A A few months ago, in a conversation about careers, I heard a sentence that changed everything: “You have more of a portfolio approach.
I’ve long felt the need to justify the many jobs I have: I run two companies, I speak at panels and conferences, I sit on a few boards, I write books, I write this column. It can be as hectic as it sounds. But simply naming this strategy helped me take a step back and see all of these roles as part of a whole, which allowed me to better budget my time, resources, and brain space.
The gig economy is growing. In recent years, there has been an increase in so-called portfolio careers due to a number of factors, from the growth of remote opportunities to the existentialism workers are facing during the pandemic. Stagnant wages and dissatisfaction with corporate jobs also play a role.
“There’s a part of human nature that finds it more natural: being independent, controlling your own destiny, if you will, and the work you do on a daily basis,” Justin Tobin, founder and chairman of innovation consultancy Gather , said in a recent episode of the company’s podcast. “Then there is feasibility. It just wasn’t feasible five years ago. And then a third part, acceptability. Zoom existed two years ago? Yes, but the acceptance of doing Zoom meetings two or three years ago compared to today is night and day.
The self-employed have been a growing part of the American labor force for some time. The self-employed have been a growing part of the American labor force for some time. By one estimate, before the pandemic hit, 48% of workers had been involved in the gig economy at some point. By 2024, this number is expected to reach 53%.
But can gigs alone be a career or a livelihood?
Christina Wallace is a senior lecturer at Harvard Business School and author of the upcoming book The life of the portfolio. She intends to define portfolios as an approach to life, not just careers. They need to consider three things, she says:
One: “Your identity is not defined by any particular role or opportunity.”
Two: “Diversifying income sources and industries will help you navigate change and ease uncertainty.”
Three: “When (not if) your needs change, you can and should rebalance your portfolio. »
Money and stability matter a lot.
Finances are one of the most important (and least discussed) aspects of portfolio careers. Two truths became clear in my conversations: that it’s okay for some aspect of your portfolio to be a full-time job with benefits, and that some aspect of your portfolio might not be making money at all.
“You might consider a major hobby or investing in learning a new skill to be part of your portfolio. Or maybe you have a helping job or significant volunteer commitments,” says Wallace. “Albert Einstein followed this famous pattern early in his career, opting for a ‘boring’ job ‘at the Swiss patent office’ so he could support his burgeoning physics research.”
Some that might be conducive to keeping others around: Often, college appointments not only enable, but encourage consultation and professional practice. Wallace also mentions creatives who spend their day working as software developers or UX designers. And of course, entrepreneurs and C-suite members naturally find themselves juggling multiple roles and priorities.
The key is to build a life that sustainably centers you and your needs in relation to those of others. “That’s why I prefer the term ‘portfolio life,'” Wallace says. “It’s the recognition that your work fits into the context of your life, and the combination of activities, projects and priorities will include more than just paid work.”
It is also worth mentioning that a good accountant, tax lawyer and accounting systems are essential for the life of a portfolio.
Your Twitter account is only one part.
The rise of social media has put an emphasis on personal branding, which is undoubtedly important to the success of a portfolio approach in one’s career, but it’s also a bit of the proverbial front cart. cows.
“Brand substance (which can be talent, passion, mission, etc.) comes first, and the brand is built on and around these,” says Cindy McGovern, CEO of Orange Leaf Consulting and author of the next Sell Yourself: How to Create, Live and Sell a Powerful Personal Brand. She mentions a three-step process when it comes to powerful personal brands: “Build the brand, live the brand, and sell the brand.”
“To do all three, you need to be clear about your strongest aspects and integrate them into your personal brand (which happens to be your company’s brand) in a portfolio career,” she says. “You also have to live the brand day in and day out to build trust and then sell the brand to keep getting more work.”
Navigating corporate America is a skill, but…
On Gather’s podcast, Tobin suggested that younger workers in particular might view portfolio careers as where they want to start, as opposed to where they want to end. “With any other part of your life that you invest in, except maybe relationships, [the idea] if you take, for example, all your money and put it into a single stock – any financial adviser would tell you that you are crazy. So why would you do that with your job? He asked.
One of his fellow podcast guests, Ben Edwards, picked up on this thread of employees’ desire to maximize their market potential. Edwards is the Managing Director of Organizational Performance at Gather, where he consults with major financial services, healthcare and insurance organizations. “Very few companies succeed in developing the skills of their employees,” he said. “The real skill they develop is how to navigate inside a large company or even a medium-sized company, which is not a transferable skill.”
That matters as the economy begins to head south. Although we are still in a tight labor market, layoffs continue. “It’s kind of heartbreaking to me when you get these layoffs,” Edwards said. “People are like, ‘Well, what are my skills?’ And the answer is that the company hasn’t taken care of that for them, they’re not as developed as they are outside of the companies, in the freelance market, where we live off our skills in every contract….[The corporate world] is an overall poor environment to develop your skills, which is your real source of security.
A portfolio approach offers at least a little more control over skills, income and identity.
A complicated picture for us women and people of color.
For many of us, wallet life has been an accidental choice more than an intentional one. I was often asked to mentor young journalists of color, be a voice for diversity on a panel, or serve on nonprofit boards (all for free) before realizing that I learned valuable skills in those extracurricular activities that could be more lucrative.
But it takes a certain degree of privilege to deliberately quit a day job and get into something more, for potentially less. And then there’s the reality of underrepresented people of color having to prove they’re twice or even three times as good, even as many are asked to “give back” to their own communities (through the aforementioned free labor , board seats, advice and mentoring). A portfolio approach can mean having to prove itself again and again, in each new context you enter.
“When you’re open about your portfolio career, there’s always a chance people will blame your mistakes on your shared attention rather than being human,” Wallace says. “These stumbles could be held against you as proof that you’re not ‘quite’. So while a portfolio career may be more valuable to these groups, its publicity (like on social media) could be more problematic.
How to explain.
“Can’t you just do one thing?” It’s a refrain many people with portfolio careers often hear from their parents and from Silicon Valley venture capitalists, infamous for their demanding focus.
“Silicon Valley says to focus on one thing, but these are companies. We talk about careers,” McGovern recalls. “Even in Silicon Valley, people pivot. If a company is good at software development, it If they develop software for gasoline cars and the world goes electric, they would pivot their personal brand to show that they can develop software for that as well.
Wages are stagnating. Housing and childcare costs are rising. We are in a student loan crisis. Wallace rattles off statistics. “When our parents or grandparents look at this approach to work, they often see ‘voluntary’, not ‘strategic’,” she says. But “the old career manual no longer works. Portfolio career growth is a direct result of trying to survive, or boldly thrive, amidst this incredibly difficult economic calculus. In this reckoning, many people realize that the only way to propel their passions and careers forward is to do it themselves.
Correction: This article previously stated that Albert Einstein worked at the United States Patent Office.