10 Reasons You Want A Portfolio Career
By Heinz Bulos
For most of my working years, I have been a slasher. Even while working full-time, I always at least have one part-time job I do outside my regular work. In 2005, I took the leap from being an employee to being a program director/magazine editor/freelance writer. I also launched with a business partner a custom publishing business. And in 2007, I (together with my wife) started our own company (it was my fourth business actually, but that’s for another story) and I became a conference producer/magazine editor/custom publisher/ program director.
Why did I keep slashing my career? I can’t help it. I can’t stay put in one place and can’t just do that ONE THING. Sure there are disadvantages to this, but based on my experience, there are many advantages as well. These are my top 10 reasons why you should consider a portfolio career for yourself:
There is enormous flexibility in being a slasher. By flexibility, I mean flexibility primarily in schedule. By working part-time or on a freelance basis, you can pretty much set how many hours in a day – and how many days in a week – you want to work. You can decide what time to wake up and sleep, when to take your breaks, how long to spend on your lunch break, and even whether or not to take the whole day off (or the whole week off!). You can determine when to work on a project and for how long. If you are a slasher with a full-time day job and do freelance or part-time work on the side, it’s a little harder to be flexible. But if you have telecommuting privileges or your company allows flex-time, you can have almost the same flexibility as a freelancer or parttimer. For serious practitioners of portfolio careers (who are more likely to have total control over their time), flexibility is a way of life.
Slashers enjoy the variety of their multiple careers. They thrive on multitasking. Since they work using different skills on different jobs with different people from different organizations belonging to different sectors, their lives are anything but routine or boring. It is true that fulltime employees and entrepreneurs can also enjoy variety – a marketing executive, or founder of a startup, for instance, do various tasks and work with different people from different industries. But not all of them, and certainly not potentially at the same level of variety. In fact, for most office workers, especially those working in large corporations and bureaucracies, they have specialized skills doing specific responsibilities working under a single department. There are exceptions, of course, particularly within progressive organizations with relatively flat hierarchies. But as a whole, their level of variety cannot match that of slashers.
The major attraction of a portfolio career is the ability to pursue multiple interests and use multiple skills. I’m not saying the employed and self-employed do not pursue their passions – many do – but they have less time pursuing their other interests. It’s not that it’s impossible, it’s just more difficult. Slashers, on the other hand, have more time and opportunity to do many of, if not all, the things they love. If you’re as passionate about the law as much as art and teaching, you can pursue all three simultaneously as a slasher. Perhaps you work part-time as a legal consultant, organize art galleries on weekends, and teach corporate law twice a week. Can you do this as a full-time lawyer? Sure, but maybe, organizing art galleries will be monthly and teaching can be every Saturday, leaving practically zero time for anything else. A slasher can sneak in a couple more passions if he wants to.
A full-time employee has little control over his career. Of course, he can do a lot of things to increase his control – perform very well, get along very well, and move up the ladder fast. If he proves so valuable to his boss and employer, it’s much more likely he’ll have a long and fruitful career with his company. But for many, it’s hard to be in control of a career when you report to a capricious boss, work with jealous co-workers, or a company policy that rewards seniority rather than merit. These things happen in corporate settings. Not so with a slasher, who can pretty much choose what projects to work on, which people to work with, how much to earn, how many clients to take on, etc. Sure, there will be times a slasher has to take on jobs or work with people he doesn’t really like, but with multiple sources of income, he has a bigger chance to be more selective and take greater control over his career.
Flexibility, variety, passion, control – all these contribute to a greater sense of freedom for slashers. But while flexibility refers to time, variety refers to tasks and people, passion refers to interests and skills, and control refers to choice and advancement, freedom refers to autonomy and independence. It doesn’t mean you’re on your own, because the most successful slashers work with people all the time. But it does mean you can pretty much do whatever you like. The flip side is you need to be disciplined and self-motivated to get things done. You have no supervisor breathing down your neck. That’s a good thing, of course. If you’re an employee, many times you have to put up with bottlenecks, red tape, and silos that drag down progress on a project and cause tremendous frustration on your part. There’s a hierarchy and a chain of command. There are numerous committees and endless meetings. Sure, you sometimes face the same things as a slasher but unlike an employee, it’s a lot easier to just walk away. Now that’s freedom.
