The Portrait Project:

“What are you doing next year?” “Do you have a job yet?” “Where are you going to live?”

Are you as tired of these questions as I am? Well, try this one on for size: “What do you plan to do with your one wild, and precious life?”
This behemoth question, which comes from the last line of a poem by Pulitzer Prize-winning Mary Oliver, is the impetus for The Portrait Project by classmate Tony Deifell (OK). The question asks us to reflect on the vision for our life, our dreams, and what we value. It’s not just about what job we’re going to take.

“When I was in this leadership program a few years ago,” Deifell explained, “one of our advisors asked us to describe our ‘life’s work.’ This stumped me. I had always thought in terms of my career, but rarely reflected on the larger picture of my life’s work, what I came to make happen in this world, and what I value.” So, Deifell decided to ask his classmates this same question.

It certainly isn’t an easy one, but perhaps one of the most important questions we could reflect on as we graduate from HBS. And frankly, I’m glad a classmate is asking me this question rather than Dean Clark or my mother.

The mission of the school is to “develop outstanding business leaders who will contribute to the well being of society.” But what does this really mean? Who are these leaders? Now we have a chance to find out through the rich texture and diversity of our fellow classmates’ stories.

Deifell is an award-winning photographer, who has published in DoubleTake Magazine and various other publications. He has been photographing fellow classmates after they write a 200-word response to the Mary Oliver question. Paul Sternhell (OK) has designed a wonderful web site with the portraits that have been completed thus far (//

The Alumni Association is sponsoring the project in order to broaden it to the entire EC. If you are an EC student and would like to be included in The Portrait Project, email for auto-reply instructions on how to write your 200-words. The deadline for the first draft is Tuesday, April 30. If you think you need to wait until you secure a job for next year, then you’ve missed the point of the project. This is a question everyone should try to answer before they even start looking for a job. Take a shot at it.