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Building Your Portfolio Career

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Adapted from Flux: 8 Superpowers for Thriving in Constant Change by April Rinne (pages 142-144; 147-154, Berrett-Koehler Publishing)

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The Great Resignation isn’t just about workers seeking out new post-pandemic opportunities and seizing ownership over their careers. What we’re seeing is a challenge to the old script or commonly held worldview that tells us the model career path looks like a ladder, an escalator, or perhaps an arrow.

Yet in recent years, this ladder is definitely teetering, and the pandemic could prove to be among the final nudges that topple it completely. Consider these pre-pandemic stats:

When jobs, employment, professional development, and the future of work itself are in flux, a portfolio career offers a more likely path to thrive. A portfolio career can be sequential (one role or vocation at a time) or simultaneous (multiple roles and activities at once). Career portfolioists create professional niches and often lifestyles that are more complete, personalized, modern, adaptable, and personally rewarding than any single role could be.

But how does one actually create a career portfolio and write this new script? And what does an identity fit for this future look like, anyway?

Steps To Develop A Portfolio Career

Developing a portfolio career involves two phases: creation and curation. Let’s take each of these in turn.

Step 1: What’s Already in It?

First things first: whether or not you realize it, you already have a portfolio career. You just haven’t necessarily been strategic about it. This exercise helps you get started. It takes time, but it’s worth it.

Pull out a piece of paper (or a blank Google document) and into it put the following:

  • Every role you’ve ever had, paid or unpaid
  • Every skill you have that helps others
  • Every topic you know comfortably more about than other people do
  • Your superpowers, according to you
  • Your superpowers, according to others (we’re surprisingly blind to some of our own superpowers!)
  • Any new skills you’ve learned in the past six months
  • Any capabilities or activities on your résumé or LinkedIn profile that you genuinely enjoy, whether or not they’ve been part of a “job”
  • Any capabilities, skills, or experiences that are not on your résumé yet have helped you get to where you are today

Step 2: Be(come) the Only

Once you’ve assembled what’s in your portfolio today, then the real fun begins. The following steps are part personal ikigai, part professional jiu-jitsu, and part responsible risk management. It’s also about making yourself automation-proof for the years ahead. You’re charting your unique career landscape and horizons.

Ikigai is a Japanese concept that means “reason for being.” It translates as life purpose or meaning, or what makes one’s life worthwhile. It’s why you jump out of bed in the morning. It is also your highest calling. Your ikigai is uniquely you.

Ikigai is often depicted as the intersection of four circles:

  • What you are good at
  • What you love
  • What the world needs
  • What you can be paid for

The point is: your ikigai is unique, and it can play out in myriad ways, each of which is exciting for its own reasons. A portfolio career isn’t about doing one thing for many years, hitting a wall, and then wondering what to do next. A portfolio career contains multitudes: of possibilities, combinations, and opportunities.

Step 3: Cross-Pollinate

With a portfolio career, you rarely stay in your own lane. You’re a cross-pollinator. You take a useful skill or expertise and parlay it into opportunities elsewhere, often in a completely unexpected arena. You translate across problems, roles, teams, and industries. You use your compass’s orientation to discover new insights. In the process, you create new value, help others level up, and inspire them to write their own new scripts too.

The old script says: get a job and do what others tell you to.

The new script says: create a portfolio of roles and do things no one else dreamed of.

Every time you cross-pollinate, you’re collecting and synthesizing new knowledge along the way. You’re simultaneously honing your compass and strengthening your roots. When done well, it’s an upward spiral, and you improve everything you touch along the way.

Step 4: Redefine Your Identity

Embracing a portfolio career means transcending any one iden­tity, story, or narrative about yourself.

With a Flux Mindset and a portfolio career, you are no longer defined by “what” you do. You are not defined by a title, a specific salary, or a corner office. You are not defined by one profession. While you have many skills, you are not defined by them.

Rather, you harness all of your capabilities and continuously reimagine how they can be combined and offered in new ways, creating new value and opening new doors.

Your portfolio reflects your roots. It is your new script, your foundation for the future, and an ever-evolving identity that fits you.

Step 5: Curate, Forever

Once your portfolio is sufficiently established, you can shift to curation mode. This is your ongoing, evergreen career: it is the script that, so long as you are breathing and thinking, you will continue to write. Depending on whether the investor, executive, manager, or artist portfolio perspective resonates most with you, curation can take a few different forms:

  • Investor: rebalance your portfolio
  • Executive: modernize your portfolio
  • Manager: organize and upgrade your portfolio
  • Artist: update and expand your portfolio

The essential point of portfolio curation is that it mirrors your growth, so long as you proactively take care of it. In a world in flux—and the future of work—a curated portfolio career provides an unparalleled combination of flexibility, stability, longevity, and meaning.

About the Author

April Rinne is a change navigator: she helps individuals and organizations rethink and reshape their relationship with change, uncertainty, and a world in flux. A World Economic Forum Young Global Leader, she is a trusted advisor to organizations ranging from Airbnb, Nike, Intuit, the World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, NESTA, Trōv, AnyRoad, and Unsettled, as well as governments spanning Singapore to South Africa, Canada to Colombia, Italy to India. April is the author of Flux: 8 Superpowers for Thriving in Constant Change (Berrett-Koehler, August 24, 2021).

A graduate of Harvard Law School, April is a futurist, advisor, global development executive, microfinance lawyer, investor, mental health advocate, certified yoga teacher, globetrotter (100+ countries), and insatiable handstander. She also harnesses very personal experiences with flux, including the death of both of her parents in a car accident when she was 20. Through her travels and tragedy, vision and values, global perspective and grounded sense of purpose, April helps others better understand how we see, think about, struggle with, and ultimately forge positive relationships with change.

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