terminal illness by brightening his meager apartment with plants, paintings, and a new bed. We taught break-dancing classes to a woman in Idaho; bought computers for an in-need school in Compton, CA; set up typing lessons for a truck-stop waitress aspiring to be a writer in Las Vegas; and on the last day of the tour in Seattle, took a group of deserving kids with health issues on a shopping spree at Toys "R" Us. It was these events, more than the completion of our own dreams, that became the defining moments of the tour. The feeling of making a true difference in someone else's life was far more satisfying than anything we accomplished on our own list.

The future of The Buried Life

Our quest to complete all 100 items on our list continues. More and more people are joining The Buried Life Social Network online to share their life-list with the world. They post photos, videos and blogs of their adventures, and see what their friends want to do. The next time you're with friends, ask yourselves this, "what do we want to do before we die?" Which issues will define us most as a generation and what challenges will we overcome together?

brass wisely recommends that you invest money to build wealth. Likewise, we recommend that you invest time to enjoy success. Invest time in people, in education, in travel, and in fixing the wrongs in the world--like nuclear proliferation, climate change, racism, AIDS, and hunger. Invest time in writing a list and invest time in completing it.

Our experience is proof that these investments payoff. Being invited to write this article and finally crossing off #56 on our list is just another example.

It all starts with you and one simple question, "what do you want to do before you die?"