Treading Water: Why Portfolios are über-important

Starting out in any business is tough.  Some are worse than others (design, consulting, professional cycling… boy can I pick em’), but all fields generally suck when you are starting out. If you think you are going to graduate school, instantly start some wonderful job, and begin that famed move on up to the East Side…  WAKE UP!  For 99% of us, you will look back 3 months after graduation and wonder, “why the hell did I graduate?!?”  Well calm down… you graduated and it’s a good thing.  That says a lot about you and congratulations are totally in order, but the first few years can be hard.  The lucky neo-grads will be scraping a living working their butts off for “entry pay.”  If you are doing what you want to do in life, you grow thick skin and survive.  Pasta starts to look mighty tasty.  Add some canned tuna, spices, and a bottle of Three-Buck-Chuck and you’ve got yourself a five star meal there bucko!  It used to be Two-Buck-Chuck, but someone decided to up the price… Thanks.  Luckily, life has this strange way of opening doors for people who work hard.

Unfortunately for today’s grads, life is a wee bit tougher.  I know.  I’ve decided to just accept it and make it another experience to learn from.  If nothing else, I’ve really enjoyed the “pause” in life, but I’m totally ready for the next step.  What that is?… like I know!  Part of accepting a bad economy is allowing yourself to roam around a bit and take opportunities as they come up.  You learn to recognize opportunities that are worth your effort and ones that do nothing for you in the long run.  Sometimes taking that unpaid internship and living with your parents pays off in the long run.  Your social life may all but disappear (Try answering the question “so where do you live?” by saying, “um… with my parents.”) and you will complain about that extra dollar you paid for that super tasty Three-Buck-Chuck, but you will learn a lot.  And I’m not talking about just career skills.  You learn why you should never whore yourself out for money.  That’s an important lesson no matter how much you eventually make.  Of course, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take a job to pay the bills while you are pursuing your dream…  After all, everyone has to eat.

Luckily landing a job is anything but impossible in a bad economy.  It will take a lot more work and some thick skin, but perseverance usually pays off.   The key is recognizing good opportunities and making yourself stand out.  And if nothing works out, take that low paying job that interest you or go work oversees teaching english if that’s something you want to do.  It’s those types of experiences that can help you in the long run.  I spent around a year and a half in Europe doing these types of experiences and I would recommend it to any high schooler out there.

But there is another piece to the puzzle… the portfolio.  I lack a really good portfolio and that’s not good.  After all, if you want to really stand out, bring your A-game.  Words are great, but experience speaks volumes. Don’t get me wrong, I stand out as a person (for better or worse), but I don’t stand out in a way that separates me from others in my field.  In my case, it’s my lack of a portfolio.  And ultimately that’s my fault.  It’s the result of learning what I want in life from learning what I don’t want in life.  Thank you freshman organic chemistry.  I may have been good at it, but I’ll be honest, I just wanted to play with the model kit and make stuff in the lab.  Told you I’m smart!  I’m full of wonderful ideas and hopefully some talent… but I can’t show it.  That’s a big problem no matter what industry you want to work in.  Luckily, I realize this and it’s my current life’s mission to fix that little detail!  Hurray!  That means I get to play with lots of new tools and software galore!  *Donations of Adobe Design Suite CS4 accepted* I’ll be pestering you all for feedback soon enough.  In the meantime, check out my photography!  Hell, I might even try to bribe you later on… like I have more than a quarter on me right now!

So… that brings me to today’s lesson of the day.  Gather round children, it’s time to learn!  I’ve gained a huge appreciation for people who understand the value of a well built portfolio.  It’s one of those super simple, time consuming, dreaded facts of life…  You need a portfolio to make yourself marketable.  Just having a stellar resume, strong references, and tons of talent doesn’t cut it.  If  you can’t show employers what you have done in the past, it’s mighty hard to convince them of what you can do in the future.  Remember that Balance, Contrast, Unity, and Value post a few days ago?  Portfolios do that.

Oh! A little side note for those of you interested in self-branding/marketing/entrepreneurial theory: check out my friend Greg De Lima’s blog.  Smart kid.

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