The Rise of the Portfolio Career

By on November 14, 2016
Businesspeople Waiting For Job Interview

Businesspeople Waiting For Job Interview

Do you have a job but dream of building a career? You might be out of luck. Why? The traditional definition of what constitutes a career is becoming obsolete.

Consider the following definitions of career: 1) a job or profession that someone does for a long time; 2) a field or pursuit of consecutive progressive achievement especially in public, professional or business life; 3) a profession for which one trains and which is undertaken as a permanent calling. Each of these definitions contains an implication of longevity that is ceasing to exist due to constant changes to the nature of work and workplaces in the last half century.

Technology is both eliminating jobs and creating new ones on a daily basis. The types of work available and the way work is done are evolving so quickly that it is difficult to accurately predict what work and workplaces will look like in the future. Research by Workopolis, a large Canadian online job site, indicates that only 30% of people stay in any one job for over four years. This means that they can expect to hold roughly 15 jobs in their lifetime.
At the risk of dating myself, I graduated from university without having my own computer, started running my business at a time when most companies didn’t have a website, and managed to survive despite not having a cell phone (never mind a smart phone)! I can personally attest to the huge number of jobs in web design and computer technology that were barely on the radar back then, as well as to how much these tools that we now take for granted have changed the way we work. Consider the rapid advances we are seeing in fields such as biotechnology and 3-D printing, and it is easy to anticipate the hundreds of jobs and careers that will exist in the future that are unheard of today.
Rapid changes in technology have also led to increased numbers of entrepreneurs, both by making it easier to start a business on your own, and by making it appear as a viable way to take charge of one’s own job security and career advancement. As tools for do-it-yourself business building increase in number and decrease in cost, going out on your own is quickly becoming a viable option to escape flattening hierarchies (and stagnating salaries). From online businesses to contract workers and everything in between, technology has led to the rise of the solopreneur: a breed of entrepreneurs that is increasingly in charge of crafting their own careers without regard for traditional paths of career advancement.
Research by the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor shows that fewer Japanese people are embracing career options in this area. There are many factors at play, including a lack of role models and support groups, difficulty in securing funding due to investor risk aversion, Japanese bureaucracy, and “wife or parent block” – unsupportive family members that see the entrepreneur path as less attractive than a stable job in a big company.

The Japan trends aside, in the rest of the world longevity and progressive achievement in a single field is fast disappearing as a defining characteristic of a “normal” work trajectory. It is being replaced by what is being called a portfolio career. A portfolio career does not define success by how long you have done one thing, but rather by your versatility in being able to achieve results in many different areas. Success in the context of building your portfolio also carries with it the idea that your life’s work can be characterized by creativity, self-expression and following your passions. Just as any artist’s portfolio can contain a variety of work from different periods of his or her evolution as an artist, the portfolio career shows a person’s increasing awareness of their unique combination of strengths, talents, and values and a deeper understanding of their life purpose.
A traditional career path is great if you are in a field that allows you to do what you love and contribute in a way that is meaningful for you, but many people strive for a career for the wrong reasons. Sticking with an unfulfilling career because you either are afraid of switching or aren’t sure what else to do might seem like a safe choice, but in today’s world of work it can put you in danger. Unfulfilling work drains your energy and creativity in ways that are ultimately going to have a negative impact on not only your success, but your health. What’s more, rapid technological advancement almost guarantees that the nature of work in your chosen field is going to change dramatically, and possibly even disappear completely, over your lifetime.
Ultimately, your greatest chance of sustaining the traditional notion of a career that contains progressive growth and achievement is to let go of the assumption that this growth and achievement will occur in one field. Instead, reframe the definition of a successful career as one in which you have progressively grown in your understanding of self, experimented you’re your passions, built a portfolio of work that you are proud of, and increased your capacity to create the kind of life you want for yourself and your family.

About Andrea Jacques

Andrea Jacques is the founder of Kyosei Consulting and the author of Wabi-Sabi Wisdom: Inspiration for an Authentic Life (available on She has spent more than 20 years developing the potential of people and businesses worldwide, five of which were in Japan. A dynamic speaker, coach, and facilitator, her work integrates spiritual insight with top-tier leadership, wellness and sustainability consulting to help individuals and organizations build thriving, purpose-driven cultures where employees know their work truly matters. She can be contacted through her website at