Plus 5 Other Lessons from the First Year of My Portfolio Career
One year ago, I left the safety of a full-time, permanent job. I embarked on a journey into the unpredictable world of a portfolio career. I am now a fully-fledged multi-potentialite.
And what a year it’s been! A year of highs and lows and everything between. A little bit like this…
Some definitions to start us off:
- Multi-potentialite: someone with diverse interests across many domains and may be capable of success in many endeavours or professions. Also known as a multi-hyphenate or a pluralist.
- Portfolio career: a tapestry of a variety of eclectic employment experiences; employment in a series of short-contract or part-time positions. Also known as slash careers e.g. lawyer/blogger.
- Gig economy: a labour market characterized by the prevalence of short-term contracts or freelance work as opposed to permanent jobs.
Here are some of things I’ve learnt about how to make a portfolio career work.
It’s Not For Everyone
The first thing is realising that this is not a lifestyle that will suit everyone all the time. It’s hard! It’s full of joys, benefits and advantages, but like everything in life it has its share of downsides. If security, stability and predictability are important to you, then perhaps a portfolio career isn’t right for you right now.
Freelancing, the gig economy, and portfolio careers are often glorified and people can feel under a lot of pressure to work in these new ways.
Portfolio careers aren’t all made equal. The beauty of them is that you tailor them to suit you and your interests. A part-time job and a passion project. A range of freelance contracts. But a mix of zero-hours contracts and late night Deliveroo/Uber shifts might not be quite so attractive.
Being honest with yourself about what you want and how you want to live your life is crucial. You are the best judge of whether this is the right path for you. Everyone will have an opinion and it can be helpful to listen to those who are close to you . My dad was concerned about my choice, particularly about money. When we talked, he was worried about how I would cope with the uncertainty. A valid concern and one that prompted me to think deeply about how I would cope.
It’s okay if it works out. It’s okay if it doesn’t. Maybe it’s something you’ll do for a few years and then go back into full-time employment for a while. But ultimately, there’s only one way to find out for sure — by giving it a go!
You Define Your Success
My overarching goal is to have a life I don’t need a holiday from. A portfolio career is a way of working which supports the lifestyle I want. A flexible life where I can live aligned with my natural rhythms. A life full of variety and learning, where I can apply my expertise and interests to work that matters.
This last year has been wonderful. I earned enough money to cover all my outgoings and even save a little bit . Considering my initial goal was to make it to July without burning through all my savings, that feels pretty damn good! I’ve pursued lots of different interests and types of work. This year was about exploring what I wanted to do and see what happened. I now have a clear model and way of explaining my portfolio that makes sense.
This is the list I use to assess opportunities and to define success when it comes to work:
- Does it make me happy? Does it feel right?
- Does it let me have a positive impact? Does it let me affect change? For individuals? For society?
- Is it intellectually interesting/challenging?
- Can I travel or work remotely?
- Will there be time to pursue my other interests?
- How will this get me closer to my goals?
- Do I like the people and their values/energy?
- Does it offer financial gain/security?
Your definition of success may look completely different. Take some time to understand what success means to you. Setting goals can be a great way to mark progress. Approach them with the right balance of ambition and realism to get the most of the freelance lifestyle.
It Takes Time
Whatever your definition of success, it won’t happen overnight. It’s taken me a year to get a place where I have the right kind of balance of work.
It’s always taken longer than I expected for promised work to materialise. For that relationship to yield paid work. For that piece of work to start.
Patience and persistence are key.
Learn to Manage Yourself
Being a parent to yourself encompasses all the advice about self-care, routine, and discipline.
Freedom and flexibility are great advantages of this lifestyle. But you still need to have some kind of routine if you want to thrive. There’s so much to say on this topic but let me boil it down to a couple of bullets
- eat healthy food on a regular basis
- drink lots of water and not too much caffeine
- do some kind of exercise everyday
- plan when you’re going to work and stick to it
- go to bed at a sensible time and get up at the same time every day
Unpredictable income is one of the hardest challenges of a portfolio career. Getting some long-term contracts is one way to mitigate this. The other key one is being in control of your finances.
Get on top of your outgoings. Know how much you need to pay the bills and essentials each month. This is your minimum income needs before tax. I surprised myself by how little I actually needed spend and how much of my spending was optional.
Know how much you have coming in and when. Save for your tax bill and pension contributions as soon as the money arrives in your account. Budgeting for tax, national insurance, and pension from the outset makes life so much easier.
Keep track of all your income and expenses. I have a separate account for all my business income and expenses to make it easier. I use a spreadsheet to keep track of everything and there are lots of apps and tools that will help.
Get professional advice if you are at all unsure, especially when it comes to tax.
Don’t Go It Alone
A portfolio career often means working on your own. You’re not part of a permanent team so you miss out on all the benefits of regularly working with people. But all is not lost!
Joining a co-working space can be a great way of meeting other people. You have to pick the right space as some can be pretty soulless. I often meet friends to co-work together for the day.
Find a community of like-minded people. Having support and sharing ideas has been essential for my success this year. I’ve used online communities like Facebook groups and in-person networking and meetups. I’ve made some wonderful friends who are also pursing amazing, varied careers. Having people who understand the challenges has helped me through the tough times.