Portfolio living: making the jump from corporate life into self-living.

Some ideas have the ability to take a bite of us and not let go. For me, just at the time I was planning to leave full-time employment and start my own business, an idea came to me in the form of living a portfolio life – something I first read about in the book ‘The Art of Work’ by Jeff Goins.


Although the term “portfolio living” makes me think of retirement products I promise its got nothing to do with selling insurance.


Rather, it’s about how you design and structure your work life.


And, by work life – I mean your life (see my earlier post on “the Myth of the Work Life Balance” here).


For many of us that graduated in the past decade (or two) the concept of how we divide our time between work and everything else has shifted from how people starting out their careers in, say, the eighties may have viewed it. Gone are the days of believing that you need to:


  1. stay with one career path for the rest of your days;
  2. stay at a particular company for a solid time period so that it “looks good on your CV”;
  3. work full time;
  4. do one type of work at a time;
  5. be formally qualified.


In response to these changing behaviours, the internet is flooded with articles by employers (large corporates, HR folk and the like) about the attitude of millenials to work today. Although I agree with some of what they say – yes, you do need to earn your stripes before getting the proverbial corner office – the real question they should be asking is whether we need the corner office at all.


See the difference?


What are the values that drive you? Why do you want to get out of bed on a Monday? To me this is where we should start before jumping headfirst into a busy day or, for that matter, a career. I really wish we had discussed this stuff at university; my bet is that it would have changed things for many of us.


So to get back to designing a portfolio life, the whole point is to design your days around making your life (and your work) work for you.


Yes, part of your portfolio may involve working 9 to 5, but another part may be training for an important race, and yet another may be writing a book. By viewing priorities as part of a portfolio it helps us to see value in all of them and not forgo some over others. It allows us to give valuable attention to all things that make us happy.


The key message I learnt is that everything I spend my time on is work/life – regardless of whether I get paid for it or not.


And at the end of the day, you are your own portfolio master: not your parents, society or some guy on the 9th floor that pays your salary. So you can be flexbile and change things up as often as you want.


I really took this idea to heart and have started with steps to redesign my own life in 2017. For me, this involves leaving full time employment to:


  • start my own interior design business (which in itself is an evolving idea right now)
  • do part-time consulting work helping businesses develop robust business cases and strategies, and strike lasting partnerships
  • volunteer on causes that are important to me
  • write (for example on this blog), and
  • learn photography.


Now as you can see, some of these may translate into income, but others certainly won’t. And that’s okay with me.


Here are the key lessons I have started to learn over the past few weeks as I have been transitioning into this new lifestyle:


  1. Plan with patience. As with most things, planning for change is critical. This could involve finances, admin (e.g. opening new bank accounts), adapting living arrangements and expectations. For example, you may need to critically look at your monthly expenses and spend several months saving up in order to take the plunge. It can be done if you really want it but you do need to plan – and it can take some time.
  2. Be organised. Now more than ever I need to be disciplined and organised in my daily routine. I bought a weekly planner and have found it an extremely useful tool in scheduling my life. I’m finding it much harder to be organised than simply showing up to the office Monday to Friday and wading through my inbox.
  3. Don’t overthink. I’m trying to avoid being too rigid and controlled (which all that planning can lead to) but rather to go with the proverbial flow. Who knows where I may end up but considering that this is my journey, that’s okay.
  4. Time out. One of the reasons for taking control of my work/life was to ensure I take time to pause and enjoy life. During this transition phase I have needed to actively switch off my laptop and schedule time for restoration.


This transition has not translated into lazy mornings reading in bed before working from a coffee shop (although, yes, there are days like that). My to-do list is long and varied but in an age where our concentration spans are shorter then ever, its been an enjoyable challenge.


I challenge you to take a minute to draw up your own portfolio.

Maybe nothing needs to change right now but I bet you will see some aspects of your life that you would like to prioritise. It all starts with attention.


Unsuprisingly Mr. Goin’s book has made my list of best reads. Please send me your reading recommendations and thoughts, I would love to have them.


More to follow on some of the challenges I’m learning to overcome in living this new way.



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2 thoughts on “Portfolio living: making the jump from corporate life into self-living.

  1. Hi Nicola – Can’t believe the parallels in our lives. I also left my corporate role end Jan and embarking on developing a portfolio approach to life. 😊
    Busy reading Tim Ferriss “the 4 hour work week”. Lots of interesting ideas. Glad Jodie introduced us!

    1. That’s fantastic Nikki, we should definitely keep in touch and meet sometime if you come to Cape Town…

      Thanks for the book recommendation. 🙂 I’ve got a page on the blog with the books I love – could be some for your list in there.

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