I Tried the ‘Portfolio Career’ Trend and Here’s What Happened

When I was laid off from my corporate marketing gig in the fall of 2015, I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. All I knew was that I didn’t want to go back to the handcuffed existence I’d spent so much time working within.

One day, while surfing the internet, I saw a part-time internship listing for a local fitness company. Even though I knew my eight years of work experience and MBA made me overqualified, I applied. My thought was that it seemed fun and could bring in a paycheck while I figured things out. As luck would have it, the owner agreed to hire me (with a Director of Marketing title, no less) for five hours a week of work.

They say when it rains, it pours, and for me that proved true. A few weeks later, a former colleague introduced me to a friend who ran a marketing agency and needed a social media consultant. Boom. Five more hours of work per week. A couple months after that? Not one, but three coaching organizations hired me for anywhere from 3-10 hours of work.

Before I knew it, I was working a standard 40-hour work week (if not more) in no fewer than seven part-time jobs, splitting my time between career coaching, marketing consulting, and teaching at a local university. Although I hadn’t totally planned it, I had created a portfolio career.

You may have heard of portfolio careers, or, as they’re sometimes called, slash careers. It’s essentially when a single person works multiple part-time jobs, often in different industries or disciplines, rather than devoting all of their time to one, full-time role. Although 20 years ago, this might have been seen as a path taken only by those unable to secure full-time work, today it’s much more common, particularly among millennials and so-called “multipotentialites” who recognize that their skill sets can span more than one career path.

What do you do if this sounds so alluring that you’re ready to quit your full-time job today? First, slow your roll. As exciting as it seems, getting multiple jobs takes time, and you have to strategically consider whether the summation of income will allow you to maintain the standard of living that’s acceptable to you. Before you even start down this path, you’ll want to ensure you have a financial cushion, as well as a clear idea of how you’ll use your skills in different ways.

Will you be a nurse + actor + blogger? You may want to ensure your blog is already active and bringing in income, or that your company will allow you to maintain a flexible, part-time nursing schedule while going on acting auditions.

Want to be an independent management consultant + professor + personal trainer? Think carefully about how you’ll get your clients, what courses you’re qualified to teach, and what certifications you might need before you’re licensed to work.

Some other things to keep in mind: You’ll want to cost out private health insurance, and understand the financial impact it will have to no longer get employer-sponsored benefits, such as retirement packages and paid vacations. You may also want to consult with your accountant to ensure you’re properly saving, since you may be subject to higher self-employment tax.

Most importantly, start tapping that network now, well before you hope to make your transition. When I built my portfolio career, the common thread was relationships. That probably doesn’t sound surprising, since most of us know that roughly 80% of jobs come through networking. But truly, with the exception of that first position, every other role was one I was approached for based on a referral, recommendation, or simply having the right conversation with the right people at the right time. The more puzzle pieces you have in place in advance, the more secure you’ll feel in making the leap.

While any new venture takes time to get off the ground, you may want to say that in a year or 18 months you’ll re-evaluate and determine whether the new career style is working. Remember to consider items outside of salary, paying attention to how you feel in terms of stress level, work satisfaction, intellectual stimulation, and the like.

Although I’ve since made the decision to pack away my portfolio career and return to a full-time gig, the lessons I’ve taken away are multifold. I’m significantly better at prioritization and multitasking. I know how to be self-disciplined. I know how critical it is to find jobs where I have latitude and autonomy, not only over tasks, but how and when they are achieved.

But perhaps most importantly, I’ve learned there is no one “right” way to formulate a career. Each of us has the power to design a work arrangement that supports our definitions of success and honors our personal values along the way—and a portfolio career is just one of those many options.

Contemplating trying out a portfolio career yourself? SoFi members can connect with a SoFi Career Coach to help determine the next step for their careers. Not a SoFi member? Check out SoFi.com to see how SoFi help you.

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