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Portfolio Life: A different approach to careers and life

by Rob Cross on March 24th, 2010

There’s a different way to 9-5

In my travels this week I came across a few articles that made me question the nature of careers and work. The first was titled ‘Young Generations Face Wealth Deficit’ - “wow, that doesn’t sound too positive!?!” I thought on first glance. The second group of articles focused on ‘Graduates Starting their own Business,’ (Google this topic to find more).

My conclusion from these articles was that our classic 9-5 (or really 8-6 for most people) definitions of careers and work will no longer be relevant for society as we go forward.

Why are they no longer relevant?

Well, firstly it’s my belief that they’re economically unsustainable, and secondly, for most people the 9-5 job format is a simple distraction from living a more full and happy life – if you’ve ever been on the subway in morning peak hour you’ll know what I mean!

To get out of the rut of 9-5, we each need to realise that there is another option – the portfolio life.

Portfolio Life

A portfolio life is much like an investment portfolio, a property portfolio or even an artistic portfolio. It’s a collection of activities that enable you to live whilst fulfilling what you believe to be your purpose in life. The reason so few people have ever considered this, is because whether driven by our parents, university or society, we have very fixed pre-conceptions about what work is – 9-5!

Often when we try to break free of these preconceptions we are dragged right back into the belief by those who themselves hold a deep fear of the risks of breaking free. That is, for many people the fear of not doing the norm blinds them to any other opportunities – don’t be one of these types of people!

Creating a Portfolio Life

So how do you create a Portfolio Life?

The answer to this is what I call tough, but simple. It’s simple because the steps are really straight forward, but it’s tough because it requires you to take a different perspective. For me there are 3 steps to creating a portfolio life:

  1. Define your purpose and what you love doing.
  2. Consider your options on how to fulfil your purpose by doing what you love doing.
  3. Set some targets and take the first steps on your journey.

1. Define your Purpose and What you Love Doing

This is by far the most difficult step, as your purpose rarely comes to you in a blinding flash. However, by asking a few simple questions below you can start to figure it out:

  • What do you want to be remembered for?
  • What impact do you want to have in the world?
  • What in life is most important to you?

Through these questions you can gain begin to get a sense of what is most important to you, albeit, your answers to these questions will evolve over time.

As you answer these questions, you should also consider the parameters for what you really love doing. For example, some of mine are working with other people 1-2-1 or in groups, making a difference with people, writing, reading, and speaking in front of large groups. By defining the parameters of what you really love doing you can more thoroughly assess the options you have available to you.

2. Consider all the options on how to fulfil your purpose

Once you have an understanding of what impact you want to have and you have defined what you love doing, start brainstorming. A great book to help you do this is the 4 Hour Work Week by Timothy Ferris. In his book Tim explains how to break from the 9-5 trap through being more entrepreneurial. Whilst the 4 Hour Work Week describes one extreme of the continuum between 9-5 and entrepreneur, it does help you to redefine some of your assumptions about life.

As you brainstorm, don’t eliminate anything too quickly, even the thought of having some form of day job. And, be sure to consider the various paths that others have taken – there are many great examples of people who life the portfolio life, for example Richard Branson with the Virgin Group is one extreme!

3. Set some Targets and Take some First Steps

In most normal brainstorming I would recommend eliminating options, but in seeking the portfolio life I would say; ‘don’t eliminate anything from your list, keep track of all your ideas’.

Before taking action, to assess which options you’ll start with, identify what your targets for living are – that is, what is the minimum income to sustain the immediate life style you wish to lead. As you do this, be realistic. All people, even Richard Branson, started somewhere and usually with a modest life style. Your targets should be in the form of how much income you need to live per day, per week, per month etc. This will help you really focus on what you need to achieve.

Once you have your targets set, consider which options you want to start with. When considering these focus on the ‘low hanging fruit’ first. These are the options that are easy to implement and which will give you some rapid return or success. Doing this will help you build your confidence and gain momentum toward implementing other options. It’s important to note that as you implement your options, be prepared to fail at a few. A friend of mine who has the ultimate portfolio life, says that he always has at least 3 initiatives on the go at any time. And that he expects two of them to fail! So don’t be worried if failure occurs, but also don’t always put all your effort into one single idea!!

A Last Word…

The key thing that holds us back from breaking free of the 9-5 is fear. Most of us are heavily caught up in our preconceptions of what working life after University should be like – but these are just preconceptions, they’re not real! There are some realities you need to contend with, such as how to feed and cloth yourself etc, but these should be recognised for what they are, as parameters for living, rather than for things which reinforce your fear!

To overcome the fear it’s important to remember that there is a continuum between the 9-5 life, and being an self-sufficient entrepreneur. That is, not all of us will be Richard Branson, but all of us can live the portfolio life, no matter where you live along that continuum.

See Grad Expectations for more on defining and fulfilling your purpose.

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