A few weeks ago, I was told that I had a good example of an academic portfolio career. I love labels – they make wonky things sound so much prettier. So I obviously googled ‘portfolio career’ to see what I was doing. Having a portfolio career is where you don’t have one full-time job at one location – you have two or more (often more) part-time/contract/uncertain jobs that altogether make up a full-time wage. Or at least you cross your fingers and hope for the best. The Guardian explains portfolio careers pretty well.
So, here I am, a potential example of a portfolio career writing about something that, until a few weeks ago, I hadn’t realised included me.
The thing is – a lot of the sites talking about portfolio careers make it sound as though it is an easy-breezy choice – that you are actively making a valid choice amidst other equally valid options and choosing a portfolio career over a more traditional path.
It sounds great.
But it is also a little bit misleading.
This is obviously not always the case. In my case, I have chosen my portfolio career path because, when my options were presented to me, I chose work over not working. I chose a wage over no wage. My cat and I have a deep love of home and hearth and endless quantities of coffee (me) and tuna (my cat). I chose the path that made my cat happiest. Sometimes a portfolio career is the choice we make when we are presented with lots of other valid and exciting choices. Sometimes it is the choice we shrug on like a well-worn cardigan because it’s the only choice we have, and many of us have been working like this through university while we were studying.
Regardless of whether you jumped feet-first into a portfolio career or made the decision based on finances alone, if you currently find yourself on a portfolio career path you are by no means alone.
So how do you make a portfolio career work for you?
Here are four things that I have stumbled across along they way that have helped.
1) Structure your work days
I schedule my day with tasks to do in one-hour blocks. This still allows for crises or inspiration slumps or migraines but also means my timesheets are far more organised. The last thing you want is to not get paid for work you’ve done. You might find Jenny Delasalle’s approach to monitoring hours useful.
2) Make time for you to NOT work.
And protect it: don’t use it as a buffer for projects that over run. Schedule work buffers in too! This can be anything from: early morning exercise; coffee (and skype depending on where you live) with friends; dinner and bad TV. Whatever makes you feel most mentally healthy, in whatever time slots suit you. Not all portfolio careers give you access to holiday pay or sick leave, so take care of yourself.
3) Save money for a rainy day fund
A rainy day fund gets you by during the times in-between payment times or when an invoice you sent gets “missed”. It takes the edge off things, especially when contracts start coming to an end and you have to start looking for new work.
4) Be kind to yourself on the wonky days
Some days are really just wonky. Technology doesn’t work, your brain doesn’t work, life gets in the way. Step back from the day’s schedule. Make a big pot of coffee or tea. Take a breath. Then look at the schedule again. What can wait until tomorrow? What can be done with assistance from someone else? Do what you can. If things are bad, who can you talk to about an extension of time? Most people understand that there are wonky days and will be kind to you, but often you do have to ask (see my blogpost on small goodnesses and academic kindness).
There is the potential for amazing tangents of work and inspiration in a portfolio career – just as there are times of breath-taking anxiety. No job is ever going to be perfect but these little steps can make your choice seem like the right one.