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  • Bruno Kaufmann

A Portfolio Life - by Clarisse A Simonek

Article original en anglais par Clarisse A. Simonek, CFA. Clarisse est une spécialiste de la finance ainsi que de la gouvernance des "non-profit", ces associations qui ont un rôle primordial dans la culture et la société britanniques.


Leave behind the messiness of the metropole, and day-in, day-out concerns of full-time corporate life for a curated medley of exciting roles — board seats, consulting roles, lectures, perhaps some writing,— while living intellectually fulfilled by the seaside, still earning money, and with infinitely more flexibility. Welcome to the portfolio career. Mind the gap!

When I took on my first board role nearly five years ago, I barely had any idea of where it would lead me. Five years on, I have a clear goal in mind. I might not end up at the seaside but the vision of a portfolio career drives many of the decisions surrounding my professional life. Portfolio careers are built around a combination of interests and skills where you no longer have one employer, but multiple jobs within one or more professions. It’s generally a full time commitment made up of a collection of freelance work, consulting, personal projects, board membership and other activities that demand expertise under flexible conditions. The consistent theme is career self-management.


I’m not the only one on the journey to a portfolio career. It continues to be the road less travelled by in our generation, but the grass is certainly under more wear these days. Recent graduates question not only the decision to work for one corporation for the lifetime, but to be an employee at all, while baby boomers search for more challenges at the end of traditional careers. While most companies are only starting to realise (and even fewer to adapt to) that we're multifaceted creatures with multiple interests, the term was coined back in the 80’s in a book appropriately titled ‘The Age of Unreason’ by philosopher Charles Handy refers to the re-organisation of careers as portfolios of different jobs.


“[The portfolio life is] …a portfolio of activities - some we do for money, some for interest, some for pleasure, some for a cause... the different bits fit together to form a balanced whole greater than the parts". – Charles Handy


It’s important to pause to reassure you of the obvious - working two or three jobs simultaneously is nothing new. In fact, an increasing number of individuals need to earn multiple income streams due to macro trends such as stagnant wages, fragile public pension systems and the gig-economy. The term portfolio career is applicable when working various jobs is a choice; for many, unfortunately, its not.


Beyond a way to work, it’s a lifestyle choice which provides the autonomy to choose how you work and indeed how you live. Some seek a better work/life balance, and autonomy. Some do it for the opportunity to follow divergent passions or develop multiple skill sets. Others do it seeking a new challenge and greater fulfillment. The benefits can be many. As in investment, diversification of skills, employers and sector can pay back when a company or industry is going through rocky times. A portfolio career can also be more easily rebalance to adapt to your needs as one of your roles can be paused or dropped all together if a child comes part of the family picture, or if a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity knocks on your door for your hobby to become a business. Beyond work-life balance, a portfolio career enables better work-life integration.


But as we know all too well, “there ain't no such thing as a free lunch”. With that type of career, there is a greater chance that you have the sole responsibility for your finances, and that might include taking (unplanned) unpaid “holiday”, and having to cough up your own health insurance and pension. With no executive assistant, those and other admin tasks can take a toll. Managing the portfolio also requires quite a high level of discipline, organization, flexibility and networking (!) to keep on top of the juggling act. It’s often a high-energy game – both to get the right plates (for you and your bills), as well as to keep them all spinning.


Those might be reasons to tread carefully. To test out the waters, it’s helpful to ‘do it before you do it’. I currently sit on a board of a social enterprise for entrepreneurship (having recently stepped down from a second one), do some consulting on responsible investment, run a network for young pension trustees and am actively exploring teaching – all alongside a full time job. It may sound insane, but the idea of making the leap without practice, track record and (somewhat) secured income stream feels even more insane, even terrifying, to me. That does result in quite a bit of moonlighting, which as the name suggests, means doing side projects or business in the evenings and weekends, with the risk of turning into a werewolf. (Before you try this at home, be sure to read the fine print around conflict of interest, intellectual property and additional remunerated work in your employment contract.) It’s taken me five years to build out the ‘satellite’ careers around my ‘anchor’ full-time job. The next step will be to re-jiggle to part-time and eventually, as anticipated in my impeccably drawn up master plan, jump head first into a full-out portfolio career - by the sea.


Oceans and jokes apart, the most important thing I’ve come to discover in my journey towards what will hopefully become a portfolio career, is to be clear on what exactly you want and why. Without clarity, it’s all too easy to slip into something you don’t enjoy or that takes you in the opposite direction to that you are aiming to sail to. For me, at the end of the (long) day, I’ve discovered that the true driver is positive impact - the sense of contributing in multiple and complementary ways to the causes which are dear to me. The rest is the cherry on the top.

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