By Sandy Burgham
Scientist, social entrepreneur and all round favourite New Zealander Sir Ray Avery has a unique, if not sobering, way of looking at life. “When you’re born, you’re born with 30,000 days,” he has said. “That’s it. The best strategic planning I can give to you is to think about that.” At 65 he estimates he has around 5,500 days left and fully intends to make the most of them by a ‘reverse engineering’ approach where he reportedly charts on a daily basis what he has achieved and where he wants to be.
Now that we are counting, the pressure comes on. No point putting things off, no one’s getting any younger around here! While Sir Ray is an inventor, I like to call myself a re-inventor. Not only am I up to my fourth career transition, but it is the idea of people re-invention that really interests me, and particularly those who have the courage to reinvent around the mid life mark.
For many in mid life, there is a feeling that old ways of being and doing just don’t seem to fit anymore. And in a changing world where new opportunities for self expression pop up everywhere, the prescribed ways seem to be increasingly uninspiring and irrelevant. Let’s take how we describe what we do: I call myself an Executive and Brand Coach, a term I created when descriptors that others had prepared earlier just didn’t fit with who I am, let alone what I do. For part of the week I coach leaders (and managers wanting to be leaders) and on other days I work with organisations that seek brand leadership. Whether it’s a company or a personal brand, it is about alignment to clear values and leading purposefully. As a result they inspire others and break new ground.
But easier said than done for most who are still struggling with working out exactly what they want to do (let alone who they are). Thus for many its heartening to know that we don’t have to limit our options of self expression—enter the “portfolio career’. This newish term is used to describe executives who have a number of working options. For example: The events organiser who teaches Pilates, the lawyer who is a food journalist. But the term “portfolio career’ also serves to reframe how someone sees not just their working life—but their whole life. It is about playing to your greatest strengths and living life the way you want to.
In her book One Person/Multiple Careers: A New Model for Work/Life Success, Marci Alboher called it slashing – a slightly distasteful term but it means the same thing really, and simply explained by my tendency to call myself a Brand Strategist/Executive Coach/Blogger/Writer/Speaker.
I’ll leave you with this. One of my pet hates is that dinner party question, “What do you do?” Someone recently asked me this at a funeral. I was taken aback. While I answered “I am a bored housewife” to make him feel a little uncomfortable, the next time I am asked, my answer will lie in “slashing” and I will express not just my portfolio career but my portfolio life— “executive and brand coach/well meaning wife and mother of two/art lover/martini mixer/mahjong enthusiast/good friend/ writer/blogger/speaker/open minded/ mind opener/curious experimenter, happy camper”.
For further reading, I recommend “And What Do You Do? 10 Steps to Creating A Portfolio Career” by Barrie Hopson and Katie Leger
— Sandy Burgham
This post first appeared in The Hobson September, 2013