I have a few headshots that I use as profile photos on my many email, Slack, and social media accounts. While most of the photos are your standard, professional-looking headshot, there is one that I sometimes use that is the perfect example of perspective and storytelling through effective editing.
Whenever someone sees this photo, they assume this is a picture of me somewhere interesting and exciting. Most people guess it’s me on a very expensive boat. Wherever I am, I am clearly living my best life. When people come across this profile photo, they often think it’s me showing off a bit.
The reality is much different. This is a picture of me sitting on the monorail at Disneyland in Florida. It is the last day of a 7 day long trip in July with my family, which included my two children ages 3 and 5. It also included my brothers’ families, as well as my mom and dad, both in their late 60s. In many ways, it was a special trip with family. There are memories that were created that I’ll always have.
But let’s face it. It was July in Florida. There were 13 of us trying to travel in a pack, all with wildly different expectations and needs. My kids hadn’t eaten normal food in a week. Everyone was hot, overstimulated, and tired. We were all ready to go home.
This picture is carefully cropped from a photo of my family at the back of the Disneyland monorail, at the end of this trip, headed to the airport. If you pull back, everyone looks exhausted. The parents all have blank stares in their eyes. The kids are laid out across our laps. You can tell that this is a family that is done and wants to go home.
The photo isn’t a lie. But it is a carefully edited piece of a much larger story. The real story is much different than the photo suggests. I love using this picture specifically because it’s an exercise in misdirection and storytelling.
Keep this in mind when you read stories in Business Insider or TechCrunch about the latest startup that is ‘crushing it’. Be wary of founders on panels, and the tales of glory they tell from the stage. Many of these stories are carefully cropped and edited. They are designed to build and maintain investor enthusiasm. They are intended to motivate and excite current and prospective employees. They are telling a narrative.
Pull back a bit from that photo a bit, and you would see a company that looks a lot like yours. Working hard to find a path to sustainable growth. Searching for profitability. A bit chaotic. Filled with employees with different expectations and needs.
When you find yourself feeling pangs of jealousy and envy each time you hear a founder telling stories of ‘crushing it’ with joyful certainty, recognize that most of them are on that monorail with you, circling the park, working day to day to solve hard problems as they build their company. That’s just not the photo they chose to share with you.