It Is Better To Give Than To Receive (On Bucket Lists)

Craig Gross
Oct 22, 2019 · 7 min read

“It is more blessed to give than to receive.” — Jesus

Years ago, when my dad was still alive, my uncle wrote him a letter for Christmas:

Hey, Chip!

Last year, we took a trip with the whole family. It was a bucket-list type trip. I want you and your family to take a bucket-list trip, too. Anywhere you want.

Send me the details, and I will arrange what is needed.


I already wrote about what became of our trip to the 49ers vs. Giants Super Bowl rivalry in a previous chapter. The reason I revisit it here at all is that the gift my Uncle Bill was able to give my dad sparked something inside of me that said, “I can’t wait until the day I can do that for someone.”

One of my favorite authors is an entrepreneur named James Altucher. In 2015, he wrote a blog titled The Ultimate Guide For Becoming An Idea Machine and challenged his audience to write a daily list of “ten things,” whatever they might be.

Ideas. Goals. Desires.

Fun things. Work-related things.

Realistic things. Absurd things.

It didn’t matter. You just had to make a list, ten “things” long, every day.

I, of course, turned the challenge into a contest among my group of friends, to see who would do it for the most extended amount of time. Some people turned the challenge into a blog series. Some journaled their lists in a private notebook.

My wife chose the latter. She never shared her lists, publicly, and because they were more “out of sight, out of mind,” I didn’t read them until years later. When I finally took a peek, I saw lists titled Ten Places I’d Want To Go or Ten Bucket List Items and thought, “Wait, you want to do this stuff?”

Why didn’t she ever tell me?

And then I thought, “Alright, time to start fulfilling these dreams.”

Thanks to one list, I surprised her with a trip to Niagara Falls and SNL for her birthday. Thanks to another, I discovered she wanted to watch the ball drop in Times Square, NYC, for New Years. We turned that into a family/anniversary trip last winter.

I just started knocking off as much as I was able to.

It occurred to me, through that experience, how fun it was to have a bucket list at all. I would never have given Nolan his wristwatch had it not been for his list.

I get excited about seeing other people get excited.

The trip my uncle afforded my dad and I inspired our family to pay his kindness forward to one of our friends — David Dean. In 2016, the Cubs made it to the World Series for the first time in over one-hundred years. I don’t know a bigger fan than David, so we sent him, his dad, and his son to the game. His wife sent us a videotape of him opening the letter with the tickets, and watching his disbelief turn to joy stirred something inside of me that I’ll never be able to describe.

All I knew is that all I wanted to give that to people as often as I could. More and more. I wanted to keep fulfilling people’s bucket lists.

Our friend Sam Parsons lost his wife in May 2018. Days later, he was diagnosed with stage four pancreatic cancer. While we were visiting him and his family, I found out that his daughter is a huge Steelers fan. During our conversation, she said, verbatim, “Heinz Field is a bucket list.” At that point, it was settled: they were going. I knew that I wanted to make that dream come true, and seeing the photos of father-and-daughter surprised with a trip to the game was priceless. Actually, “priceless” doesn’t do it justice, either, but I’m not sure what word would.

When Jeff Bethke and I started our mastermind group for social media influencers, I met a couple who Jeanette and I offered to mentor. My thought — when meeting the husband, Neal — was, “this kid is just like me.” Come to find out, not only are we similar, but so was his relationship with his dad much like mine had been — the communication needed work.

Neal lives in Toronto and is a Raptor’s fan. When the team made it to the playoffs, my son said that he wished we could get him a pair of the Raptor’s Air Jordan’s. I said, “What do you mean, ‘wish?’ We can do anything we want as long as we can afford it. Do you know what would be better than a pair of Jordan’s, though? To send him to the game.”

As it turns out, Neal’s dad is a Raptors fan, too. We bought them tickets to the first night of the Toronto vs. The Golden State Warriors series, and even though I’m a NorCal fan, I loved Toronto for the first time in my life. Nolan and I sent them a video announcing our gift and received one in return, full of excitement and tears.

Then we got the video of Neal calling his dad to invite him to the game.

Then we watched the video of them at the game, together.

Then Neal watched every game of the series with his dad, sporting NBA Finals hats he had bought them at Game 1. They spent more quality time together during those two playoff weeks than they had the entire year prior.

I can’t describe how sweet it is to see a son reconnected his father, thanks — in large part — to a bucket-list dream he never thought possible, fulfilled.

I went to a championship game with my dad when I was a kid. Lakers vs. Celtics. Neither of us even cared about those teams, but it was such a rivalry. Years ago, when he was still alive, I surprised him with Father’s Day trip to the NBA Finals.

What I’m trying to say is: it was incredible.

I laughed telling Levi about all of these trips for this chapter, saying, “I don’t know how to describe it to someone who isn’t a sports fan.” But he gets it. I’ve taken him to Coachella with Nolan and me three years in a row now. When the festival announced Eminem as 2018’s headliner, he just about cried. He grew up listening to The Real Slim Shady and told me about the first time he heard Marshall Mathers’ songs in a department store with his mom. When he was in high school, they’d drive around together, listening to Encore, while Levi described linguistics to her, and how Eminem’s lyrical creativity and structure began to influence his journey into a career as a writer and performer. It was so good I surprised him with a trip to Bonnaroo so we could watch him a second time during the summer festival circuit.

Levi said, “Eminem’s been at the top of my bucket list for my whole life. I never thought I’d get to him live.” He got to see him twice.

If Jeanette were to write about why she never shared her bucket list with me, she would say, “I never believed that what I wrote down was possible.” But she’s married to someone who believes anything is possible. I love instilling that belief in others.

It’s never been about the trips or gifts. It’s about the why or the who behind them.

To give to your friends, or your spouse, or your son, or your daughter, or your parents, or whoever it may be…there’s nothing like it. There’s nothing better than it.

And you never know what might happen. A basketball game might transform an entire family dynamic. It might just restore a broken relationship.

The point of this is not what I have done for others. The point is to reiterate, again and again, and again: anything is possible.

Make dreams — and fulfilling those dreams — a part of what you’re about. What your family is about. What your relationships are about.

Because at the end of the day, relationships are what it’s all about.

I was pissed when Toronto beat the Warriors before I remembered Neal popping champagne and celebrating with his dad. Now that my dad is gone, I’m jealous of that kind of celebration but so thankful to know that they get to enjoy it together.

To be able to give an experience like that to someone, and to be in a marriage with a woman who is seeing dreams become realities — that’s what it’s about.

Find dreams that have the opportunity to bring people together and fulfill them.

Create experiences that excite and unite people.

Make a bucket list. Start fulfilling it.

Better yet, make someone else’s dreams into realities. I promise it will be as much or more a gift to you as it is to the one receiving what you have to give.

It is more blessed to give than to receive.

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Craig Brain

Craig Brain is not your brain or my brain, but neither must…

Craig Brain

Craig Brain is not your brain or my brain, but neither must unity be predicated upon uniformity. This is an invitation for you to take a peek inside the gross (pun intended), squishy, alien matter inside of my brain.

Craig Gross

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Craig Brain

Craig Brain is not your brain or my brain, but neither must unity be predicated upon uniformity. This is an invitation for you to take a peek inside the gross (pun intended), squishy, alien matter inside of my brain.

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