On Having “Enough Experience,” Portfolios (Yay or Nay?), And Getting Taken SeRiOuSlY.
February 16, 2021
Once upon a time when I was young and naive and still believed “liquor before beer, you're in the clear,” I also believed that I needed to have 800 items in my portfolio before anyone would “take me seriously.”
Oh god. That fucking phrase. 🙄 That fucking phrase turns so many brilliant creatives into boring nobodies.
The thing is, when you're young and inexperienced in business, you still assume that the people in charge are, you know, relatively important. You assume that the adults know what they're doing (and they know better than you). You assume that the people who have the money to hire you are whip-smart assassins working for MI6 and will be able to see through any little hole in your methods, immediately calling you out for being a fraud (and probably pushing you over the top of a building, all the same).
So you tell yourself that you “need to get a few more years of experience,” first, before you can dare call yourself “a writer,” or “a photographer,” or a “toe-sucking coach.” And then, just like that, some swanky B comes along and publishes a podcast and she's a toe-sucking coach, and she seems just soooooooo put together and sooooooooo cool and soooooooooooooo confident and soooooooooooo well-established, that you figure, well, how can you put yourself out there now?! Nobody's going to want to hire you! Look at these other toe-sucking coaches and how great they are—YOU'RE A NOBODY NEXT TO THEM. A NOBODY!
Fast forward three more years. You still haven't struck it out on your own, yet, because, well, you've been busy “getting experience.” Not real experience, mind you—honestly you've just been licking envelopes for Johnny Boo-Bob's wife—but at least it's experience you can list on your resume. And that counts in the court of The Important People™️, does it not?
Another few years go by, but suddenly you're feeling like it's too late. You missed your chance. Now you're out of touch and irrelevant, and….what fresh ideas do you have, anyway? Everybody else is all cute and hip and annoyingly peppy in places like TikTok, clearly they're The Ones In Demand Now, and clearly you should just stick to what you know. So you go about your life being a boring nobody, not because you are a boring nobody, but because you made a decision, once, to wait until you were an experienced somebody.
You waited for someone else to tell you that you were good enough to do the work.
Something critical for all of us to understand about the modern passion economy, however, is that experience can't be awarded by other people, anymore. It is no longer granted, like a badge on a resume, a byproduct of time. You cannot get it by simply waiting your turn and showing up every day.
Modern experience is not an award, but an act.
It is the act of putting yourself out there, daily, challenging yourself to figure it out. It is the act of voluntarily doing the work that interests you, and documenting it. It is the act of exploring new ideas and new approaches to a body of work. It is the act of creating, making, leading, trying—in public, and without promise. And it is the act of standing up and saying, “I'm good at this. I want to help. Here's how I'm going to begin. Let's do an experiment.“
What you do every day is your portfolio.
The thoughts you put out there. The initiatives you take. The projects you begin. The ideas you share. What you're doing online right now is far more important than a folder full of your past.
The key to getting taken seriously?
Is to take your work so seriously that you don't have to be given the job: you give it to yourself each and every day.
And you keep showing up.
And you keep contributing.
In the best way you know how.
Without waiting to be told you are ready. But by getting ready, by doing the work, you want to be doing.
Real brilliance happens, not while you are working for someone else's business—but when you go out and make the work your business.
Experience comes from experiencing, after all.
And you don't need anyone else to give you that.
Important note note note note note! *sings* 🎶
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