Welcome to the era of the portfolio career, where a number of jobs are done simultaneously to deliver a viable income, job satisfaction and the ability for workers to follow their passions.
Portfolio careers have become a hot topic of late as more employees move to individual contracts rather than traditional fulltime roles. However, the concept has been around for a long time, especially in fields such as the creative arts where it can be difficult to find a fulltime job.

Leonardo da Vinci encapsulated the modern-day concept of a portfolio career, working as a painter, sculptor, inventor, architect, musician, and writer – often simultaneously – to make a living doing what he loved.

A portfolio career can help workers fulfil their career potential, pursue personal interests and develop unique talents, all of which create a deeper sense of purpose and meaning in their lives.

Mike Willmett, a musician, composer and university lecturer at Queensland University of Technology, began his portfolio career 11 years ago. When we meet he is juggling multiple academic roles with composing music for a dance show, working on a new theatre development and managing his own business devoted to music and sound.

Not surprisingly, Willmett admits: “I enjoy the juggling but it’s getting to a stage now where I have to put one of the balls down.”

While this way of working can be chaotic at times, multiple projects can make for a more rewarding and fulfilling work-life blend. “I enjoy the constant feeling that new things are coming up,” says Willmett. “There’s an excitement around what the future might hold.”

However, working outside a traditional employment relationship is not without its challenges. While optimists see portfolio careers as a rewarding employment option that promises a future of freedom, flexibility and empowered entrepreneurs, others, such as US Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, are more cautious.

As more US workers than ever before move to portfolio careers, Clinton has expressed concern that they could be exploited by individual employers and organisations which hold an unfair balance of power when it comes to employment.

As individual jobs and projects are often short term and ad hoc, this can be stressful and create financial and sometimes emotional insecurity when workers blame themselves for issues created by external industry conditions.

Australian writer Sue White knows what it is like to manage a portfolio career during difficult financial times. “With any career, when you are business for yourself, there are ebbs and flows. I got through the GFC so I figure I can survive anything now.”

White gave up the security of traditional employment to do work that she wanted and has created a successful career as a journalist, copywriter and writing coach. “I love working on things that interest me and seeing that I make a difference with what I do.”

While portfolio careers are common in the creative arts, they are not just for creative workers. David Kerr began his career as a real estate entrepreneur and had created his own successful business by the time he was 35. Soon, he was searching for a new challenge. “I had loved helicopters ever since I was a kid so I learned to fly and got my private licence.”

From there he created Brisbane Helicopters, using his own helicopter to get his flying hours up while simultaneously contracting work to qualified pilots so he could pay for a commercial licence. He has now built not one, but two, successful helicopter businesses, adding Hervey Bay Helicopters to his portfolio career last year. When high-end clients are interested in buying property, he often flies them around to see it from all angles.

“I love all the different aspects of what I do now,” he says. “I don’t see it as work.”

Arts graduates like Willmett often adopt a portfolio career as they establish themselves in their chosen field. However, portfolio careers are not just for workers who are starting out or those like Kerr seeking a midlife career change. Boomers have adopted the term ‘encore career’ to describe an active retirement earning money on the side by doing what they love. It goes to show that you’re never too old – or too young – to discover the benefits of a portfolio career.

Source: The New Zealand Herald

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