What Is a Portfolio Life?

What Is a Portfolio Life?

I first came across the term “portfolio life” about six weeks ago on Jeff Goins’ website.   I had just started a transition phase and was thinking hard about what the next step in my career would be. I had been researching a variety of options and my responses ranged from “meh” to “oh hell no.”

Then I saw the term “portfolio life.” It spoke to me immediately.

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I wasn’t sure exactly what Jeff meant by “portfolio life,” so I decided to research it a bit to make sure I was on the right track. I found his podcast, which, incidentally, is called “The Portfolio Life” and the first episode is “What Is the Portfolio Life?

The intro to the podcast is:

You are not just what you do. You were made for more than just one thing. Your life is a portfolio of activities, all of which make you who you are.

All my life, I’ve resisted being pigeonholed. I’m interested in so many things and making a choice to do one thing often means turning your back on something else.

I saw this in college as I experimented with different majors. If I majored in Economics, then I couldn’t take the advanced English classes that I wanted to take. But an English degree wouldn’t support my ambition and drive.

I saw the same thing in my career. Every time I was asked what I wanted my next step to be or what I ultimately wanted to do in the company, I felt a twinge. Because saying yes to one path was saying no to another.

I listened to Jeff’s podcast and learned that term portfolio life came from a 1989 book by Charles Handy called The Age of Unreason.

As I listened, I realized that this concept describes what we hear about millennials and the way they approach career paths. For them, it isn’t about working in one company or one industry their whole lives. It’s about moving around and doing what interests them for a period of time and taking the skills from that job into the next job, no matter how seemingly unrelated it is.

And I realized that was exactly what I wanted to do. Take the things that I’m good at and that I love doing, and build a business around them.

Jeff made a point in the podcast that you don’t do everything in a portfolio life. It’s a selection process.

This took me back to college again. I did, in fact, major in English and then went to graduate school in Professional Writing. In both programs, we had to create a portfolio for pretty much every course – usually 3 to 5 pieces of your best writing for that course, or maybe the one best piece from each category that we wrote about.

So, while there are a lot of things that I’m good at and that I enjoy doing, they won’t all be represented in my portfolio life, or they may carry different weights at different times.

Right now, my focus is writing, marketing, social media, coaching, productivity – and building my own business. This focus may change over time, as I replace pieces in my portfolio with new skills or new interests that I want to pursue.

I think that, ultimately, what attracted me to this concept of a portfolio life is that it lets you define success on your own terms.

In a traditional career, success might be defined by job title, salary, performance reviews, promotions, etc.

Some of those same things might be markers of success in a portfolio life.

Or they might not.

You get to decide.

Maybe you have a specific income level in mind. Or, in the online world, a certain level of web traffic that you want to achieve.

Or maybe you want to build a lifestyle business – one that enables you to live the life you want to live.

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2 thoughts on “What Is a Portfolio Life?”

  1. I’ve wondered about this term too, but I hadn’t taken time to follow Goins’ along to see where it led. Thanks, for doing just that! Your reflection about choosing career paths is familiar. I had to make exactly those choices when I switched college majors from journalism (and lost my full-ride scholarship) to the crazy-life of an English major and then another switch to Medieval Studies and Comparative Literature. Not very marketable degrees, for sure, but the skills I learned have helped me carve out a place to be. I’m following your journey with interest, Tonia, and can’t wait to see what’s next.

    1. Thanks Denise! I still say that liberal arts degrees teach people how to think, reason, and analyze – and those skills are useful in every career path.

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