Before my younger brother (who was a computer engineer) died, he digitized our family albums. (That’s Abe in the picture, while I’m rocking my faux fur hoodie.)

I recently uploaded all the pix to the cloud, to share with his kids, my kids, and various other relatives.

These images are way more precious than the millions of Instagram shots I view each day. Although photo quality has vastly improved (and we don’t have to deal with flashbulbs or taking a roll of film to the drugstore to be developed), images have become a commodity. The rare black-and-white and primitive color photos and home movies I unearthed on my brother’s hard drive are meaningful and evocative.

Where you came from can inform where you’re going and why.

As I scrolled through the photos, I thought about who I was as a little girl and who I am today. What lives on and what has evolved?

In the branding workshops I teach, I often say, “Same contents…better packaging.” That pretty much sums it up.

Here are some observations I drew from the pix:

  • We had family rituals and traditions that held us together. My mother cooked holiday dinners and we all sat at the big round table (without cell phones or earbuds) and talked, joked, and sometimes argued.
  • I clearly loved fashion and crafts, even back then. I loved throwing parties and painstakingly planned every aspect, including music and decor. Creativity often saved me from loneliness. I learned to keep busy and make my own fun.
  • My Nana Molly used to embrace performing for the camera. If she were alive today, I’m sure she’d be a YouTube star.
  • A chubby girl until I was 14, I remember being shy and awkward. I learned to use my wits and smarts rather than my looks to get through my early years and didn’t judge or bully because I knew how much getting teased could hurt. I adapted to being an outlier. But my smile for the camera was genuine and I’ve been told I have that same expression today.
My badass Nana Molly with husband #3

Living entirely in the past isn’t healthy, but looking backward every now and then can be restorative. As you peruse your own family albums, ask yourself:

  • What passions did I have in my youth that I might enjoy again?
  • Which of my friends and family members haven’t I spoken to in a while? If they made you happy, get back in touch. If not, don’t.
  • What has changed over the years? What has stayed the same?
  • If you haven’t digitized your albums, make the time to do it. Your kids and grandkids will appreciate it one day.

Sometimes that chubby girl inside my head escapes and I feel the same insecurities and doubts I did as when I was ten. But then I focus on those positive qualities that have survived 50+ years — my glee and anticipation when I take a new book out of the library or buy a new tech gadget, completing a project (or an article), or dressing up for a special event.

Our pasts do not define us, but they shape us. And whether that shape is round or square, we should respect our histories and delight in what lies ahead.


  • Nancy A Shenker

    The Silver Hair Playbook: How to Be a Bad Ass >50™

    Nancy A. Shenker is a marketing innovator, brand builder, writer, speaker, and self-proclaimed rule breaker. Over the course of her 40-year business and marketing career, she has been a C-level executive, an entrepreneur, and a mentor to hundreds of small businesses at all stages. Founder of theONswitch marketing, Nancy was formerly a senior executive for major consumer and business brands, including Citibank, MasterCard, and Reed Exhibitions. She has written four books, and publishes a women’s entrepreneur community (, as well as AI/machine learning/robotics site and travel and lifestyle site She also wrote a column for called Bots & Bodies (about the human side of tech) and is a contributor to a wide range of consumer and business media. She recently won the "Killer Content Award" for a major project for a fast-growing technology company.