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The Rise of the Portfolio Creator

In the 1980s, the Irish management consultant, Charles Handy, began to explore idea of portfolio workers. In works like The Empty Raincoat, he saw an emergent reality where more and more of us would have a series of jobs, sometimes simultaneously.

In my previous article, Living Like a Farmer, I explored the idea that many of us do not have a single job, but many.

The Portfolio Worker

In the 1980s, the Irish management consultant, Charles Handy, began to explore idea of portfolio workers. In works like The Empty Raincoat, he saw an emergent reality where more and more of us would have a series of jobs, sometimes simultaneously.

I was speaking with a friend earlier this week who works with a charity close to my heart. He is now retired from working in a major business. He had worked there all his life. The company had changed as units were sold off or when it merged with other major firms. But, through it all, he had essentially worked for the same organisation.

And he agreed that his career history is highly unusual today.

It is increasingly rare that someone works their whole life for one organisation. Portfolio working is now the new normal.

At one time, white-collar workers might expect to be with one employer all of their lives. “Work hard, and the company will take care of you,” was the advice of my elders when I left school.

Not now. Now, having one enduring employer throughout one’s working life seems like a strange historical blip.

And it is not as though keep the same role or profession as we flit from company to company. More and more, for most of us, work will not be a single career.

Our work morphs. It jumps. It multiplies.

Creating Your Own Job

In my own journey, there was another dynamic on top of all this. Nothing prepared me for a career where every job I was recruited to do after college was to a role new to my employer as well! Very early on, not only did I have to adapt to moving to a new organisation, but I had to create each role for myself. It was down to me to work out what the job entailed. I had to work out how to do that job in such a way that I had to explore what success really meant for my employer or my client.

There was one exception to this: in my second job after leaving college, I was recruited into a vacancy left by another. However, in that case, the job of IT analyst, soon morphed into something else as technology opened up new opportunities.

And it seems to get even more complex. Not only is retaining the role appearing like a vanishing option for those starting a career but so is continuous full-time employment. Some of us are only now catching onto this reality, this new normal. 

This creates a huge challenge. the employment I imagined was where I would be trained to do one job, do it well, and be promoted; and in due course, I could retire with a healthy pension. In fact, I found this same naïveté amongst all my employers. Each and every organisation was set up with a standard induction plan and training courses. But these fell far short of what I actually needed.

There was nothing else for it; I had to learn on the job, without much in the way of formal training and development. I was a portfolio worker, but nobody told me how to do it. Now, I had to work out my own salvation: what it meant to survive and then thrive as a portfolio worker. This meant I had to become something deeper still: a Portfolio Creator.

The Portfolio Creator

Creating your own portfolio and creating within it

Looking back now, this challenge of learning what my own job meant, shaping it, and developing my own skills, has been a wonderful preparation. It forced me out of routine working to confront some basics of mission, values, different workflows and significant relationships. It taught me to look deeper than content or technology, to the universal principles of professional service. I realised that many of us are more than workers. We are creators.

Maybe social historians of the future will look back at our era and call this the Rise of the Portfolio Creators.

I worked on myself. I became my own training department and I put together a powerful approach to self-leadership. I began to share these with clients. I have put much of it into a book called Leading Yourself: Succeeding from the Inside Out. Coaching others has helped me get further clarity on this.

How about you?

Do you recognise yourself as a Portfolio Creator?

Are you still confused with all this talk of “time management” (as if you could control time)?

Or what about “work-life balance?”When did your work become excluded from your life?

I will share more on this in another article.

Meanwhile, you can order the Leading Yourself paperback here at a discounted price.

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