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I ditched a single, prestigious career for five mini-careers – and I love it

Unlike the theatre aficionados or the athletes, I liked to do a bit of most things, and this theme carried on into my adult life

Shalaka Laxman
Saturday 20 August 2022 15:22 BST
Whether you call yourself a portfolio professional, a multi-hyphenate, or a side hustler, all these labels have something in common: your ability to grow and learn across multiple fields
Whether you call yourself a portfolio professional, a multi-hyphenate, or a side hustler, all these labels have something in common: your ability to grow and learn across multiple fields (Getty)

It’s hard to escape the words “side hustle“ these days, with people either discussing their side projects with religious fervour or sneering at millennials who “can never focus on one thing”. I started a traditional banking career in 2014, bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, and one of two women in our graduate class of nine newbies. Despite this depressing statistic, I felt confident I would happily rise ahead and become a corporate overlord someday.

In March this year, I resigned from the corporate world altogether in search of a more fulfilling career – more specifically, one that felt like “me”. I wondered what this “me” meant for a long time because I’ve never had just one interest.

Unlike the theatre aficionados or the athletes, I liked to do a bit of most things, and this theme carried on into my adult life. Now, I’m a freelance writer, artist, entrepreneur, sustainability consultant, and course assessor. These “roles” may not be traditional or have much to do with each other, but they’re all equally fulfilling and allow me to be a proud generalist instead of a reluctant specialist.

With two-thirds of workers in England either taking on multiple jobs or planning to do so soon, I know I’m not alone in juggling numerous roles.

Whether you call yourself a portfolio professional, a multi-hyphenate, or a side hustler, all these labels have something in common: your ability to grow and learn across multiple fields. Working on various projects simultaneously has always felt normal, perhaps because I prefer learning about different things instead of specialising in one area.

In high school, I focused on academia, student government, choir, dance, and press club. I had the freedom to explore subjects more freely in university and pursue eclectic extracurriculars, from a cappella to our college’s business fraternity. I loved going from a business ethics class to commercial law, rushing to my Indian cinema evening seminar, and ending the day with a cappella rehearsals.

Fortunately, many schools today promote diverse interests and encourage students to try different things. But when it comes to careers or adult life in general, that mentality seems to fade away, with people expected to pick a career as teenagers and stick with it till they retire.

This lifestyle always terrified me, so the idea of a rotational graduate programme drew me in as I graduated from university. My company let us try a new role for six months for the duration of the two-year programme, which allowed us to try before we buy – ie, pick where we wanted to be full-time only after testing multiple roles out. It was the perfect corporate compromise for me at the time.

Even back then, I started dabbling with side projects to expend some of my creative energy. I enjoyed the diversity of this approach and tried a few new things, from creating a local non-profit to writing a sustainability newsletter. As I picked up more interests alongside my job, it felt funny to call them hobbies. They felt like more, and I had bigger plans for them too.

From my newsletter to my creative small businesses, I knew that these were becoming mini-careers I wanted to explore in more detail. But unlike today, the vocabulary for this burgeoning portfolio career didn’t exist. People discussed climbing career “ladders” and mapping out “the path to management”, but none of this appealed to me. I began dreading conversations around “career planning” because I had no clue how to prepare for something I couldn’t visualise or understand.

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Fast-forward to today, and the world of work has transformed in incredible ways. Widening your professional identity and exploring different journeys is no longer taboo. Squiggly careers are celebrated, and the rapidly growing number of hybrid roles has encouraged people to be creative and flexible with their time. The transition from a “career path” to a “career portfolio” is becoming mainstream, with 54 per cent of 18- to 34-year-old workers saying that having a portfolio career will be important at some stage of their careers.

For me, the labels matter lesser than the work itself. I’m glad to be rotating multiple hats weekly, even if some days are more challenging than the rest. I feel more energised, creative, and ambitious than ever.

But most importantly – I’ve never felt more like “me”.

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