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Navigating the shift to a ‘portfolio career’

How we should think about our professional identities — when they’re designed to change

  1. The term itself is getting traction. See, as examples, a ton of stuff from the Harvard Business Review & the Portfolio Careers Podcast”.
  2. The most admired people in our culture are prioritizing authenticity & breadth in their professional narratives. Early pioneers (like Oprah Winfrey), the millenial 🐐 (Donald Glover), and entrepreneurial athletes (like Lebron & Serena) all fit this bill.
  3. Continuing booms in side projects, retail pop-ups and MooCs/bootcamps point to more mainstream adoption. For what it’s worth, so do I. I’ve bet my career on taking a portfolio approach and (as explained below) am now betting my company, Mural, on helping others do the same.

What is a portfolio career?

Before going any further into the intricacies of portfolio careers and how Mural solves for them, it’s probably helpful to define the term. For me, it refers to a career that emphasizes passion, curiosity, and self-actualization at the expense of security & (in many cases) probability-adjusted earnings.

  • You wear multiple hats (e.g. someone like me — part product manager, part growth marketer who does some investing, advising, and teaching as well)
  • You wear one hat, but in multiple contexts (e.g. you’re full-time at a big company, but consult/advise on side)
  • You are Jekyll and Hyde — in a good way! (e.g. you’re a copywriter by day, and animal rights activist by night)
  • You are building a literal portfolio (e.g. you’re a full-time freelancer, creative writer/journalist, or VC)

What’s different about portfolio careers?

Dynamic workers (i.e. portfolio careers) require a new kind of dynamic identity — one that enables them to pick and choose which skills, which work and which narratives to feature to which audiences and when.

As mentioned earlier, it remains difficult for someone building a portfolio career (who’s not a celebrity) to quickly/efficiently communicate what they do and signal that they’re a high-performer. This is because:

  • Their portfolio often stretches across several companies/projects at a time → so a singular “[Job Title] at [XYZ company]” doesn’t suffice. On the flip side, were they to list out everything in their portfolio, they’d run the risk of losing attention (or worse, credibility).
  • Their expertise often blends several functional areas → so their mission statements don’t fit a simple “I’m a [function] expert that works with [XYZ] type of companies” rubric. At the very least, they’re likely to have several such mission statements.
  • They may bend entrepreneurially → and early-stage ideas/projects/companies usually don’t offer brand credibility (yet).
  • They take pride in their actual work, not just narratives around it → and existing solutions don’t make it easy to curate what work you share with whom and with what context.
  1. Knowledge workers are incredibly & increasingly prolific. We’re dabbling across a growing number of industries, companies & side projects — and creating tons of work assets (docs, decks, and podcasts to name a few) in the process.
  2. This, in turn, places a premium on fit. Winning your first freelance client, nailing your next career move, giving a killer talk at a conference — so much of it comes down to choosing the right work, right skills and right story to feature to the right audience at the right time.
  3. Yet, most knowledge worker professional identities are static (e.g. resumes, Linkedin profiles, personal websites)& do not accommodate this kind of flexibility. They assume a pre-portfolio approach to careers — where knowledge workers did less things, for longer periods of time, with greater industry focus and with far less transparency.
  4. As a result, we see a greenfield opportunity to re-invent professional identity as something that is a) dynamic (changes based on context, h/t Erik Torenberg ) b) evidence-based (features actual work, not just narrative, h/t Brian Balfour) and c) always up to date.

Our first big step to seizing this opportunity

After laying the foundation of Mural earlier this year — by making it easy for knowledge workers to aggregate their best work from across the cloud using just URLs— our recent release of “Custom Collections” is the first big step in seizing this opportunity.



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Ajay Rajani

Entrepreneur & investor soundbiting this adventure. Cofounder: @meet_gerry,, & Formerly: Founding CMO @Tala.