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I’m a Portfolio Careerist… and I’m Confused!

by Declan Hill

Last week I was chatting with someone about a potential joint venture, and she used the term ‘portfolio career’. I didn’t know what it meant, so, being a man, I ignored it in the hope it would go away. But in my inbox later that day came Beermat Entrepreneur Mike Southon’s regular FT column about the very same subject http://www.mikesouthon.com/mikes-e-zine/ (Pssst… look out for Mike’s forthcoming piece about Sheffield’s MADE Entrepreneur Festival, details here: http://www.madefestival.com/)

A portfolio career, it turns out, is a combination of part-time jobs which then make up a full-time career. And, because the world is our oyster and the future certainly isn’t a clam, we can get paid for doing lots of different things – jobs we like, jobs we suffer and passions that we share with people.

Apparently, ours is the first generation to look upon portfolio careers as an option. Our parents and the generations before us are still of the idea that there’s one job or career for life, while those who are graduating now will have a number of different job centres where they can sign on (if you believe the media). And Europe has led the way with our American cousins looking on, wondering whether or not to bite the polycareerist bullet.

The thing is, now that I’m a fully fledged member of the portfolioso, I don’t know how I feel. Initially, I was relieved. So it wasn’t just me that spent their mornings deciding which job hat they were wearing that day and being schizophrenic when people asked them ‘what they did’, I’d joined a club and it was OK to be a member, I could look my parents in the eye and tell them that I had got a proper job after all. I used to think that I was doing two or three jobs (writer, massage practitioner and theatre producer) because I hadn’t made my mind up which one to take seriously.

Now it’s OK to do all three. And they’ve served me well in the downturn as I was made redundant from one and had the backup of the other two to help tide things over.

But my petty jealousies still exist, even though I’m doing what I love. I bet everyone else who’s chosen the portfolio route is doing really well at it. Yeah, they’re swanning around with fantastically high-paid jobs which means they only have to do one day a week of each, leaving time to put their feet up with a good book or have lunch in the middle of the golf course, while I have to slave away six or seven days a week to make ends meet.

The great thing about a portfolio career is that variety definitely is the spice of life – I’m not locked into one path, whether self-employed or PAYE, and I never get bored or feel I’m on a treadmill. It doesn’t suit everyone and I still need to get the self-organisation licked, but this career path leads in many directions and there’s lots of beautiful scenery.

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Single ladies and start-ups, stand up for being special


As someone who’s busy striving to find her feet in a new area of work, I’ve recently made it my business to find out every little nugget I can about what to do – and what not to do – when it comes being successful at selling your services to the corporate world.

This week, my latest lesson, learnt at a business event workshop for the self-employed, was a simple one : specialise, specialise, specialise.

As I sat listening to the Enterprise Champion of Business Link Yorkshire(yes, this is her official job title) explain the importance on strictly focusing on your potential market and firming staking your claim to this territory, I remembered the last time I’d been told this fine-tuning approach to cultivating a career was a canny move.

My former journalism tutor had the same advice while I studied for my Postgraduate Diploma in Magazine Journalism, 13 years ago. ‘Find an area to specialise writing in, make your name there, then you’ll have less need to look for work, as it will come to you…’

So, it was with this notion of cultivating my ‘specialness’ still ringing around my head, when a few days later, I read a piece in The Observer – albeit about an altogether different market – which threw this notion out of the window. And left me spitting feathers!

Lori Gottlieb, American author of Marry Him: The Case for Settling for Mr Good Enough, is urging women who haven’t found Mr Right by the time they reach 30 to settle for Mr Second Best.

Gottlieb attempts to qualify her laughable ‘theory’ by saying: ‘Every woman I know – no matter how successful and ambitious, how financially and emotionally secure – feels panic, occasionally coupled with desperation, if she hits 30 and finds herself unmarried.’

I’m not sure what left me more irritated and disappointed – the fact that Gottlieb was the latest in a long line of hollow mouthpieces who felt it their duty to dig out their rusty loudhailers to dictate to me and my peers on the grounds of gender, or was I more irked at The Observer for giving her such a prominent voice, in the shape of a half-page ‘news’ article on page 7?

Here’s the full piece: http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2010/jan/24/women-stop-looking-mr-right

Second best is never good enough, whether you’re talking couples or corporates.

Keep it special!