For the past 365 days, I've kept a photo diary on Instagram, documenting the minutiae of everyday life—the joyful moments and the challenging ones, too. One year has amounted to dozens of sweet, lighthearted photos with friends old and new, too many photos of food captured moments before ravenous consumption, at least half a dozen outfit–of–the–day videos, and the occasional selfie of me grinning and bearing the pain of academic dread. 

My photo diary is not a “perfectly” curated feed of my highlights throughout the year—trust me, my massive following (a whopping 17 family and friends) will tell you that I’m incredibly #real with #nofilter. 

Some odd inclination motivated me to document the 365 days that spanned my first months of college to a summer at home and my eventual return to campus. This feed captures the birth and eventual blossoming of new friendships, my first attempts at learning to play water polo and the subsequent concussion. It captures moments of deep academic and existential dread, but showcases the pure joy that accompanied my first creative writing endeavors. In retrospect, I realize that I tend to look back on moments in my life and label them as objectively good or objectively bad when in reality, my day–to–day life is a patchwork quilt of small joys and also small sorrows.

Now that I’ve made it to the one year birthday of this photo diary, I dig deep into the recesses of my mind to remember what spurred me to start the project in the first place. During my first semester at Penn, I was swept up in the chaos of collegiate life and convinced myself that I had nothing to show for my time so far. I spent nights toiling away until midnight only to trudge across the same, familiar path between Van Pelt and the Upper Quad Gate, eventually finding myself back in my dorm, looking in the mirror, never quite recognizing the face that stared back at me. Deep–seated eye bags took up permanent residence on my face and I looked older, but somehow I didn’t feel any wiser. Moments slipped through my fingers against my will. I felt like I was supposed to be a part of something bigger, something more momentous, but I was trapped in a half–dazed state. 

Time passes agonizingly slow and also far too quickly when your calendar is filled with lectures, exams, club meetings, and the occasional social outing. Before I could realize what was happening, days became weeks, and suddenly it was November and I couldn’t remember how I'd spent the first three months of what were supposed to be “the best years of my life.” I knew I was growing for the better, but I could never quite slow down for long enough to catch my breath and appreciate the true depth of my experiences.

I wanted to find some way to remember all the good moments gone by and remedy my frustration with the passage of time. I resolved to pull myself out of the hazy uncertainty of young adulthood. On Nov. 10, 2021, I made my first post to the Instagram account where I'd continue to document one photo a day for the indefinite future. I marked each post with the date and described in the caption something that brought me joy or vented about what was weighing on my mind. 

One year later, this photo diary has been an active exercise in appreciating the minutiae of my everyday life. To sweeten the deal, it's carved out a space for those I hold near and dear to share in these moments with me. Whether it’s my roommate down the hall, or my mom and dad on the other side of the country, they’re all supportive of my silly daily antics, offering a listening ear when I need it most. They cheer me on in the comment section or express sincere concern for my mental state in the event of an unhappy midnight selfie post. While this photo diary is incredibly personal and entirely self–directed, I also sincerely enjoy sharing what’s happening in my life with dear friends and family who I don’t speak to as often as I’d like. 

Trying to answer what’s motivated me to maintain this photo diary for a whole year, I think of how cathartic it is to open my camera roll at the end of a long day and give myself a quiet moment to reflect. I’ve learned what it looks and feels like to equally honor all my emotions. It’s deeply rewarding to look back on my highs and lows and relive those experiences with the benefit of hindsight.  

And on late nights when I yearn for moments gone by, I lose myself in grid posts of sloping San Francisco hills and never–ending car rides to water polo tournaments. I’ve built an entire world of four–by–six images, and it’s entirely inconsequential but it captures an intangible, indescribable feeling, more precious than anything I’ve ever known. This account is a testament to the love and grace I’ve learned to cultivate for myself. It’s a reminder of nights I spent choking down tears in the Quad dorm bathroom when I felt like I couldn’t recognize myself, and a reminder of nights I spent in the Harnwell rooftop lounge, laughing until my belly ached. But most importantly, it’s a reminder that I don’t need to chase down some arbitrary finish line in a never–ending race—there's always time to be present in your own mind and start living for the moment before it becomes just a whisper of a memory. 

For one year this account has been and continues to be tangible proof that I’ve been doing things and learning how to swim up my own stream. And hey, maybe today can be the first day of your daily photo diary. Let me know how it’s going in a year from now, yeah?