Frames

A painting that needs reframing. April 2013.

I wanted to stay at Johns Hopkins for graduate school. I loved studying there and I loved my mentor, Professor Nancy Struever, who had helped me fall in love with intellectual history.

No, Struever said.

I had entered Johns Hopkins as a teenager. The faculty would always see me as a youth. I needed new mentors. Ones who would meet me as an academic.

People build mental frames that hold us in stasis, just as we were when they first got to know us. Childhood friends remember things that I’d forgotten that would surprise friends I've made in adulthood. And my love to write bewilders many of the people I know through business.

That’s just not how they see me.

Why do frames matter?

  • Careers: It’s hard to advance when people see you as the “junior staffer.” And people who see you in one role when you want something different make career changes difficult.
  • Lifestyle updates: If your friends see you as the “party hearty” type, how do you tone it down without disappointing them?
  • New hobbies: When you’ve always been a “golf guy,” people will wonder what happened when you get into competitive bodybuilding.
  • Relationship changes: If your world sees you as Bob-and-Carol, how do you switch to Just-Carol? Or Carol-and-Tim?

One of the advantages of moving as much as I did in my early-adult years? Fresh starts. To new people in new towns, I came without backstory. To them, I was the person I had grown to become.

Yet I don’t want to move every few years. Nor should anyone have to change geography or jobs or friend groups just to reconstruct the frame though which people see them (although many people do).

We must craft the stories.

If you want to evolve in other people's eyes, you must patiently explain the trek from A to B. Over and over again. How have you grown? What has changed about you and your life? Why?

Everyone hates change—family and friends and colleagues will protest. Yet, eventually, most of them will come around to a new view. It just takes time. And your willingness to make the effort to preserve your relationships.

What's your current frame?