Telling Your Story
I’m “that” relative. You know, the one with the camera at every function, snapping tons of photos that may or may not ever be seen. I’ve been known to say “You can smile and be cute or make a face, I’m taking the picture either way!” I’m THE resource when a picture is needed. The one that can be counted on to capture the event. A historian of sorts with pictures all over the place. My years behind the lens have taught me a valuable lesson- there is always a story to be told and the person to best tell it is the subject and not others.
This lesson was lived out in my life recently when I was asked to complete an almost emotionally impossible task. Would I create a photo book using my mom’s pictures to chronicle my deceased sister’s life? My younger sister, Tina, fought a valiant and brave battle against cancer. She left two incredible children who are now young married adults. My mom wanted to create a memory book my sister’s new grandbaby. Momma handed me a traditional scrapbook she had begun along with a stack of pictures and said, “Go for it.”
Organizing her pictures brought a litany of questions-most without answers. How do you encapsulate a life in a mere few pages? Which stories were to be shared and how much of each? What stories were for my mom to tell, and which ones belonged to Tina’s family? Who were the people in some of the photos? What were their names and were they really friends? How to present a grandmother this baby will never know in such a way she will never forget? Which brought me to the idea of crafting a legacy; writing my own story. There is a lot written about “Leaving a Legacy” but very little about crafting a legacy. Crafting your legacy to me means the deliberate telling of your own story- in your words with your thoughts. Sharing with others your gifts, your struggles, your talents and your funny stories. It’s not being vain, proud, or self-centered, it’s about being real, honest, transparent, brave and fun! It’s also, overwhelming. So, how to begin?
1. Make your plan.
Start with the idea that you have 20 blank pages to fill. Would you want your book to read like a comedy, a historical novel, a genealogists treasure trove, or written to future grandchildren? How far back do you want to go? Will it be a baby book to adult or simply chronicle a struggle that you have overcome or are going through? Should it be themed with your travels, your artwork, your day to day activities, or will it be a highlight reel of your blessings? The joy of crafting your legacy is that you get to choose!
2. Get your photos in one spot.
Pull out hard drives, boxes of pictures, VHS tapes, flash drives, floppy disks, framed pictures you may want to use, scrapbooks, get them all in one place. I know this may seem overwhelming at first, but it is so freeing once you get started. Trust the process-it works!
3. Divide by decade (or themes)
It took you a long time to get where you are, so don’t let the details cripple you! Divide by decades or even bigger chunks of time. Birth- Elementary School. Junior High- College. First job –kids. Or, break it down by events-family vacations, holidays, trips, sports, etc. Decide to work on this project in specific amounts of time so that you continue and don’t give up in frustration. For example 15 minutes of “me” time daily. As you look at old photos you will remember, laugh, cry, and wonder where the time has gone. Jot down stories, notes and begin your “filtering”. You have permission to get rid of pictures of people who mean nothing to you or whose name you can’t remember. Toss blurry and out of focus photos along with doubles -unless you make a specific pile with a name to be given away shortly. Declutter your life as you go, but write notes on the stories.
4. Choose a permanent home for your photos and begin to digitize.
Companies exist now to help you with this very thing. When you decide to digitize, choose a high resolution format so that you have the very best image possible. Editing software can work miracles on old photos. Decide if this is a service you are willing to invest in or that you would prefer to yourself. Important considerations are cost, quality, long term storage guarantees, and data migration. Carefully check the terms of service. Who owns your photos and the digital rights? Hint if you use Google, iCloud, or Shutterfly it’s not you! Do your research and choose the option best for you-and remember too, if it’s free YOU are the product.
5. Tell your story!
You’ve been inspired by old pictures and the stories you have remembered. You have decided on how you want to tell your story. Now comes the time to tell your tale! Will you create an online account, a digital storybook, a traditional scrapbook? There are benefits to each, but my current favorite is the digital story/photo book. I have five children and three grandchildren, so the option of making it once and printing multiple copies appeals to me! The end format is not as important as the gathering and recording of the tales. If this still seems overwhelming and you are thinking, “Yeah, but where do I start?” let’s go back to middle school English class. Ask yourself (and answer) the 5 W’s and an H. Who, What, Where, Why, When, and How.
Who– who are you? Who are your parents? Who are your siblings? Who raised you? Who were the influences in your life? Who encouraged you? Who are your brothers and sisters? Who are your children? Who are you writing to /for? Who was your best friend growing up?
What– is your favorite color? What is your favorite place to vacation, spend time, to be? What do you enjoy in your free time? What was your job? What skills and talents do you possess? What would you like to learn? What would you do differently? What are your favorite foods? What circumstances have molded and shaped you into the person you are? What adversity have you overcome? What did you get in trouble most for as a child?
Where– were you born? Where have you lived? Where is your favorite “happy” place? Where have you traveled? Where would you like to travel? Where did you meet your significant other? Where to you like to spend time?
Why-are you writing? Why did you stay in a tough spot (marriage, job, career, country etc)? Why did you decide to leave a tough spot? Why are you the way you are?
When-were you born? When did you embrace your faith? When did you decide to have children? When did you decide not to have children? When did you decide to open a business, work for yourself, not work for a company, not work for yourself? When did you find out you were adopted?
How-do you live on a day to day basis? How did others help you along your journey? How has your faith (or lack of) influenced who you have become or how you live? How did you get to this country/state?
Be honest about your struggles, proud of your accomplishments, and leave lessons from your failures!
This isn’t an exhaustive list of questions, but an encouragement to take action, get started and to begin Crafting Your Legacy. You have a story to tell, only you can tell it, and only you can give it justice. Tell your story, share your pictures, Craft your Legacy. It’s the sweetest and most rewarding journey you’ll ever get to take.
Author: Kathy Lanham is a photographer, mom to five accomplished children, wife, and “Grandmaw” to four. An avid teller and collector of stories, she is passionate about helping you share yours. Kathy is a Senior Lead Ambassador with Forever.com.