The charms and challenges of a portfolio career

I was only a bit surprised when analysing my clients’ careers prompted me to rethink my own. In a reflective New Year moment I found there are chunks of my former careers that I miss. While I love working with career changers, parts of me misses the energy and spark that teamwork generates.

I also realised that I need to make a difference for my career change clients and in the wider world.  Since I started my business I’d volunteered and done the occasional paid contract for charities but suddenly it was time to do more.  

Jo Green Coaching is in good shape. Being a natural project manager my processes are efficient enough to keep things ticking along. I knew I could commit a full day a week to doing something else without risking the health of my business. And I really needed to get out the house more.

I thought about the advice I’d give a career change client and I took it.  I decided on exactly what I was looking for. I posted on social media, asking my contacts if they knew of any part time roles.  The response was amazing. Several weeks later I’d won a contract to do research and evaluation for a children’s charity.

I was about to embark on my first portfolio career.

So what even is a portfolio career?

It’s a tapestry

One of the most quoted definitions of a portfolio career (attributed to Dictionary.com) describes it as ‘a tapestry of a variety of eclectic employment experiences; employment in a series of short-contract or part-time positions.’

Portfolio_Career

I like the ‘tapestry’ bit. Because combining the threads of your portfolio career involves some pretty skilful weaving.  Apart from that, I’m partial to the simpler definition of ‘doing more than one thing at once.’ Like the coach I know who is also a musician, or the teacher who works part time at a charity or the IT manager who is a makeup artist at the weekends.

However, like any career change, opting to ‘go portfolio’ isn’t simple.  After two months of weaving and juggling and adapting, here’s what I’ve learned so far.

It’s a stretch

And the stretch is responsible for the charms and the challenges.

First up, the charms.

  • Refining my skills

Career coaching facilitates individual change. It calls for two of my favourite skills – observation and enquiry. My new research role gives my perennially curious self the chance to use these skills to support organisational and social change. I’m also sharpening my sleeping skills in project and stakeholder management and report writing. 

  • Having fun and feeding my creativity
Air_guitar

Running a workshop for children’s entertainers wearing space suits. Joining stiff limbed grownups dared by an 8 year old to do the splits. The new role has meant enjoying crazy, inspired, fun filled experiences that feed the soul and fuel creative thinking.

  • Reengaging with the wider world

Working research days in a children’s hospital has reminded me how resourceful and resilient we are in dire times.  Certainly I admire my career change clients’ courage and commitment. However, working at home means fewer chances to engage with humans doing the full spectrum of amazing things including playing full body air guitar on a train platform (seen last week at Central Station, Sydney).

  • Seeing Jo Green Coaching through fresh eyes

When I was a kid in a choir the conductor gave us a break from rehearsing a tricky piece. We came back with new enthusiasm and aced it. Time out is having the same refreshing effect on my business mindset.

  • Setting better boundaries

While I‘ve always understood the theory of setting boundaries around work hours with clients I haven’t always practiced it. Dividing my days to accommodate two jobs has meant I’ve had to be clearer with clients. Aside from an occasional guilty twinge, this is working really well.

 Now for the challenges:

Business_hats

While I’ve succeeded in scheduling my clients I’m yet to sort and stem the flow of emails and phone calls. Nor have I fully mastered the art of quarantining ‘brain space’ for each role.  Recently my phone pinged a 10 minute reminder for a client session 10 minutes walk away. I’d got totally immersed in contract work on a coaching day. Then on a research day I took a call from a potential client while grabbing lunch in a hospital canteen.  


Wearing the coaching hat, there are specific parameters – I don’t share much about myself. I ask lots of questions and dig around what my clients tell me.  At first it felt jarring to take off my coaching hat in my new role or to have the lunchtime conversation be more about me than I’m used to.

  • Explaining what I do (and that I’m not broke)

Being a ‘triple c’ - career change coach is tricky enough when it comes to answering ‘so what do you do?’. I’ve got used to blank looks or to someone launching into how much they (or someone they know) hate their job. Adding another role and explaining how I split my time has tripled the challenge.   

Like most entrepreneurs, I’m sensitive to other people’s perceptions about the health of my business. Naturally I’m enjoying the additional income but I didn’t take on new work for the money.  Although I still get occasional demon driven worry that the world will imagine my business is failing.

  • Being less flexible

Having a more complicated schedule has meant missing out on some social events and short term work opportunities. I’ve got used to being my own boss and setting my own hours. Adjusting to working fixed hours for someone else took time.

When I work at home I do very little waiting around. I can walk away from my computer to do other productive things, like packing the dishwasher (which is more productive than Facebook right?). However, since I’m still a big believer in ‘doing something while you wait’, this article was written in the departure lounge at Sydney airport on my way to Melbourne for the research job.


For the moment, I’m flourishing as a portfolio career changer. Where will this weaving and juggling take me next? Ask me in six months.

Keen to explore a portfolio career?  Let’s talk charms and challenges.


By Jo Green, Career Coach

I know how it feels to be lost in your career. That’s why I coach, to create learnings, action and help others get stuff done! Career transitioning can be lonely and confusing. I walk alongside my coaching clients to support them, be their cheerleader and challenge them to make the changes they want in their life. 

Drop me a note to organise a free 20 minute consultation to chat about your career change and how coaching could help.