DOING ME — THE ESSENTIALS OF SUCCESSFUL PORTFOLIO CAREERS
“The greatest human temptation is to settle for too little.” — Thomas Merton, Trappist monk, mystic and writer.
Most of us are natural multi-taskers, liking variety and the stimulation of the New, of the Different. But many of us are still embedded in a work culture which mitigates against experimentation, where corporate control cannot cope with unscheduled entrepreneurial tendencies and the boss wants us firmly in his box, real or virtual.
For many of us, our secondary education system, increasingly stripped of creative subjects, seems largely bent on moulding us for historically shaped workstyles. In a work context, random self-expression is potentially untidy, inconvenient and disruptive of tight schedules geared for maximizing profit. Many of us are part of someone else’s process, paving the way for redundancy as the synths crest the enterprise horizon, intent on our livelihoods, eyeing up our post-covid vulnerabilities in a rapidly changing work world.
So why would anyone want to stay in a job which addresses only a limited number of their interests, which blocks their natural curiosity, when that role is almost certainly going to be taken by a robot in the next few years?
What kind of life strategy is that? And don’t for a moment think this only happens to people who assemble cars or put the beanz in the Heinz tins. A few years ago, Japan’s Fukoku Mutual Life Insurance replaced 34 of its key workers with Watson, a £1.4M synth. Next it could be doctors and lawyers, since AI is now quite capable of taking on and speeding up quite complex tasks.
What’s the alternative then?
How could you satisfy that itch for more variety and more control, whilst at the same time putting yourself out of reach of those long, balletic robotic arms?
You might consider embarking on a portfolio career, which creates an opportunity to manage your own work destiny, to engage only with what you regard as important and ethical, to work with people you choose and to bring fun and fulfilment into your working life. In working with different groups of people on different projects, engaging new interests and utilising all your skills, you can become a richer, more attractive prospect and with some good networking, you won’t need to promote yourself as much. Gradually, you’ll find other people promoting you and the work will come to you.
I have experienced this for over thirty years now: I never advertise. My clients do my marketing for me.
We are all already and innately equipped to take up a portfolio career — if we choose to.
Yours is there, inside you, bursting to break out. You just need to release it! Yes, it’s a scary prospect if you’re currently in a regular job with a salary at the end of the month. But, as Sea Rat says in ‘The Wind in the Willows’, “Take the Adventure, heed the call, now ere the irrevocable moment passes! ’Tis but a banging of the door behind you, a blithesome step forward, and you are out of the old life and into the new”.
You should prepare for it of course, plan for it to be a success. Start by listing your transferable skills, making a contacts tree of all the people you know and, most important of all, getting really clear about what you love doing, what your burning ambition is, your peak achievement point. Talk to people outside your current organisation about your aspirations, ask for ideas, for help. Consider who you might work with. And I know this sounds like a dry, boring task, but write a business plan for what you want your portfolio career to be like — an enjoyable, inspirational and beautiful business plan. Yes, they do exist! And remember: business plans are primarily for you, not for banks.
Attitudes are important in any career
They shape the way you interact with others and therefore how they experience you. They determine how you manage situations and people, how you plan, how you react to opportunities or threats. Since you’ll be working with a greater variety of people, being clear about your attitudes, doing an attitudes audit, can be one of the most important preparations for a portfolio career. I’ve discovered that my attitudes are often expressed in four key areas. I call them my four cornerstones and they are: Time-management, Focus & Commitment, Trust and Relationships.
Time-management is not about cramming more into your day, about having wall-to-wall meetings, being “busy, busy, busy!”. Often too busy to actually achieve anything. That’s stupid. Rather, it’s about keeping daylight in your diary, allowing for the unexpected, for opportunities, for listening, for exercising that essential curiosity. For working with time, not fighting it.
Focus & Commitment is about treating everyone with equal respect, giving them your full attention, regardless of how much they’re paying you, even when there’s a really “important” possible client demanding your time “right now.” It’s about being in the Now, bringing all your faculties to bear on the task at hand. Doing the washing up beautifully.
Trust is about letting go notions of control. You can’t control everything. It’s about trusting that there will be flow in your day, that if you let it, your day will consist of a series of events, insights, meetings, successes, completions, all of which bring valuable lessons. As with time management, it’s about allowing, getting into sync with what’s going on rather than fighting it, so you can join and contribute to that flow.
Relationships are probably most vulnerable to and governed by our attitudes. Who wants to work with someone who is always grumpy, rude or hateful? We need to be in a place where we can use relationships to express our goodwill, our compassion and our love. Because the heart has a big role to play in enterprise, in guiding our interactions and decisions in a way that supports and benefits us and the world. Relationships are part of our support system: we rely on others’ goodwill, just as they rely on ours.
“The snow goose need not bathe to make itself white. Neither need you do anything but be yourself.”
Lao Tse put his finger on it: and a portfolio career is a wonderful way of freeing yourself to be a whole person, to be the authentic kind and caring you in a professional and successful way, benefitting all concerned in your enterprise. But then I’m biased! I don’t work. I be.
(And it pays!)
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