Is your career a collection of cells or a portfolio?

If you look at any classical hierarchical organisation chart, what do you see most?

White space.

That white space is where the opportunity and ambiguity exists. The white space is where everything unplanned occurs, especially important in a time of fast paced disruption. White space is the territory of much needed collaboration. White space is where we make our difference.

Career as a series of cells

However many people lives their work lives constrained by the boxes. We each get to choose our contribution.  For some the boxes define the limits of their contribution.  Each job becomes the cell in which they live and contribute to the organisation. Too many people view their role as the limit of their authority and the limit of their opportunity. When these individuals change role, it is as if they have had their cell moved; new window, but same limited vision.

Worse still a proportion of people view this succession of cells as defining their life. They see themselves as only their job. Those jobs have needs, challenges and demands that dominate their lives and limit their broader contribution to the communities and societies in which they live.

What’s the alternative? Career as a portfolio.

We each have a rich purpose and lives full of opportunities.  Our workplaces and our lives are full of whitespace.

From all that opportunity we get to form a portfolio of opportunities to make a contribution.  Like investment managers, we allocate our limited time into many things to diversify the sources of our monetary, physical and emotional returns.  Some will be through our day job.  Some opportunities in our portfolio will be projects – collaborations that we run on the side to explore who we can be.  These side projects might be at work but they could equally be outside.  Not all side projects are economic.  Many are simply creative or social.

Beyond traditional work, we make a contribution with our leadership and participation in society.  We have families and relationships.  We volunteer.  We advocate.  We debate.  We join organisations.  We participate.  Most of all we discuss and help and build rich communities.  Given the complex issues society faces we need more of this broader contribution from everyone.  

Each of these activities helps define who we are as part of our rich portfolio of contributions.  After all, where we choose to spend our time and money is a much better indicator of who we are than a list of jobs or even our self-declared descriptions.

Having recently found myself without a day-job, I have entered the world of a portfolio.  I have been overwhelmed by the opportunities, the difference I can make and the richness of experience that each opportunity offers.  Each and every opportunity was possible if I was still working full-time, but I know I would have faced different incentives and pressures in exploring these opportunities.   I wouldn’t have made such a clear choice to manage a portfolio with my time.

It is time to step outside the cells.  

Make a bigger contribution.  Make your mark.  Manage your career and life as a portfolio of interests.  What more can you do in, around and on the side of your job?

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