Creating a Portfolio Career

What would you say if I told you that the idea of a linear, ladder-like career may have been a mere blip on the cultural radar instead of the taken-for-granted path that many of us have come to accept?

The fact is, the days of spending your life working for the same company and leaving with “30 years and a gold watch” are long gone. In today’s work world, more companies are viewing employees as contract labor, to be hired and fired as needed, and fewer workers are looking to stay in one place their entire lives. In fact, the newer generations are far more interested in work that seems like fun or that offers a unique experience than adhering to any outdated model of a linear, predictable professional career.

istock_000005793898xsmall.jpgAdd to that the reality that secure, long-term jobs that pay enough to support the average middle-class worker are becoming fewer and further apart thanks to cheap overseas outsourcing and technological automation, and you have the makings of a work-culture sea change of tsunami proportions. Enter the portfolio career.

A portfolio career is one, “in which instead of working a traditional full-time job, you work multiple part-time jobs (including part-time employment, temporary jobs, freelancing, and self-employment) with different employers that when combined are the equivalent of a full-time position.”

( A person with a portfolio career may work a few days a week at a local cabinetry shop, spend a few days a week teaching woodworking at a local continuing ed center and offer their services as an independent cabinet installation contractor to home builders when there’s work available. Or, it could be an IT geek with a part-time tech job, an on-call tech repair service and a website where they sell their own custom software.

Portfolio careers are shaping up to be the professional wave of the future. Internet connections are inexpensive and readily available, making telecommuting and running a virtual business far easier and cheaper than setting up a brick-and-mortar alternative. And there’s a growing culture of people who place a greater emphasis on personal and family growth rather than professional commitment. Combine that with a world where attention spans are shorter, life spans are stretched and the concept of true job security is considered a quaint and laughable myth, and you’ve got an environment rich in entrepreneurial spirit and short on patience.

Is a portfolio career right for you? That depends on how you view a few simple concepts:

Security: A portfolio career can provide security, depending on how you look at the idea. In the real world, there really isn’t that much actual job security out there, in terms of finding a job that will keep you fed, clothed and housed for as long as you care to show up. On the other hand, part-time jobs, independent contracts and online work are easier to find. However, not everyone is comfortable without the safety net of full-time work and the perks that come with it, including the very real considerations of health insurance and a steady paycheck. How you view security in your professional life makes a big difference in whether a portfolio career is right for you.

Boredom: Some people would much rather be bored than have to worry about finding their own clients or having to learn a new job every few years. Others would rather jump off a cliff if the alternative were to spend the rest of their lives doing exactly the same thing every day. Your tolerance for and concept of boredom play a big role in deciding whether or not to branch out in your professional life.

Flexibility: Some people find the idea of a straightforward career ladder limiting and tedious. Others find comfort in knowing that they’ll always know what to do and where they stand. A portfolio career provides a means of chasing down whatever rabbit holes pique your interest while providing at least a minimal financial and professional safety net. On the other hand, some people are perfectly content to learn one job and do it well for as long as they can, or to have a pre-set path that’s clearly delineated and predictable. How much flexibility you require in your professional life is a key decision-maker in this issue.

Retirement: Do you dream of working hard, saving up and then spending your golden years enjoying a life of hard-earned leisure? Or does the very idea of dropping out of work and idling your life away give you the graveyard chills? Do you feel it’s better to work hard while you’re young so you can relax and enjoy your life when such an effort might be difficult? Or do you feel that it’s better to enjoy life while you’re young and spread the work out over time? A portfolio career can be arranged in such a way as to let you enjoy a sort of permanent semi-retirement, if you so choose. This may involve cutting back your standard of living or giving up on the idea of a grand retirement of earned leisure at the end of your life (or it may not). How you look at these issues can make a big difference in your professional choices.

A portfolio career isn’t for everybody. But it is becoming more and more popular, acceptable and workable. If it’s an idea that captures your interest, the first step is to look at the work you’re doing now, the types of jobs and entrepreneurial options open to you, and how much risk and personal responsibility for your professional success you’re willing to accept. For more information on how to proceed, visit the link above. There are lots of tips and ideas there to help you on your way.

Thanks to Money Smart Life for including this article in the Carnival of Careers.

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