“Our greatest regrets at the end of our lives will be the opportunities we left on the table, the passions we didn’t pursue and the dreams we didn’t go after.”                                                       Mark Batterson

1940 – Los Angeles, California: John Goddard overheard his grandmother sigh, “There were many things I wanted to do in my life. If only I had done those things when I was younger, when I was John’s age.” It was something John had also heard other adults say. Even at 15, he knew he did not want to have regrets at the end of his life.

On a rainy Saturday morning, John took a yellow notepad and with his father’s help and encouragement, began creating his life list. He spent most of the day on the project. When he was finished, there were 127 goals that he wanted to accomplish in his lifetime. Most of all, John dreamed of being an explorer.

While in high school, he checked off Eagle Scout, typing 50 words a minute, playing the piano and violin and running a five-minute mile from his list. John earned degrees in anthropology and psychology from the University of Southern California. After serving four years as a fighter pilot in the U.S. Air Force during World War II, he went on a two-year mission trip with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.

Then John really got serious about his list. In 1951, he completed item No. 1 on his list. He became the first person in history to navigate the entire 4,132 miles of the Nile River in a canoe. The trip took 9 months. In 1956, he completed No. 3, a 2,920-mile excursion down Africa’s Congo River. John’s partner drowned when their canoe capsized in a treacherous set of rapids, and John narrowly escaped death.

In the following decade, John studied primitive native cultures in Borneo, Brazil and New Guinea (10, 11 and 12). He climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro, climbed the Matterhorn, went scuba diving off the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, hiked the Great Wall of China, climbed a pyramid in Egypt, watched a fire-walking ceremony in Bali and published an article in National Geographic.

Over the years, John read the Bible from cover to cover, learned French, Spanish and Arabic, flew in a blimp, flew an F-111 fighter jet at 1,500 miles per hour (a civilian record), and took an F-106 Delta Dart Jet to an altitude of 63,000 feet. He became a ham radio operator, taught a college course, went skydiving, built a telescope, learned to water and snow ski and caught a 10-pound lobster.

He visited Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe, Yosemite Falls, Niagara Falls, the Galapagos Islands, the Vatican, the Taj Mahal, the Eiffel Tower, the Tower of London and the Leaning Tower of Pisa.

John’s list also included diving in a submarine (U.S.S. Menhaden), lighting a match with a .22 rifle and milking a poisonous snake. He read the complete works of Shakespeare, Plato, Aristotle, Dickens, Thoreau and Hemingway. He learned to play polo, rode a horse in the Rose Bowl Parade, visited his grandfather’s birthplace in Denmark and retraced the journeys of Alexander the Great and Marco Polo. He rode an elephant, a camel, an ostrich and a wild bronco.

John Goddard also achieved No. 126 – to marry and have children. He had six children and 10 grandchildren who loved the adventure stories he told of pursuing his childhood dreams. Although he was bitten by a rattlesnake, charged by elephants, trapped in quicksand, crashed an airplane and almost drowned twice, he never considered giving up. John climbed 12 of the highest mountains in the world and his explorations` over more than six decades took him to 121 countries.

Over the years, John Goddard’s life list grew to more than 400 items. He accomplished 120 of the original 127 goals on his list. He never climbed Mt. Everest, visited the North Pole or became a doctor.  Neither did he complete reading the entire Encyclopedia Britannica. In May 2013, 73 years after creating his life list, John Goddard died at age 88 in La Canada, California, still hoping to go to the moon (No. 125).

Writing down a goal is important,” John told the Los Angeles Times in 2004. “Something magical happens when we write it down. Growing up, we’re told to be realistic and to get a job and when we do our imagination and dreams die. ‘Someday I’ll do that,’ becomes ‘If only I had done that.’ Many people wait so long for their ship to come in that their pier collapses.”