Why You Should Document Your Life

Future you will be able to see how much you have evolved.

Gracia Kleijnen
Nov 6, 2020 · 5 min read
Photographer sitting on rooftop looking at his camera with in the background a free Beijing, China skyline and orange sunset.
Photographer sitting on rooftop looking at his camera with in the background a free Beijing, China skyline and orange sunset.
Photo by Road Trip with Raj on Unsplash

I made my first publicly shared video in 2018. I had wanted to play with video making ten years before that but never dared to start. It took me a decade. As an adolescent, I was far too self-conscious and insecure. I was worried that I’d be negatively seen by peers, or worse, mocked for my creations.

Looking back, it might be for the better that I started experimenting with videos later on.

The ten years preceding that first video, I was a hot mess. A rebellious teenager, involved in plenty of things a good and caring parent would tell you to steer clear of. Had I started producing videos then, a big-mouthed girl who had no idea what the hell she was doing would expose and eternalize herself and her distorted thinking, on video, for the world to see.

If trolls or internet bullies were to team up against me today, I’d be able to take it and just brush it off. Back then, I wouldn’t. I would break down at every or any mean comment, take it to heart, and probably try to change myself, or dedicate my time to proving this random person wrong instead of focusing on my journey.

Social Media wasn’t as intertwined with our lives as it is now. No one used YouTube as an alternative to television, as a marketing tool, or to build a standalone digital empire. We had the odd social network, but it didn’t play an important role in life just yet.

The ease with which people can document their lives today is paramount. It has its downsides. If you’re growing up now, and you do something dumb, chances are that everyone around you has their phones up within seconds to live stream your fuckups.

On the other hand, it’s just a snapshot of a moment. We are flaw-ridden humans. Each one of us will do dumb shit, whether it gets documented by ourselves or others, or not.

Besides, it’s cool to travel back in time, through a video that was crafted when you were younger. A diary entry you come across by chance. Or a blog you completely forgot about.

Of course, I have photographs, written notes by former classmates, cards, personalized messages, emails, my high school agendas. Sometimes I wish I had more.

A prime example would be the time I spent during my exchange semester in Beijing, China. For 4,5 months I dedicated my life to:

  • getting my university credits
  • learning Mandarin
  • taking dance lessons
  • exploring Chinese culture and sightseeing

I made hundreds of pictures. Tiny souvenirs I bought from local markets are still displayed in my home. I still talk to a few friends I made back then. The only thing I regret is not documenting more. And by documenting, I mean writing (blogs), and documenting the experience on video. Video is such a powerful visual tool.

Before I traveled to China, I started a blog. The two lonely posts I wrote still reside there. I never continued to write on that blog. Today, I regret that.

Had I documented more, I would have been able…

  • To re-experience it all, the many impressions
  • To learn how past me perceived everything that happened around her
  • To see how my writing has improved since then and have these old works as references
  • To see how my writing style has changed

I’m happy there are at least two pieces of writing that were deliberately written for an audience other than the hardcover of my diary.

If I go through these two lonely posts that were published, I notice that the writing style doesn’t sound like me. It sounds as though I’m trying to make too much of an effort; writing to measure up to the expectations of friends and acquaintances. How so? Back then I built this image of myself as a “cool person”, or someone who wants to be seen as cool and tough.

Writing helps me to process my emotions and put into words what and how I feel. It untangles the hurricane of thoughts blazing through my head. And it forces me to phrase them in a way that makes sense to others and myself.

At the time, I considered making videos, but still didn’t have the nerve to flap around a camera, pointing to myself, or others, on the streets of Beijing. It would have made an awesome documentary. Megacities have so much going on. But filming the experience as I was going through it could’ve been a lot to take in. Going through it is one thing, but capturing it in a presentable way for an external viewer means having to make double the effort.

When I think about the whole venture now, it feels so far away. The entire experience is labeled in my mind as “best time of my life”, but retrieving specifics is harder because it’s been a while.

Our minds have limited bandwidth to store information. We save the main impressions from an event or experience in its entirety, the general ideas, and later retrieve this information to construct a representation of a memory.

The (now-temporary neglected) YouTube channel I started two years ago has not taken off, but I don’t care. The videos that live there make me feel proud. Proud that I dared to step outside of comfort zone prison. I also see these videos as my works of art. Comparing the latest videos to the first few, you’ll notice a gradual increase in production quality. Had I not documented anything, I would have no clue whether those editing skills had improved or not, and no visual experiences (other than photos) to fall back on.

I pledge for documenting more of your life, in a format that you’ll love to look back at. You’ll be able to revisit it at any time and see how you’ve evolved and improved, or simply to re-live a happy moment. It’s a gift to future you, and to others who are seeking a fresh perspective to mirror against their own.

Be the first to sign up for my newsletter. It’s brand new, it’ll will probably include some sarcasm. I’ll share with you my most recent work there, once or twice per month.

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Gracia Kleijnen

Written by

Writing my way to progress. Topics: personal growth, life lessons, tooling & (failed) ventures.

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