Friday, January 25, 2013

Portfolio Careers - Do You Have a Split Personality?

In the last post, we talked about encore careers—finding fulfillment in a second career helping others. Today, I want to explore portfolio careers. I first encountered this concept while researching life coaching. I had found my journey of self-discovery so rewarding up to this point that I was considering whether I might enjoy helping others through a career as a life coach. One coach indicated she often recommends portfolio careers to her clients looking for a change. The more I read, the more intrigued I became.

There’s nothing particularly new about a portfolio career—it’s basically a career comprised of multiple part-time jobs. In the early ‘90’s, British management consultant Charles Handy coined the term and suggested that working full-time for a single employer would go the way of the dinosaurs in the twenty-first century economy. His prediction proved prescient, especially with the Great Recession gobbling up so many full-time jobs. Many workers have been forced to piece together employment from several part-time jobs or temporary assignments whether they want to or not. As with encore careers, it can be difficult to replicate the income from a full-time job, and then there’s the issue of benefits.

But what about a portfolio career by choice? The prospect sounded increasingly attractive to me.

Since I had planned to retire early (just not this early), I had already considered the issue of health insurance. I had hoped to wait until OG qualified for Medicare, but since that didn’t work out, we decided to elect COBRA benefits through my former employer. The coverage is expensive, but comprehensive, and will cover OG until he reaches sixty-five. At that point, if not before, I will need to purchase individual coverage. For me, the Affordable Care Act couldn’t have come at a better time.

That leaves the issue of income and the decision about what I want to do with the rest of my life. I could look for another job, but even ignoring the issue of age discrimination, every fiber of my being resists the idea of working for someone else again. I have never considered myself entrepreneurial, but I trust myself with my future more than I trust anyone else. The time seems right to take the plunge into self-employment.

I am lucky enough to have adequate retirement savings but not quite old enough to tap into them without paying a penalty. We have enough in the bank to cover our expenses for a number of months, so I intend to make the most of that time preparing for my next career.

Many people who choose to put together a portfolio career build off their prior professional experience. They might consult in their previous field for a number of different clients or rely on past contacts to establish a new business. I rejected that option immediately. The thought of spending another hour working in insurance gives me chills. But what else do I know how to do?

I know how to write. I’ve written two award-winning novels and a novella and have another completed with several more in the works. But because I know what’s involved, I had to ask myself whether I have what it takes to be a full-time writer. The honest answer is no. I need more variety. To do my best work I need to allow the creative well time to refill. I know I want to continue writing, but that’s only the first part of my portfolio career. Because I have gone through the self-evaluation process described in my previous post, a couple of other ideas have been percolating in my brain.

I love the written word in every form. I love to read; I love to write. I also love to edit. Not many writers can say that, but it’s true for me. I’ve been professionally edited, and I’ve edited other writers’ work. I know I would find it truly rewarding to help independent authors present their best possible work to the world. The second part of my new career will be freelance editing.

I have another love as well—art and design. Along with writing and editing, I’m going to learn to design book covers. I have a degree in Art History from Vassar College, so I’ve been trained to evaluate and critique visual art. Unfortunately, I can’t draw a convincing stick figure, but today’s software makes that unnecessary. I’ve been teaching myself to use Photoshop, and I love it. I also may take a class in the next few months. After so many years spent mastering a technical business discipline, I look forward to the chance to learn something new.

So there you have it: I’m going to become a slasher (as in writer/editor/book designer). If you had the opportunity to create a portfolio career, what would you choose?


  1. Hi, Alison. I'm one of those people who's started a portfolio career more by accident than design. So far, it's slow going.

    With my Art degree from Wellesley, I too have been thinking about book covers and have designed a few, but - maybe not so surprisingly, given how many of us have that idea - have found a lot more call for my services formatting books for independent publishing outlets like Createspace and Smashwords.

    These formatting assignments are sporadic, as are temp assignments, and you know how well it pays to publish one's books through a small press. Still, it seems that, as with writing a book, just keeping at it is a big part of the recipe for success.

    ~ Laramie Sasseville
    writing as Naomi Stone

    1. I know things have been slow for you, Laramie, and I'm expecting the same. I don't even know how to format, and I'm not sure I want to learn. I hope in a few years we'll both look back and take pride in how far we've come. (I'm an incorrigible optimist.)

  2. Another thought - a friend asked me if I'd tutor her daughter in English. When she gets a writing assignment, she completes the rough draft then brings it to me. We polish it up and talk about ways to improve her writing. If you like working with kids, this might be another avenue to explore through your local high school. I know I should try to find more "clients" but their free time is my busy time with my own girls. You wouldn't have that problem.

    1. That's a great thought, Jannine. Once we get settled, it might also be a good wayt to connect with my new community.

  3. Hi Alison! Love your blog! Since being laid off, I've been trying to take my jewelry making business to the next level. I have done local craft shows for years, and have an on-line store on Etsy. Last year I was published in an annual beading magazine, and will have 6 designs published in this year's edition.

    I'd love to combine writing and jewelry making more, so we'll see how that goes!