How Thinking of Life as a “Portfolio” is a Big Relief

A Portfolio Career

This week I had a session with a client who is changing careers at the age of 54. We spoke about the idea of a “Portfolio Careers”. This is the idea that her career will change and evolve over time, with each section serving different purposes in her personal and professional development.

In her case, she spent the first 10 years of her career doing high-impact but difficult in international development in conflict zones. Then, after she had a child, she moved into the corporate world where she quickly advanced to a well-paid executive position. After 15 years, she’s ready to move on, feeling that stage of her career is complete. She’s exploring where she wants to go next by doing a six-week intensive with me using the Designing Your Life process.

A Portfolio Life

After our session this week, it occurred to me that we can also approach our life in the same way, building a “Portfolio Life” with different stages serving different purposes. What’s great about this is it takes the pressure off to achieve “everything” at once.

Maybe one 5 year stretch is really focused on our kids while we relax around our careers or taking on adventures. One 5 year stretch might be about a particular charity we want to see thrive. One 5 year stretch we really lean into landing a job that is financially rewarding. Another 5 year stretch could be doing a project like renovating a home. Maybe 5 years building a business. Or 5 years learning the tango, piano, a foreign language, to play tennis, or cook.

The key idea here being that you choose something and accept that this will be your main focus for this season of life. Maybe a season is 3 years, 5 years or 10 years.

But it’s probably more than a year. I have seen very few meaningful projects that are significant in people’s lives that take less than 3 years. Most take about 5.

My husband’s cousin has been president of his local little league for the past 5 years. It’s the league he and my husband played in together as kids and a cause near and dear to his heart. He enjoys it and wants other kids who love the game to have the opportunity to play.

The past 5 years, he has given himself over to this project. He spent hours and hours improving the organization, the fields, raising money, creating systems. He coached two teams in addition to the president role (both his sons were playing in the league during this time), and negotiated countless parent conflicts, complaints, and challenges. This was a volunteer position, but he dedicated himself to it like a second job. That town’s little league is made over and well set up for the future. He “retired” this year with a deep satisfaction.

During this time, he did almost nothing else outside of work and day to day family stuff. He said “no” to other stuff. Sometimes to the deep irritation of my cousin. But this was his season of making a difference in this small local organization.

Now he’s done. And he’s made an incredible impact. They recently renamed one of the fields after him.

This in an “impact” is part of his “Life Portfolio”. The previous 10 years he spent very focused on building his business. That was a different season, when again he said “no” to almost everything outside of his work and family obligations.

Right now I’m in the midst of my “Live in Europe” stage in my personal life and my “Build a Business” stage professionally. I know when I look back on this 5 year span, those are the two themes that will come through. I’m going to enjoy them, knowing they will both end at some point. And that I don’t need to worry about what will come next right now. That will become clearer when I get closer.

All of us have things we may think “wouldn’t it be cool if…” but then we imagine they are going to take so long and we dismiss them.

But that time will pass anyway.

What if we just got more intentional about seeing where those parts of our life portfolio might fit? I’m talking about the big stuff that we’ll look back on our life and say “I did that!”.

  • Restoring a historic car or house
  • Running a marathon
  • Getting a degree
  • Changing careers
  • Creating a charity
  • Writing a book
  • Raising a child (or children)
  • Building a business
  • Caring for an ailing or aging adult

What I really want you to walk away from this article with is a sense of relief. Yes, there are lots of things to do in life!

But you don’t have to do them all at once. And in fact, you’ll have more impact, enjoy them more, and get better results if you don’t.

What is this stage of your life portfolio to be about?

You are doing enough. ????



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