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Instead of One Career, Try Having a Few Careers at Once

Part-time projects can add up to a career that offers flexibility and excitement

By Julie Shifman

To give you an idea of my typical work day, let me tell you about a recent Thursday. In the morning I handled a plumbing crisis in one of the New York City apartments I manage as part of my real estate business. Then I delivered a seminar on resumés for women returning to work. After lunch, I edited a chapter of my upcoming book, Act Three, coached a client about her career, and ran a two-hour meeting of the United Way committee that I chair as a volunteer.

A portfolio career can be ideal if you answer "true" to one or more of the following statements:

  • You get bored easily doing the same kind of job over and over.
  • You either need or prefer a flexible work schedule.
  • You’d like to have or need the multiple income streams that a portfolio career can provide.

I fall into the first category, since I thrive on variety. So my portfolio career includes a wide range of activities: running my career advisory business, Act Three, and coaching its clients; writing my book and articles for; managing real estate; teaching at Xavier University; delivering speeches to women’s groups; serving on the boards of several nonprofits; and creating inspirational events for women, which I call Imagine…Then Do It. Oh, and teaching ballet.


But that's just me. Here's more on portfolio careers, from each of the three categories:


Dayna Steele of Houston is a prime example of someone who has a portfolio career because she loves variety in her life. Known as Houston’s First Lady of Radio in the 1980s, Steele worked for two decades as a DJ and interviewed countless rock stars with names like Bono, Ozzy, Bowie and Jagger. 

When she lost her job in 2006, Steele didn’t know what to do next. Instead of ramping up for a re-entry into radio, she decided to go the mix-and-match route.

“When you put it all together, it makes for a remarkable life,” Steele says. “A lot of people think they have to find one job, but you really don’t.”


Maybe you can’t be tied down to a single 9-to-5 (or these days, more like 8 to 6) job. Or maybe an intriguing part-time job has come up. A portfolio career lets you manage your time as you take on new projects. You figure out how to squeeze them in, sometimes temporarily pushing others to the side.


But the reasons for seeking flexibility vary. In her book One Person/Multiple Careers, Marci Alboher writes about what she calls her “slash career” as a lawyer/writer/consultant. “Sometimes people hold onto a prior identity while volunteering or getting experience in something new,” says Alboher, who is vice president of Civic Ventures, the think tank driving the encore career movement. “In other cases, they choose this lifestyle because it allows them to pursue multiple interests and passions concurrently.”



In today’s harsh economy, more and more people prefer to bring in several sources of income, rather than betting all their chips on one job at one employer. Downsizing has led some to replace a full-time salary with income from a number of part-time positions, like consulting jobs and project work. These may not entirely make up for the lost income, but they may equal or even exceed the pay from a single full-time job.

Given that employers are still reluctant to hire full-time employees in this uncertain economy, I suspect that a growing number of people will turn to portfolio careers. 


Finally, if you need a job that provides health insurance benefits, because you’re not covered by anyone else’s plan, working part-time jobs may not be right for you. In most cases, only full-time employees qualify for health insurance, although a few employers offer health coverage to some part-timers. They include, for example, Costco, Home Depot, Starbucks, Target, UPS and Whole Foods. 


Before I started developing my portfolio career, I decided that my chief skill was communication. So I looked for a variety of ways I could put that talent to work. Today, most of my portfolio revolves around this skill. But not all: I do certain jobs, like managing real estate, just to earn extra income.

Julie Shifman is an inspirational keynote speaker, career coach and the author of Act Three: Create the Life You Want, which is available on and in bookstores. You can buy a signed copy at her website. Read More
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