When you don’t get the job

Speaking to a group of students, I was recently asked about the need to have a physical portfolio. A book, case, box, etc. I stressed the importance of a portfolio website and said I couldn’t remember the last time I used a physical portfolio. Thinking about it more, the last time was probably 2008. There I was, suburbs of Chicago, for a late lunch, interviewing for a design job with Bruce Mau.

I walked him through my work. Most notably the Power to the Poster project. It was certainly a lively interview. I’ve met Bruce a few times over the years. Always illuminating, always thought-provoking. In the end, there wasn’t a job open in their Chicago or Toronto office. It had been a long, drawn-out process getting to the interview, so I ultimately  accepted defeat and moved on.

What came next was me getting my shit together for my “what next.” A job at a design firm doing world-changing work wasn’t happening, so how about I just go make my own world-changing work? The crash of the economy was happening at the time, so things were tense and a little uncertain. I decided to stay at my current agency job longer than I probably should have and ride out the turbulence.

Then, in 2010, after a brief detour into grad school for an unsuccessful go at a master’s degree (more schooling was just not for me), I was on my own. Independent, cause-focused, ready to make it happen. In the first year I was working with Participant Media in LA, making digital graphics for MoveOn.org and 350.org, designing Eli Pariser’s TED slides, and just beginning what would be a 6-year design project against the Keystone XL Pipeline led by Bold Nebraska. My kind of work, for my kind of causes.

Whether right or wrong, I usually decide to err on the side of “well, I’ll just do it myself then.” It’s up to me to figure it out, to chart the path, to change course, and to take it head-on. With successes and failures from a 6+ year independent design practice, I’ll keep taking that approach for now. Not getting the job, the project, or the opportunity never means it’s over. It simply means your “what next” is still out there. It will just take more time to find.