Smart Moves: Jugglers keep it all up in the air

Portfolio careers, letting women balance work with family, pets and friends, are the answer for those who want it all, says Joanna Parfitt

It is a well-known fact that men can only do one thing at once, while women can juggle several tasks simultaneously. Perhaps this is why so many women choose to have both children and a career?

The trend is slipping away from emulating Superwoman from nine to five and Supermum the rest of the time. Mothers are still trying to have it all, only now they want it in child-sized portions.

Portfolio careers are ideal for jugglers. For if you are already keeping a family, pets, friends and the school PTA in the air, then it is only a small step to add an assortment of careers to your list.

It is not uncommon for someone to work in an office by day and then in a restaurant by night, so the idea of having more than one job is not new. The difference between this and a portfolio of careers, is that portfolio workers are freelance and usually work from home. Of course, this means that there are no company benefits or paid holidays, but instead you have variety and total flexibility.

Sue Valentine, for example, has a PhD in Food Science and eight years ago worked full-time in a management position for a drinks vending company. Marriage and children caused her a career rethink.

"I did not want to lose my professional identity, but wanted to find work that fitted in with my new lifestyle," she explains.

For Sue one skill has led to another. Her food science background acted as a starting point for a wide variety of related projects. She has self- published a cookery book on dates, undertaken freelance product development and consultancy and now writes a monthly cookery column for a local magazine. Producing the book led her to explore the craft of photography, which has, in turn, encouraged her to start her own photo library. Her skills base and experiences have evolved into a series of workshops on career management which she hopes will be adopted by the Institute of Food Science and Technology.

"I follow every lead and take every opportunity that comes my way to see which ones produce something concrete," Dr Valentine says.

For Bobbie Meyer, an interest in gardening and writing have filled her professional portfolio with an ever-expanding range of careers.

"My freelance journalism led naturally to photography, a gardening column and latterly a commission to write and illustrate a book on topiary for Search Press. Along the way I decided to start my own publishing imprint, Sage Press, which launched The Collector's Series of Trees last November," Meyer says.

"My interest in topiary prompted me to start importing box [an evergreen shrub] from Belgium and I am now bidding to contract publish the Topiarist magazine for the European Box and Topiary Society."

"I think of my work as a constantly changing kaleidoscope of possibilities and seem to hoover up other skills as I go along," Meyer says.

One of the dangers of portfolio careers is that, with so many areas of business to promote, it can be hard to focus and easy to spread yourself too thinly.

Belinda Williams runs a series of workshops in Kent and Sussex, addressing issues related to working from home and portfolio careers. She recognises the many problems faced by homeworkers. "Achieving the right balance is not easy. It is easy to devote too much time to areas of low profit, for example. Rather than adopting a regular, low-key approach to marketing, people tend to have great bursts of publicity when the work has dried up. Inevitably, several contracts arrive together and panic sets in," Williams says.

Time management is the key to effective juggling. Not only should you allocate time for work in each area of your business, but you should also schedule your family and social life, as well as working time alone. It sounds easy but is, in fact, a skill which takes a lot of learning.

Cary L Cooper and Suzan Lewis have conducted extensive research into the subject of the work-life balance. In their recent book Balancing Your Career, Family and Life, they recognise the threat of overload.

Yet women cope well with a juggler's lifestyle. In a US survey of 164 professional women, who combined career and family, few thought working a staggering 107-hour week was unacceptable.

Cooper and Lewis suggest that learning the skills of assertiveness and delegation is essential. Setting realistic goals, recognising your limitations and establishing clear boundaries between work and home are vital too.

It is said that if you want something done, you should ask a busy person. Perhaps that is why Sue Valentine does voluntary work too, as chair of the school PTA and co-ordinator of the Surrey Branch of the Women in Business Society. Bobbie Meyer has set up a network for freelancers in Rye and supports local causes. But perhaps this wide range of activities is the reason for their success.

For more information about the Working From Home workshop call 0800 0923331. If you are interested in `The Collector's Series of Trees' visit the website on press.trees for further details.

For further information about the Surrey Branch of Women in Business Society call Sue Valentine on 01372 748459. `Balancing Your Career, Family and Life' by Cary L Cooper and Suzan Lewis is published by Kogan Page at pounds 8.99.

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