What's your favorite project you’ve worked on? What’s the best work you’ve ever done?
I am often asked some form of this question in interviews, and I always struggle with it. I can never think of an answer I won’t cringe about later. Not only do I feel awkward and self-indulgent answering questions like this, but I am also rarely satisfied with my own work.
I’ve worked on plenty of enjoyable projects and I’m proud of the work I do overall. I share a range of my projects and speak positively about them in my portfolio. But narrowing my career down to one “best” or “favorite” project implies that I’m totally happy with it, and I never am. It feels like I’m saying this is the most I am capable of doing. That I’ve already done the best I can do.
It seems many creatives feel dissatisfied with their own work. An overly critical eye and imposter syndrome tend to be part of the job description. But why are we most critical with ourselves?
Early on in our career, it’s the difference between our talent and our taste. Like someone who has a beautiful image in their head and can only draw a stick figure, it can be crushing to see the gap between our ideas or taste and our actual talent.
As Ira Glass puts it, “For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you.”
As a young designer, you know what good design is, but you can’t seem to create designs that live up to that standard. As you keep working hard and growing in your career, you close that “gap” and your taste and talents start to align.
Yet now that I’m more seasoned in my career, this self-critical nature still comes down to the difference between my vision and the execution. Perhaps it is perfectionism at play, a weird form of pride in itself. I can see everything I intended to do versus what I actually did. I see the things missing that I meant to include. I notice all the parts where the image in my head doesn’t match the final result.
While the viewer may notice these shortcomings, it’s more likely they don’t. After all, they don’t know exactly what I intended to do. They only see the final result. Or maybe they do notice and that’s fine too. That either helps me improve or, at this point in my career, I choose to trust my taste and talent.
Still, I don’t think I will ever be 100% satisfied with my work. To me, that means I’m being complacent. That I’m not challenging myself enough. Despite our world's obsession with it, I’m not striving for the very best. I’m only striving for better.
Instead of letting the self-doubt stifle me, I let dissatisfaction drive me to keep creating. I compete with myself to do better than the last time. I like to think my best project is my next project. This way I am motivated to see what’s ahead, rather than looking behind.
Hi, I'm Tobias, a German designer living in New York. I'm the author of this blog, nice to meet you!