Why I hate Updating my Illustration Portfolio — It brings out the worst in me

Every time I update my online portfolio I feel like a hack. A wanna-be. Out of touch. An imposter.

Updating your portfolio is a time of reflection and I’m not a person who really likes to dwell in the past — it just reminds me of my failures. My emotions cover the entire colour wheel. Envy of other illustrators. Disgust of my own work. Pride in certain moments of success. Sad that I haven’t yet achieved all I set out to do. Surprised when something stands out as good. Exhausted that I have to think about all of this. A bit embarrassed that I can’t get on with it.

You do these updates to earn projects in the future. Putting your samples up is the ultimate proof that you know what your doing. This just makes me anxious, and scared that I’m not making the right decisions. Pessimistic that I’ll never find the clients I really want to work with. Desperate to compromise so that I can pay the bills. Stupid to think that I can continue to be an illustrator.

If you are depressed you are living in the past. 
If you are anxious you are living in the future. 
If you are at peace you are living in the present.
Lao Tzu

I love what I do when I’m illustrating. I love the problem solving, relating to my clients and the creation process. There is no doubt, fear, sadness, happiness, or optimism while I’m working, because all my training, practice and knowledge are at work together. I’m in the zone so I’m content — I want to stay there as long as I can.

Portfolio updates bring out the inner critic. You can ignore the naysayers outside of yourself, but it’s really hard to ignore that inner critic.

When I was young it was easier. It was all about hope. Hope that I would get a gig. Hope that the client would like my work. Hope that I would be able to repeat the illustration process. I lived in hope and it was a close friend that offset the fear.

Then with a little bit of success and a family to support hope changed to need. With need I started to question my abilities. Should I keep trying? Does the sales, work, invoice — rinse and repeat cycle ever end? Have I wasted years of possibility in other careers chasing this dream.

Then I heard a guest on Antrese Wood’s podcast who said she wasn’t living the dream, she was working the dream. This idea helped me get through the most recent update. Instead of looking at the work as a means to an end I tried to celebrate every part of what I had created. I even attempted to celebrate the failures.

It wasn’t easy but I held out for most of the update. It was a massive one. In between client work and my personal projects it took over two months of planning and then two months of work to get it all set up. That’s a long time to hang out with the inner critic.

Right at the end, the moment it was time to post the updates, I cracked. It all looked like shit and I was ready to start all over.

“I should make all new stuff. I should come up with a new brand, new identity and experiment. Maybe I’ll hit a home run if I just make everything different.”

I froze for two days.

During this time my wife was working on her own part of a project we are creating together. I started asking her questions like, “How much time have you taken?” “Where is this all going?” “Why is it taking so long?”

I walked away wishing somebody would do that to me. But there’s nobody around to do that. It’s just me.

Then my boss revealed himself. He was not happy. He showed himself to be impatient. Had things to get on with and was sick and tired of this stupid portfolio discussion. “It doesn’t matter if you don’t like it,” he railed, “It needs to be up. We need to show the world that we’re working. That the artwork is ready to be viewed and we’re open for business.”

The boss was me.

There is a part of me — I call him the boss. He shows up once in a while and makes me do the things I hate. He made me get better at proposal writing. He decided I should learn how to write copy so I could do more blog posts.

He tells me to get over myself.

So I hit the button and the updates went live.

The boss brought me back to the here and now. Everything I had done was for that moment. It wasn’t monumental. It was just a moment. I was so busy worrying about the past and future, wrapped up in my emotions that I forgot what makes me content.

The boss knows that if I’m acting on a strategy that I’m not supposed to question it. “Save it for later, we’ll do a look back with the next major update. Besides, wouldn’t you rather be working on your projects?”

I would.


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