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Don’t Want A Traditional Career? Here’s How To Build A “Portfolio Career” With Many Sources of Income


Apr 11, 2023
Don't Want A Traditional Career? Here's How To Build A "Portfolio Career" With Many Sources of Income


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Are you too curious for a traditional, long-term career path?

Maybe you want to try too many things. Or you become restless in one job. You don’t want to be locked down. You’d rather have multiple sources of income.

There’s a movement that captures this perspective: It’s the “portfolio career” — a term that was created in the 1980s, but has become especially popular in recent years, as many people feel more empowered to explore their purpose, skillset, and ambition.

But if you haven’t gone down this path yet, how do you start? Or if you have begun, how do you make sure your commitments and responsibilities continue to align with your personal values, objectives and goals?

To start, try this four-step exercise. It won’t produce all the answers about how your portfolio career will look — because, of course, you can only produce those answers yourself — but it will give you a way to structure your thoughts and plans. And you can revisit it over time. As your goals and ambitions evolve, use the exercise as a way to refocus..

Step 1: Make a list.

First, make a long list of all of your skills, abilities and talents. Be generous with the scope of the list; you’ll want to include everything you can think of that’s work-related or not. If it feels uncomfortable to list out your skills, you can complete this exercise from a third-person perspective, as if you were an outsider making an objective assessment. Use any feedback you’ve received in the past to guide you, or any positive responses you’ve had to your past work or initiatives.

To help you kickstart the process, consider the following questions:

● What skills or talents are you known for, either among your friends or among your professional network?

● Was there anything you were particularly good at as a child? Anything people would have remembered you for?

● Do you have any key passions, interests or pursuits? Think, in particular, of the things you love doing so much that you’d do them even if you were bad at them. In other words, what are the things that you’re willing to dedicate time to because of the joy within the activity itself, rather than the outcome?

● Which parts of your life would you continue pursuing if you had no financial pressure? Which parts would you continue pursuing if you had no social pressure (in other words, if no one was looking)?

● Complete the following sentence using a description of your professional identity: my name is [X], and my main professional focus is [Y]. After you complete the sentence using your current role and position, reconsider it from a purely hypothetical position. How would you change it, if you could? Ideally, what would you like it to say?

Step 2: Evaluate

Go back through your answers and look for patterns. Pick out keywords, phrases and indicators that come up often. Perhaps highlight or underline them in a different color, if it helps. See if you can spot consistencies, themes or general principles emerging.

Now ask: if you were to select three elements to comprise your portfolio career, which ones would you keep? Which ones would you leave behind?

Step 3: Drill Down

Once you have some general themes or ideas, it’s time to get even more specific. Map out an ideal “day in the life” of your portfolio career. Be intentional and precise with the details. What time does your day start? What’s the first activity you do? Do you spend your day at your desk, or elsewhere? When do you take breaks, and what do you do with them? When do you finish your day, and is there anything you schedule into your personal time afterwards?

This step starts with the building blocks of your portfolio skills and abilities, and then shapes them into an idealistic version of reality. You can rerun this step as many times as you want, shifting parts around and redesigning until you get an idea of the typical day you’d like to have.

Step 4: Create A Plan

Finally, using all the materials and suggestions from the steps above, you can now map out the elements necessary to build your ideal portfolio career. What practical skills, talents, abilities and interests are most important to focus on?

You don’t need to think immediately about how to make money from them, either — your portfolio might start off with a collection of skills you’ll work on or study over time, and only turn into streams of income later. For now, just pick out the main blocks you’d like for the foundation of your portfolio and note them down somewhere.

Over the coming weeks, make a commitment to yourself to revisit your portfolio plan. As you start to develop a clearer idea of how you’d like your working life to look, you can begin to get practical. What small steps can you take to start to bring your portfolio elements into reality? Could you, for example, sign up to a training or course that introduces you to a new industry? Could you reach out to your network or contacts about potential new opportunities?

As always, when it comes to the work of designing your career, the process might take some time. Try to avoid rushing.instead, see it as a period of exploration, and an opportunity to get to know yourself and your interests on a deeper level. If you stay focused, committed and persistent, your next steps often become clearer sooner than you’d expect.

This article is excerpted from Eloise Skinner’s new book, But Are You Alive?, an exploration of finding depth in everyday life. You can order it here.

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