The Portfolio Life: A Surprising Route to Job Security

The Portfolio Life: A Surprising Route to Job Security
Image credit: Alejandro Escamilla |

The Internet's buzzing about the impending age of freelancing. Some statistics say that as soon as 2020, 50 percent of the workforce will be contract employees or self-employed.

The world of work is undoubtedly changing, and we're already seeing this transition take place.

Some workers are being forced into self-employment due to the strain of a struggling economy, while others have already chosen such a path as a means to greater freedom and job satisfaction. Whatever the route, it’s critical that we equip ourselves for what’s to come. We'll either thrive in this new era of uncertainty or get left behind.

Culturally, we're beginning to accept that people aren't wired to do just one job. Employees are not robots, programmed for a single activity, and the days of the assembly line are all but gone. We're multifaceted creatures with multiple interests. Why should our work not reflect such diversity?

Related: 7 Steps to Launch Your Freelancing Career Full-Time

In his business management classic, The Age of Unreason, Charles Handy coined a term for this perspective. He called it the “portfolio life,” referring to the reorganization of careers as portfolios full of different jobs.

What if -- instead of thinking of your life’s work as a monolithic activity -- you chose to see it as a complex group of interests, passions and activities? What if -- instead of identifying with a job description -- we began to see the whole mass of things we did as what we “do” for a living? 

In 1989, Charles Hand predicted more people would orient their work lives around a body of work as opposed to a single position that lasts for 40 years. We're already seeing this come true. Organizations are getting smaller, and company life spans are getting shorter. Thinking of your career as a portfolio may feel unconventional, but it'll soon be the new norm.

Related: Converting Your Freelance Hobby Into a Viable Business

Jobs come and go, and careers don’t last as long as they used to, but a portfolio can remain with you for the rest of your life.

The best way to keep a job in the future, it seems, is to do the opposite of what our parents did: Don’t rely too heavily on any single job. Make yourself indispensable by acquiring more than a single skill, and combine those skills in interesting ways, finding where your talents and passions can align with the demands of an ever-changing market.

Whether you decide to join the growing community of freelancers is up to you, but having a portfolio mindset toward work will make you a more well-rounded person and set you up for success in this new economy.

The numbers are clear: A portfolio life, in our lifetime, is inevitable. The challenge, then, is not whether you should start building one, but when.

Related: 3 Steps for Getting Over Your Fears of Starting a Freelance Business