confronting snapshots of yourself

“Wait, I wanted to learn 3 languages to near fluency in one year? What was I, crazy?”

“Hah, you know better now. Look at this though: I was planning to learn how to drive, which is a bit simpler than 3 languages, and I still didn’t do it.”

“Yeah, but you did graduate in 3 instead of 4 years, as you stated here, which is awesome, so I think you can be forgiven for the driving thing.”

“True. You didn’t do as well with your exams, but hey, you did make your workshop happen, which is a huge thing and wasn’t planned at all.”

And it is a huge thing. And I really didn’t plan it at all. Because the me now is quite  a different person from the me that sat down with my friend Filip last December and wrote  down our goals for the next 12 months. Now, looking at it for the first time after that day, I’m amazed at the difference between what I thought I could and would do and what I actually did. Some things happened as planned. Some big things that happened weren’t planned at all. And some I failed to achieve after a year of trying, or I didn’t even think about them after that December coffee, let alone try to make them happen.

This is because once we wrote down our general goals for the next 12 months, on a single piece of paper, I tucked it away and we forgot about it. For we knew that this isn’t supposed to be a true plan of our activities or something to constantly remind us what we should be striving towards; it is, rather, a snapshot of ourselves at a particular point in time – of our ideas, plans and experiences. It shows what was important to us personally, what we thought we were capable of.

There was another piece of paper which we also looked at for the first time since last December. On it we wrote down all the things that happened to us over the course of 2007 that we felt were important to us – everything from projects, travelling and falling in love to disappointments, emotional crises and personal revelations about life.

We did the same thing now for the year 2008 and then, as I said, we compared it to what the we-from-December-2007 thought we’d do in 2008, and… well, looking at a snapshot of you and your plans a year ago next to a snapshot of a year of your actual life is both a humbling and an exhilarating experience. You can’t believe that you really thought you could learn 3 languages to fluency in a mere 12 months (instead failing to achieve fluency in even one); that you actually did travel to Paris because of a promise to a certain person you met accidentally on the street; that you would get incredibly closer to knowing what it is you really want to do in life.

So, we’ve written down our goals for 2009 and we’ve tucked them away. Already, two weeks later, they are becoming hazy – I know I want to reach fluency in Japanese, learn how to drive and do some other things, but I’m not really sure if I could recall the whole list. And that’s good, because as I said, this is not a guideline, it is a snapshot of my and Filip’s plans on one December afternoon.

How much will I accomplish? How much I won’t? What will I be like, what will happen to me and what will be important to me next month, next summer, next December, next decade? I don’t know; And I’m really looking forward to finding out.

Why don’t you do the same? Grab a good friend, sit down in a quiet bar or somewhere, and write what were the most important things that you did and that happened to you in the past 12 months. Then write a set of things you want to achieve in exactly one year from that day. Then stash those two pieces of paper away and go on with your life. 12 months later, sit down with that friend, look at the papers, and take it all in. Repeat.

Don’t rely on your memory for this. This is not just one thought – this is you at a certain moment in your life, and also your life over a whole year. It’s incredibly hard, if not right down impossible, to remember such a range of thoughts and emotions with any semblance of precision without recording them externally in some way. The mind is quite a slippery thing, and if we need stuff such as grocery lists, are we really expecting to remember what we thought and believed about ourselves and life at a certain moment in our past? Especially 5 or 10 or more years down the road?

So, go grab a friend and a piece of paper.

You’ll be surprised at the results. I guarantee it.

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5 Comments to “confronting snapshots of yourself”

  1. If you want to take more frequent snapshots of your life, there’s an excellent little online app at memiary.com. It puts emphasis on the stuff you’ve already done (the question What did you do today? greets you every time you log on) but you can type in anything you like, as long as it’s 160 characters or less.

    Only tangentially related to your post, but still worth mentioning 🙂

  2. Dear Relja,
    I must say that I REALLY enjoyed reading your text… It’s great tradition of yours, and I have to start one for myself and my best friend.
    Lots of hugs

  3. @Milos

    Thanks for the link 🙂 Looks interesting, though it seems to me a bit like a tweeter diary, so over time you might end up with too much stuff. Have you used it? What’s the feeling like, long term?

    @Maja
    Thanks 🙂 I’m really glad that you’ll also do it. Spread the idea! 🙂

  4. Relja,

    I’ve been using it for a little more than a month now, so I can’t really comment on the long term looking-back aspect. What I’ve noticed, though, is that it’s quite good at making you (re)evaluate your immediate priorities. Keying in “six hours of useless postgrad lectures” for five days in a row, with a couple fields left blank ’cause I didn’t have time to do much else, was an eye-opening experience of sorts.

    Granted, some, if not most, people can do that without external help, but I’ve never been the reflective type 🙂

  5. From what you’ve told me, I’d say that it seems like a really good thing for finding out where your time goes during the day.

    Actually, I’d say a LOT of people aren’t really aware how they’re spending their time.

    Keep me posted on the progress 🙂

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