Portrait of a Portfolio Career: An Answer to the Perfect Job?
At lunch the other day Christine described her new career venture to me. While outlining the impressive array of services she provided, she included some details of the career journey that brought her here. Starting out doing debt consolidation from home for friends and acquaintances when her children were small, she was catapulted into full-time work in Human Resources following a divorce. Moving from one corporate HR division to another, she specialized in employee benefits and severance packages. In recent years, finding herself tiring of demanding hours and wanting more independence, she has moved into financial planning as an affiliate of a large financial network. While she is thriving in this new challenge, she did admit, with a smile somewhere between embarrassed and shy, that she had a side business as a personal color consultant. I have too many interests to expect one job to make me happy. Ive always had something going on the side!
Her allusion to non-monogamy wasnt lost on me. I guessed that was what accounted for her moment of slight embarrassment. Many of us are still laboring under the outmoded belief that we should make a career choice early in life and follow it faithfully in a more or less straight line. Wanting to applaud Christines adventurous and self-knowing spirit, I surprised her by responding, Congratulations! Youve put together a portfolio career!
She was startled. Whats a portfolio career? she asked.
Its a way to design your work life for people like yourself who have many interests, a hunger for variety, and a love of learning.
Oh, she said with a pleased smile. I could almost see her feathers fluff up with this new perspective.
A portfolio career can be a particularly good solution now during economic uncertainty and as we witness vast changes in the way work is conducted. Its a model for being pro-active in designing our careers, permitting flexibility in responding to changes in market conditions and global shifts. And its a model particularly well-suited to womens lives. Women have always been good at doing many things at once. During a time when companies family-friendly policies are diminishing, putting together a portfolio career often can better accommodate a spouses job requirements or a familys changing needs. Designing your personal career portfolio gives women a way of working that fits our lives, instead of working our lives around our jobs.
More specifically, what is a portfolio career? Its a career that has several parts, bound together by a common thread (you), thats adaptable to many different circumstances. It can be a combination of traditional employment, contract work, and work for yourself (e.g. a home-based business). You can work on various projects or with several clients concurrently or sequentially. Sometimes the parts of your portfolio even rotate seasonally: a garden design business in the summer, and technical writing in the winter.
In addition to building in variety and flexibility, the portfolio career paradigm gives a place of value to those endeavors - service or pro bono work, for instance, or creative projects that dont (or dont yet) generate income. Most importantly, the term portfolio career elevates, in their own eyes and perhaps in the eyes of others, those enterprising folks who have diverse interests and talents and insist on expressing them, in spite of having to buck reputations as jack of all trades, master of none. People have embraced the portfolio career label with emotional relief, finally having a name that reflects the unifying and meaningful guiding force behind all their activities.
So how do you go about creating a portfolio career? Here are some guidelines.
- look at your work history: What is the common thread (or threads) connecting the work youve enjoyed most and done well at? Perhaps its money: making it, managing it, building healthy attitudes about it.
- deconstruct the work youve done into tasks and list all the skills involved in those tasks. Dont overlook the people skills like listening, motivating, team building, etc. Think of new settings where those skills are of value and/or get compensated.
- What are the hobbies or side interests that are or could become income generators?
- Plan a brainstorming session with a friend to come up with a number of revenue streams, and then mindmap them. (For mindmapping guidance: www.thinksmart.com/mission/workout/mindmapping_intro.html)
- What are the natural rhythms of your life that might suggest some directions? (E.g. a client of mine got an ESL teaching certificate so she could spend cold mid-Western winters in a tropical Latin climate.)
- If youre considering multiple concurrent projects, make at least one of them a no brainer, something easy or very familiar.
And, like any good idea, there are some cautions. Portfolio careers probably arent for everyone. How do you know if it might work for you? Here are some questions to think about.
- do I have a personality suited to a portfolio career (adaptable, risk tolerant, self-starting, enjoy variety/complexity)?
- am I good at improvising when Im not fully prepared?
- how do I handle financial insecurity?
- am I willing to adjust my standard of living if necessary?
- how will I provide for health coverage and vacations?
- how well do I structure and manage my time?
Like the man who looks under the lamppost for his keys, rather than looking where he dropped them, maybe the perfect job has eluded you because you havent known where to look. Try on the idea of a portfolio career and see if it frees you to consider new possibilities, a new approach to creating work that fits you and fits your life.
Nina Ham is a certified business and career coach and a licensed psychotherapist. Her company, Success from the Inside Out, helps midlife women redirect their careers or transition from salaried to solo. Find out about her Career Quest program at www.successfromtheinsideout.com/career_quest.html or subscribe to her free monthly ezine, www.successfromtheinsideout.com/library.html
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