Portfolio careers: are they the future?

Portfolio careers are on the rise, with more and more people choosing to have multiple jobs rather than putting all their eggs in one basket.

They may be building a business on the side of a full or part time role or doing several part-time roles or a combination of freelance, voluntary and part-time work.

A new book not only explores the phenomenon, but advocates it as a positive way of working which brings greater control, freedom and choice in a world where, due to technological change, there is no longer any such thing as a risk-free job.

Portfolio Careers: How to Work for Passion, Pleasure & Profit! is packed with case studies of people from different places and walks of life who have switched from a traditional career to one where they balance multiple roles.

It aims to challenge the reader’s thinking about work rather than be an A-Z guide to career change.

The author Steve Preston  begins with his own story. He spent 30 years working in the corporate travel world before he faced a crossroads. He was offered a senior management role which was 200 miles away. It would have meant uprooting his family. Describing it as “a career-defining moment” he opted instead for redundancy. “I wanted to be the architect of my own future,” he says. It was a leap of faith, but he says he recognised on taking it that he had been unhappy in his job for a while. He didn’t want to go straight into another corporate job where he would be beholden to his employer so he joined a government back to work scheme after doing a bit of research.

He started to explore his options and was asked to give some management advice along the way. One thing led to another, creating a series of ripples. He eventually built his own HR and career development consultancy business and has since developed his own “brand” as an author and expert on career change.

Wearing several different hats and following work that interested him, he has been able to build an interesting and varied career for himself and he thinks many others could benefit too, although he recognises a portfolio career might not be for everyone.

The benefits of choosing multiple jobs

He outlines how a successful portfolio career begins with passion and doing something you enjoy, rather than thinking solely of money. The money will follow if you get the rest right, he says.

So what are the benefits of a portfolio career? A big one is flexibility, but others include freedom, the ability to widen your networks in ways you wouldn’t if you just did one job, the fact that you are constantly learning as well as freedom from the constant stress of many corporate jobs. It is like pick and mix, says Preston, and, while it might seem risky, he argues that it is actually less so than staying in one job given the way work is changing and given the fact that many of today’s jobs will disappear in the next few decades. He says the portfolio career ensures you are “future proof”, citing the impact of the 2008 recession as an example of the risks of putting all your eggs in one basket.

So why aren’t more people opting for a portfolio career? One barrier is social conditioning, says Preston. People are conditioned to think in terms of traditional jobs. There are also a lot of myths around about portfolio careers, including that they are only for creative types or for women returners who just want to “dabble” and that you can’t earn much money from them.

Preston’s case studies prove the latter is not necessarily the case, but they do not give an unrealistic view of the challenges. They include people who, for example, admit to some of the mistakes they have made along the way. They are also very varied, for instance, people who have used the portfolio option to “downsize their career and upsize their life”. The model allows people to change pace and blend in different types of work, including non-executive director posts, interim work or volunteering commitments.

Preston is keen to point out that no one size fits all and that the model means people can shape their work according to different aspects of their personality or to their different interests.

The book ends with advice on the practicalities of making a portfolio career work, including how to balance workload if you have multiple roles.

For Preston it is about building a fulfilling career that is fit for the next decades and which allows people to play to their interests and passions. Variety, as the saying goes, is the spice of life.

*Portfolio Careers: How to Work for Passion, Pleasure & Profit! by Steve Preston is available on Kindle.

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