Three frames

(First published at on November 18, 2010)

The other day I was looking for a picture in my online photo album. I looked back at the pictures I’ve taken during the past year. I realized how many things I’ve forgotten.reframed

You have, too. In your rush to be competent, to keep juggling everything, to stay focused, to not rest on your successes or dwell on your failures, you’ve kept moving, too.

But looking back can be helpful. So here’s the exercise I walked our staff through the other day.

You take pictures all the time. Photos, videos, audio recordings. You are constantly capturing images. Sometimes you use a recording device. Mostly, just your mind.

Take a couple minutes. Flip back through them. The activities of school starting. Vacation. Graduations. Weddings. Funerals. School ending. Spring events. The winter.

Now, having flipped through the album, what’s the image that makes you smile the most?

Describe it.

And we went around our circle describing those pictures. Some were about family. Some were about work. One was from a wedding, one from a funeral. We smiled.

Now, here’s the next picture to look for. Which picture makes you most proud?

That one was quicker, and deeper. The grandparents in the room, after the initial grab for their phones to show pictures, set the grandchildren aside and reflected. Some of us talked about the people we work with, the people we work for. Some of us talked about family or friends.

Now, here’s the last one.

I went to the whiteboard and drew a picture frame.

All of us have pictures on our desks that we think represent why we do what we do. But I’d like you to look through your pictures from this year and put a new picture in your frame. What picture from this year best captures why you do what you do?

It was hard for me to even ask the question. I realized that I was asking people to be pretty vulnerable, to think about the why of their behavior. I wouldn’t have done it if there wasn’t trust in the room, if I didn’t know that for this group of people there are whys.

We went around the circle. Some pictures were people. Some pictures were of places where life-changing conversations happen. Some pictures will stay inside that room.

But all of us gave voice to why we do what we do.

That seemed important. At the end of the school year, it’s nice to know that you’ve done work that matters. And we are far more likely to work passionately if we have a why, something beyond a what and a how.

So, what would you put in your three frames?

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