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One Year On: Living the Portfolio Career

Updated: Jun 7, 2019

I now have a portfolio career as a writer and a public speaker.

I chose this style of career after starting down a very traditional path. After graduating, I joined the Civil Service Fast Stream and immediately entered the 9-5 office job routine. I very quickly I realised that it wasn’t for me, at least not at this stage of my life.

After spending a year on the graduate scheme, I handed in my notice and instead launched a project to try 25 different jobs in a year, before my 25th birthday.

Since finishing 25before25 a year ago, I have built my own portfolio career, which means I’ve had part time, contract and freelance jobs all at the same time.

To give you some idea: I give talks at schools and universities; I have worked as a writer on expeditions from swimming the length of the English Channel to climbing Himalayan mountains; I edit the Careers section of a national student magazine; and I have also worked as a social media manager for an Italian restaurant chain and an international development organisation. I have also ended up speaking on TV and radio about my experiences and my views on alternative ways of working. which is becoming a job in itself!

This means that I’m always busy, and work can bleed into my evenings and weekends – it can be hard to switch off. I need to be incredibly good at time management, and at interviews as I’m always looking for new opportunities. It can be challenging as often I don’t get the benefits of permanent employees, like holiday and sick pay, and I have to navigate the minefield of figuring out my own taxes.

Despite all that, it is absolutely worth the effort. Every day, I wake up and look forward to my working day. I have the autonomy to do what I love; I set my own agenda and have carved out my own niche. I decide what I want to do and when I want to do it. I can work anywhere in the world, and I’m not based in a single location or office – I spent a month working from a swimming pool in Bali earlier this year, for example, because it worked out cheaper than working in London for a month. It also means that I am paid ‘consultancy’ level fees for much of the work I do, which more than makes up for not having holiday or sick pay.

The key skills to making a portfolio career work are time management, organisation, people skills, employability skills. The rest is up to you, because the benefit of this career path is its flexibility – it is what you make of it, you choose your own path. You determine your own work/life balance and what works for your wellbeing.

My advice to those weighing their options would be to use a portfolio career as an opportunity to test careers or skills that you’ve always wanted to try but haven’t been able to before.

It may take time to work up to having the equivalent of a full time job. It took me around 4 months. Don’t panic. If you can, build up a small pot of savings to tide you over, or don’t quit your full time job immediately – work things out as much as you can first.

Take the opportunity to consider what working environment is right for you, if you’ve always dreamed of working in an edgy art gallery, for example, or working outdoors, now is your chance to see what that’s really like.

Finally, be creative about where you look for work – I have got the majority of my jobs through social media. Search for hashtags and groups which relate to the industries your most interested in and see what you can find.

It’s a cliché, but whenever I get to a difficult decision point, I imagine that I’m 80 years old, and try to think which path I’d rather have taken. It helps me live life with as few regrets as possible. It means that if I turned the clock back, I would do it all over again in heartbeat.

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