The rise of the porfolio career

The Rise of the Portfolio Career

The Meaning of Work, Part 4

By Andrea Jacques

In past posts, we explored the terms “work,” “job,” “occupation” and “profession.”[LINKS] In this installment of “The Meaning of Work,” we’ll explore the changing nature of careers and the notion of the portfolio career.

Do you have a job but dream of building a career? You might be out of luck, at least in the traditional sense. Why? The conventional definition of what constitutes a career is becoming obsolete. Consider the following definitions:

  • a job or profession that someone does for a long time;
  • a field or pursuit of consecutive progressive achievement especially in public, professional or business life;
  • a profession for which one trains and which is undertaken as a permanent calling.

Each of these definitions contains an implication of longevity that is becoming less and less common due to constant changes to the nature of work and workplaces in the last half century. The reasons for this are numerous, but the numbers are clear: research by Workopolis, a large Canadian online job site, indicates that now only 30% of people stay in any one job for over four years. This means that a person can expect to hold roughly 15 jobs in their lifetime — often simultaneously. We might call a diverse career path like this a “portfolio career.”

Technology Eliminates and Creates Jobs

Technology is both eliminating and creating jobs at a rapid pace. The types of work available and the way work is done is evolving so quickly that it is difficult to accurately predict exactly what work and workplaces will look like in the future.

At the risk of dating myself, I graduated from university without having my own computer, started running my business at a time when most companies didn’t have a website, and managed to survive despite not having a cell phone (never mind a smartphone)! I can personally attest to the huge number of jobs in web design and computer technology that were barely on the radar back then, as well as to how much these tools that we now take for granted have changed the way we work. Consider the rapid advances we are seeing in fields such as biotechnology and 3-D printing, and it is easy to anticipate the hundreds of jobs and careers that will exist in the future that appear to be science fiction today. . (hyperlink hundreds of careers that will exist in the future to this article on jobs of the future


Striking Out on Your Own

Rapid changes in technology have also contributed to a bumper crop of entrepreneurs, both by making it easier to start a business on your own, and by making it appear as a viable way to take charge of one’s own job security and career advancement. As tools for do-it-yourself business building increase in number and decrease in cost, going out on your own is quickly becoming a viable option to escape flattening hierarchies (and stagnating salaries). From online businesses to contract workers and everything in between, technology has led to the rise of the solopreneur: a breed of entrepreneurs that is increasingly in charge of crafting their own careers without regard for traditional paths of career advancement.

Entrepreneurship fever hasn’t caught on everywhere equally. Research by the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, for example, shows that fewer Japanese people are embracing career options in this area. There are many factors at play, including a lack of role models and support groups, difficulty in securing funding due to investor risk aversion, Japanese bureaucracy, and unsupportive family members that see the entrepreneur path as less attractive than a stable job in a big company.

The Rise of the Portfolio Career.

In the rest of the world, longevity and progressive achievement in a single field is fast disappearing as a defining characteristic of a “normal” work trajectory. It is being replaced by what is being called a portfolio career. A portfolio career does not define success by how long you have done one thing, but rather by your versatility in being able to achieve results in many different areas. Success in the context of building your portfolio also carries with it the idea that your life’s work can be characterized by creativity, self-expression and following your passions. Just as any artist’s portfolio can contain a variety of work from different periods of his or her evolution as an artist, the portfolio career shows a person’s increasing awareness of their unique combination of strengths, talents, and values and a deeper understanding of their life purpose.

A traditional career path may still work for you if you’re in a field that allows you to do what you love and contribute in a way that is meaningful for you, but many people strive for such a career for the wrong reasons. Sticking with an unfulfilling career because you are either afraid of switching or aren’t sure what else to do might seem like a safe choice, but in today’s world of work it can put you in danger. Unfulfilling work drains your energy and creativity in ways that are ultimately going to have a negative impact not only on your success, but on your health and happiness too. What’s more, rapid technological advancement almost guarantees that the nature of work in your chosen field is going to change dramatically, and possibly even disappear completely, over your lifetime.

Ultimately, your greatest chance of sustaining the traditional notion of a career that contains progressive growth and achievement is to let go of the assumption that this growth and achievement will occur in one field. Instead, reframe the definition of a successful career as one in which you have progressively grown in your understanding of self, indulged in your passions, built a portfolio of work that you are proud of, and increased your capacity to create the kind of life you want for yourself and your family.

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