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Building a post portfolio career
How a portfolio of people will further your career more than a portfolio of projects—Plan Your Next #123
👋 Good morning from Balsam Lake, WI! I'm Nate Kadlac, and this is #123 of Plan Your Next. A Sunday newsletter that connects design, creativity, and how you prepare for your next thing.
Curating a post portfolio career
At the beginning of my career, I was obsessed with building a portfolio for my design work. Unfortunately, I wasn’t proud of anything I designed because I said ‘yes’ to everything.
It’s what you have to do to survive early on.
I even contemplated saying ‘Yes’ to a software project when an aviation company asked me to design and program software to talk to hardware, using a programming language called C.
Fortunately, I quickly said ‘No’ after realizing how deeply I had waded into uncharted waters.
I was desperate for work—and even more desperate for better projects to work on—to showcase in my portfolio.
To me, a portfolio was everything. A place to show my favorite projects and what I was capable of. Almost more important than the job itself, a portfolio tied together a project’s visual narrative and weaved it into your career arc. You could curate the story in whichever direction you wanted.
A portfolio was evidence of everything I worked on. It connected the dots between where I was, where I am, and where I wanted to go.
This was a shiny narrative to obsess over, but a mistake.
When you do this, your worth could easily be defined by how narrow the edges of this story are. There are a couple of problems with this though: Focusing solely on the craft and how pretty things look, your story might leave out the ROI of your involvement. When you focus only on your sole impact, you risk minimizing how much of a team player you are.
The problem with either of these approaches is that none of it compounds over time. Unlike a public stock that continues to pay dividends as long as you hold, a dated project will lose its luster and context in today’s world. And unless the story is remarkable, it’s almost unusable outside of showcasing a stale story which is just filling space on your resume.
For example, at one point in my career, I helped lead the design for Best Buy’s first mobile checkout experience. But, it’s something I hardly ever bring up because it’s not relevant anymore. Even if I did, I wouldn’t dare show final mockups because it would damage the story with its dated look and feel.
Define your relationship portfolio
Each new project or job allows you to compound your network throughout your career exponentially. If you’re working with one or multiple people, each person will advance their career, expanding their own network outside of their own. It’s like an MLM that’s completely opt-in if you play it right.
The biggest projects I’ve landed have not been based on my portfolio of work, but on the portfolio of people I’ve worked with.
Each person you work with is an opportunity for future growth. It’s a word-of-mouth referral system that continues to pay dividends like a blue-chip stock.
Of course, it requires you to be good at what you do, but it doesn’t require you to be great. To move beyond a skilled mercenary, you must be enjoyable to work with.
Projects don’t challenge you, people do
A relationship is worth a thousand times more to you over your career than any single project. Projects have a limited life span, whereas people are constantly growing and expanding their own networks.
Either you grow because you’re being pushed into uncomfortable positions because someone thinks your bar is higher than you set it, or because you’re expected to do a great job.
I have a friend debating a career-defining move for herself, and the potential move came about not from a single project, but the relationship she had with a former manager.
Who are you impacting?
The quality of a good project doesn’t exist within the confines of its scope, but with the people you’re working with.
Let’s say you start a new project with 5 other people. Think of the project’s potential not as a case study of your experience, but as five potential relationships that could exponentially scale down the road.
If you start a new job at a company of 50, that’s 50 new people who could dramatically impact your career over the next 5-20 years.
My career at this point is post portfolio. I crush design if I need to, and have the work to back it up, but you won’t find any publicly available work on my site anymore.
All of my work is referral based, from the relationships I’ve built over the years.
When you base your work decisions on the people you choose to work with and not the project, you’re protecting your career upside.
⚡️ Two creative hits for you to check out next
👠 Gucci meets Stanley Kubrick
An incredible ad campaign by Gucci using clips and sets from famous film directed by Stanley Kubrick.
🏔 Decorating the Alps with snowhoes
👋 See you next Sunday
As always, my calendar is open to chat about your next adventure, crazy idea, or if you’re feeling creatively stuck.
My goal is to level up the visual vocabulary in the world through my writing, teaching, and design. If you want to support my journey, the best ways are to:
Sign up for the 80/20 design challenge
Become a sponsor of this newsletter (Starting at $50—Please reach out)
Discover your own unique style by joining my live workshop
Have a great week,
p.s. Words are just words, but if these words made you feel something, would you let me know by tapping on the heart below?