I always felt like a round peg trying to squeeze myself into a square hole when it came to my career.
I spent years altering my CV and cover letter to fit job descriptions and trying to hide career changes and job moves.
I even deleted years worth of experience in a bid to get hired. But perceptions are changing, and moving around is more commonly accepted now. A portfolio career is becoming the most popular way of working in 2020 and proving fruitful during a crisis.
A portfolio career means someone who works with autonomy, who is willing to completely change gears, turn the traditional nine-to-five on its head, and tailor working conditions to suit their lifestyle (this may involve side hustles or multiple business ventures).
For example, a full-time accountant might have an online jewelry shop on the side, or you could be someone like myself who has had several different careers back-to-back.
This way of working can also be compared to one of the most popular and overused buzzwords to come out of lockdown: “pivoting,” when a person or business changes direction or has a complete career overhaul.
For those accustomed to this style of working, it’s been business as usual during COVID-19. I started my career as a journalist, then moved into talent management before becoming a producer in television and then online.
I now direct some projects, and during lockdown, I’ve been able to draw on my previous skills and start writing scripts for online animations and the occasional articles again, which is perfect when working from home.
So even though I lost a lot of production work, I was quickly able to adapt and felt completely comfortable with change.
Why are we expected to choose one career and stick to it forever, anyway?
When we were children, we played with as many toys we could get our hands on—we were curious, playful, and sought variety. Then we attended school and had the potential to be talented at many subjects, but the educational system soon started to encourage us to focus on one topic and ultimately one career.
It is hugely stifling for a lot of people and can create severe angst in some 17 to 24-year-olds, and depression in adults who feel they may have made the wrong career choice, but feel like they can’t get off the treadmill.
American singer-turned-chef Kelis said, “Cooking school revolutionised everything in my life. I had spent four years tied to a label I hated, which was like an arranged marriage. I felt exhausted, under-appreciated, and disrespected, and it sucked. And then, all of a sudden, I realised I could walk away from music, and my life won’t shatter.”
Like Kelis, some of my career changes came about because I grew as a person and sought more job satisfaction. I moved from some jobs because they were either freelance projects or I moved to another country and needed to build up my contacts and experience before landing similar roles to those in my native country.
All legitimate reasons in my eyes. On paper, however, “job hopping” indicates to some employers that “I’m flighty and not worth investing in” and, at times, I’ve even questioned my ability to commit to something. But I’ve had permanent jobs in the past, and commitment isn’t the issue—happiness is. I’ve experienced too much to settle because of fear of the unknown.
I’m not saying there isn’t any value in staying in a job and working through challenges, but I am saying there is also value in changing things up, learning new skills, and seeking variety. It keeps ideas fresh, and you are full of competitive and alternative market knowledge—an asset to wise and open-minded employers.
Starting a new job is counted as one of the most stressful times of someone’s life, and the fact that those with portfolio careers are continually learning new skills is no easy feat. It takes tenacity, resilience, vision, flexibility, and courage to handle this level of stress and challenge your comfort zone regularly. If you are not learning, you are not growing, and this is when motivation and happiness can dwindle.
Instead of hiding your abilities and experience, use it as your unique selling point. I rarely see advertisements that match my skill set, so I make my opportunities.
I built an online portfolio instead of a traditional CV, and I am now only interested in working with companies that can appreciate my value. I flourish when I have autonomy, and I am extremely loyal to those willing to take a risk. I intend to keep evolving—perhaps into coaching next—but who knows—that’s the beauty of being open because anything is possible.
If you would like to create this way of working in your own life, I would suggest getting clear on what your transferable skills are. Sure, you may need to upskill in some instances, but if you get organised, create a plan, and don’t just leave with nothing to go to (although this is also possible), there is no reason why you can’t change successfully.
You may need to find additional work experience in some instances and set up another stream of income in others, but there are so many opportunities to reinvent yourself, especially now.