For the longest time, being interested in multiple paths or a portfolio career was seen as a professional hindrance. After all, we’ve all seen the phrase “jack of all trades, master of none.” While said so often you stop questioning it, it’s actually inaccurate. In full, the phrase is “a jack of all trades is a master of none, but oftentimes better than a master of one.”
What is a portfolio career?
The phrase portfolio career isn’t new, having been coined by author and management expert Charles Handy back in 1994. A recent UK study showed that 250,000 people defined their career as a portfolio career, however, this number grows exponentially when you look at the fact that 37% of people have a paying side hustle. And it’s a trend that will only grow, as Henley Business School predicts that half the workforce will be in a portfolio career by 2028.
One of the big reasons for this has been the changing relationship people have had with work since the onset of the pandemic. Working from home has enabled people to form closer bonds with their partners and children, truly making their house feel like a home, and completely removing the commute from their daily lives.
As employers aim to reintroduce returning to the office, workers have made it clear that they want at least 2.5-3 days working from home while employers are maxing out at 1 day at home. WFH research found that workers are worried that the main push for the office return is a desire from bosses to use presenteeism to decide who gets a promotion. And this is before you factor in that Black and POC employees have been able to avoid the microaggressions that come with office life and aren’t prepared to return.
So, with this looming threat of a life-sapping commute hanging over workers, it’d make sense that people would try and diversify their revenue streams. As Emma Gannon, author of the novel The Multi-Hyphenate Method, says in an interview with the Suitcase Creative, “We are all so much more than just our one job title.”
Gannon sees being a multi-hyphenate as a way to “future-proof yourself, as the world of work evolves and the days of the ‘job for life’ are fast becoming a thing of the past.” As work slowly but surely moves towards a 4-day week model, even those in full-time work will have more time and opportunity to build their portfolios. And this outside experience can lead to breakthroughs in their own role.
A Forbes piece about being a jack of all trades notes that “broader knowledge leads to greater understanding and being better able to advise clients across multiple areas.” Specialization by itself can lead to blind spots, with David Epstein’s book Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized world noting that, “progression and breakthroughs happen at the interfaces between specialisms.”
The multi-hyphenate approach is even something that’s being picked up in sports. While previously the 10,000 hour rule had been followed religiously since it first entered the public consciousness, it’s been questioned in recent years.
Epstein is one of the key components of this shift, discovering that the best practice for young athletes isn’t to burnout doing one sport but instead to try many different ones. The reasoning is that a young and expanding mind will end up taking small tricks from each sport and applying it to another, leaving them a step ahead of the single sport-player.
We see the fruits of this in the career of one of boxing’s pound-for-pound best Vasiliy Lomachenko, who spent his youth taking dance lessons. These dance lessons helped influence his boxing footwork, which is widely known as some of the best in the sport.
More benefits of the portfolio career model
Another benefit of the multi-hyphenate career is allowing you to collect what famed investor Charlie Munger called ‘mental models.’ Farnam Street describes these as “how we understand the world. Not only do they shape what we think and how we understand but they shape the connections and opportunities that we see. Mental models are how we simplify complexity, why we consider some things more relevant than others, and how we reason.” Collecting an array of models will enable you to apply techniques across disciplines, leaving you able to work more efficiently than ever.
The old way of thinking was to position the portfolio career as taking a leap, but that’s not needed anymore. Gannon notes, “I think the working world has changed forever. I don’t necessarily think being a multi-hyphenate would suit everyone,” she says. “But at least companies have now realised the importance of digital flexibility, which is a positive thing for families, the environment, mental health and for those who have physical health implications.” And in this new world, being a multi-hyphenate will mean you’re ready for anything.