People love the idea of work/life balance. In the corporate world, this is possible within progressive- thinking companies. They institute flex-time, telecommuting, results-based work, and family-friendly policies that promote a better balance between your work and personal life. Unfortunately, there are not many of these companies. More likely, you’re stuck in the office for the entire day, often doing overtime work at night and even weekends. To do your errands, you use up your lunch hour or take a half day off. If there are special occasions in your family or at your child’s school, you take a vacation leave. When you’re not very busy, you use your company-issued computer and company-paid Internet access to surf, chat, e-mail, blog, and buy and sell on eBay. And then the network administrator blocks certain sites or cuts off access altogether. You don’t have these restrictions if you’re a slasher. You own your time. Of course, imbalance can happen if you’re doing too much work (or taking too much goofing off). Like a regular employee, maybe perfect balance between your working life and personal life is a pipe dream. But work/life integration is a reality. Your work and your personal life blends throughout the day, allowing you to do whatever it is you needed to do for your work, your family, or yourself – without asking permission, taking a leave, or being sneaky.
A great advantage of a portfolio, whether it’s an investment portfolio or portfolio career, is diversification. Ideally, a slasher’s portfolio is diverse in every sense of the word – diverse income sources, diverse types of income, diverse projects, diverse work arrangements, diverse companies, diverse sectors, etc. The idea is to spread your risks, in effect minimizing them. If one career path doesn’t pan out, you still have others to fall back on. And remember a slasher has multiple careers going on simultaneously, for instance, architect, interior designer, college professor, and commercial model. Each career can be diversified. As an architect and interior designer, he can diversify by having different clients in different markets in different locations. As a college professor, he can diversify by teaching at different schools. As a commercial model, he can work with different agencies doing different modeling stints. A full-time employee, full-time entrepreneur, or single-stream freelancer (e.g. a magazine writer) isn’t as diversified. If he loses his job, his business shuts down, or his freelance gigs dry up, it’s difficult to quickly recover.
While a portfolio career minimizes risks, ironically, it also allows you to take on more risks. What do I mean? With multiple streams of income and multiple careers, a slasher has a lot of sources to rely on. Since most if not all are part-time careers, she can keep her steady projects where she gets regular income for stability, but she can also launch or take on new projects or an entirely new career. Being full-time as an employee is actually risky because there’s generally only one source of income. You can’t easily take the risk of resigning from your job to start your own business. But as a slasher, you can more easily start a new business, launch a new project, and pursue a new career. So risk is not necessarily a bad thing, if there’s diversification. The higher the risk, the higher the return. And that’s more achievable as a slasher.
A lot of people fear that once they leave their cushy jobs and work as a slasher, their income will suffer. Maybe, especially the first couple of years or so. It’s the same thing when you decide to start a business. The difference is the mortality rate for startups is very high. As a slasher, since by definition your income sources are diverse, you have greater chances of succeeding. What is astounding to successful slashers is that their income soars once they hit their stride. In fact, they make more money as a slasher than as a full-time employee – double, triple, even more. Why? For one, a consultant for instance can charge higher than what she used to get as an employee doing practically the same thing. In other words, you can set your own prices. The other thing is you have more sources of income than what is possible as an employee. And you can take on more variable income – commissions, profit sharing, business profits, etc. – that have much more upside than a regular salary and occasional bonuses.
I have never met a slasher who regretted the career decision. Slashers will never trade their lifestyle with a regular 9-to-5 job. Sure, some might go back to the corporate world as a temporary measure, but those who are true slashers will always yearn to live a portfolio career. It’s the combination of all the factors described above that can’t be replaced by a steady job with a regular paycheck. Again, it’s not for everyone – some people thrive as a corporate worker, self-employed professional, or business owner, but fail at a portfolio career. They find fulfillment in their career or business as is. And that’s fine. But slashers report a very high level of personal satisfaction. Perhaps entrepreneurs come close. But I can’t say the same for employees.
Now you know why more and more people are opting for a portfolio career as a slasher. If you think “more and more” is like a few thousands maybe, think again. And while it seems like a novelty, it’s actually been around for centuries – it just kind of disappeared, but now it’s back in a big way. And there are compelling factors that contribute to its rise. And don’t be surprised if a couple of decades of now, slashers will be the dominant type of career. Pundits are already calling it the future of work.
Aside from being editor-in-chief of MoneySense, Heinz Bulos is also the President of Learning Curve, producer of Money Summit & Wealth Expo. He maintains several blogs including Life in the Slash Lane at slashlane.com.