My grand plan
“… and that’s how I’m going to do it”, I smugly concluded.
The year is 2018. I’m 1.5 years out of college and working at Google. My two friends and I are sitting in my childhood bedroom, exchanging life updates.
I had just given my update: the grand reveal of my new master plan to achieve financial independence.
So, what was this inspired strategy? Simple: grind it out for 20 years in tech. Given my savings rate and projected salary bumps, I could safely retire by 40.
I considered it a stroke of genius. I had perfectly balanced risk and reward and found a safe, predictable path to a free life.
“Are you sure you can stick it out for that long?”, one of them asked.
Of course, I told him. Why wouldn’t I?
A full 180
I still remember how certain I was. There wasn’t a shred of doubt in my mind that I could put in another 18 years.
In hindsight, this was a ridiculous extrapolation. It’s like concluding you can run a marathon after doing a 5k for the first time.
Maybe you can, maybe you can’t. Either way, it’s healthy to consider both possibilities.
I certainly wish I did… before I made my grand declaration.
Fast forward six months and I wanted out. This life wasn’t for me. Forget two decades, I couldn’t do even one more year.
I felt foolish. The change of heart was almost laughable. It was a complete 180 from my original stance.
I was embarrassed that I even thought I could see the plan through. How did I not know better?
But that’s what happens when you feel strongly about anything. It envelopes you and distorts reality. You’re so immersed in it that it’s all you can see.
“This is how it’s going to be from now on”, you think. As a result, you develop tunnel vision and ignore all the signs that point to its impermanence.
In this case, it was the excitement of charting a risk-free path to financial independence. I got so caught up in the fantasy of retirement that I didn’t consider my quality of life in the meantime. Sure enough, I came to a breaking point soon after.
It happens in all scenarios - good and bad.
For example, the honeymoon period in any relationship. Initially, everything is perfect. You love everything about them and you can’t picture that ever changing. You’re sure this person is the one.
Slowly, the cracks appear. What used to be a quirk is now a habit that you just can’t stand. Before you know it, you have irreconcilable differences and break up.
What happens then? First, it feels like you won’t ever get over them. Eventually, you go back to feeling nothing.
Quite the whirlwind, right? At each stage, you’re convinced that the feelings are there to stay… only to be proven wrong.
I went through a similar journey during my most recent rut.
When you’re in a bad place, it feels like a hole you can’t climb out of. You think this is your life now and it’s never going to get better. There’s no light at the end of the tunnel.
But as much as it feels like things won’t change, we all know from experience that isn’t true. Nothing is permanent.
It, too, shall pass.
You’d think we’d have learned this lesson by now.
Nope. Not fully, anyway.
I still get swept up by strong feelings until I catch myself. I forget that it’s just a fleeting moment in the grand scheme of things.
That’s why I started taking “life snapshots”: freeze frames of a defining experience in my life.
These snapshots can live anywhere, from your head to a private journal to public vlog. All they need to do is authentically capture a moment of time in your life, good or bad.
How do they help? Let me explain.
A useful anchor
One, they’re a useful anchor.
They serve as a reminder of the natural progression of life: it ebbs and flows. Every moment will pass. Both highs and lows always come to an end.
Snapshots help you internalize this pattern. When you learn that ups and downs are inevitable, you remain balanced. As a result, you can weather the storm and keep your head above water when you need it most.
An aesthetic tool
Two, they also serve an aesthetic purpose.
Each experience represents a part of your life. Whether positive or negative, it’s imprinted on you. It led you to where you are today. It’s who you are.
To forget them is to leave a fragment of your identity behind. Capturing the moment helps you keep it intact.
Sure, it’s not an exact replica. You won’t be able to reproduce the same intensity of emotion that you felt in the moment, from the rush of conquering a fear to the despair of a rut. You can, however, evoke something quite close to it.
Don’t underestimate the power of this. Any good work of art makes you feel something.
Why not use your own life story to do the same? It’s your lived experience, after all. Wouldn’t it be cool if you could re-live it?
How to capture snapshots?
More actionably, how does one go about capturing “life snapshots”?
Anything goes, but I recommend against keeping it in your head. Your memory isn’t reliable.
An external medium provides two advantages. First, it gives you a reference to look back at. Two, the very process of capturing an event cements it in your memory.
Personally, I rely on three different mediums: text, audio and visual.
I have a private journal and this public blog. They both help me tell the story of my life as it unfolds.
I view it as living performatively - how can I weave the events of my life into a compelling narrative? If I can proudly look back on it from my deathbed, that’s a life well lived.
Of course, there’s always the risk that you’ll cringe at the actions of your past self. Heck, I do that with my writing all the time.
I don’t think about it too much anymore, though. Cringing at the past just means that you’ve grown.
Ultimately, that’s all I care about: character development. I can’t change the past, so I might as well focus on scripting the future.
At the same time, I don’t want to erase the past either. It made me who I am today. Who doesn’t love a good redemption arc?
I also record a podcast with one of my best friends, Neel.
It captures a snapshot of our relationship as well as our current point of view on crafting an intentional life. As an added bonus, it’s peppered with anecdotes from our life.
Plus, it’s low friction to produce.
One of my favorite episodes was the pre-proposal recording. We wanted to memorialize the special flurry of emotions that he was going through.
This wasn’t just for him, but his fiance too. Since the proposal was a surprise to her, there was an interesting asymmetry - it was a life-changing event for both of them, but only one person knew it was going to happen.
The episode was a window into that unique moment in time. Now, she can get a glimpse of his state of mind and feel like she was really there.
You can extend this scenario to anything going on in your life.
I take videos or photos of moments in my life worth remembering.
While digital is convenient, it comes at the expense of living in the moment. Since you can take virtually infinite photos, it’s easy to capture and not absorb.
Ever see the people who record the entire concert on their phone? Are they really taking in the event or just there to collect social media points?
Still, the medium is effective if used intentionally.
Personally, I prefer film cameras. The inbuilt scarcity imposes a valuable constraint.
Since you can’t take too many photos, you have to choose wisely. You try to capture the essence of the experience. This forces you to observe much more intently.
As a result, you remember it better later. It’s like you took a mental picture at the same time.
When I look at my phone gallery, I often see useless photos. I wonder how they even got there.
When I see a picture developed from my film camera, it takes me back to that moment. I remember where I was and why I took it. It’s like I was transported in time.
And isn’t that what any good snapshot is supposed to do?
This post took redacted minutes to write.
P.S: You can find more of my thoughts on Twitter @_suketk.