Creative Space – creating space

I’m delighted to share a guest blog post by Katie Barnett. Katie recently took part in my career well-being research project and here she shares some of her thoughts about why a portfolio approach is good for her well-being. Over to Katie for:

Creative Space – creating space

Keys, wallet, phone. (And did I remember to close the bathroom window? And I should definitely buy more milk on the way home.) I have a pretty standard checklist any time I leave the house, but somewhere on my person you’ll also find a notebook and pen. It helps with remembering to buy the milk; it’s also incredibly useful when, inevitably, inspiration strikes on the train, and I’m left scrabbling to scribble something down before the idea is lost. This could be any number of things: an idea for an article, a thought about how best to teach a class of teenage girls about advertising culture, a way of resolving a thorny plot tangle in the children’s novel I have been writing (and re-writing) for the past three years. I have learnt, over time, that this is how I work best: many projects, many thoughts, many notebooks full of seemingly random, sometimes interconnected thoughts. The challenge for me most recently has been working out ways in which I can incorporate this need for creative space into my own career.

Recently, I was interviewed by Jayne as part of her on-going research into portfolio careers and their impact on well-being. Jayne’s questions really got me thinking about my own motivations for pursuing a portfolio of work at this point in my career, and how those motivations relate to my own desire for balance and creativity.

I started working portfolio out of necessity, after leaving a full time job to focus on completing my PhD. I began to take on a variety of work alongside my research, starting with a job in a distribution centre and moving on to a number of different part-time teaching roles, and a variety of work for a higher education careers service, including CV advice, a research project, and workshop delivery. What began as a necessity has gradually become a choice, however; having recently finished my PhD, I have designed the next stage of my career around the appeal of developing and maintaining a portfolio of roles.

I think ‘designed’ is an important word here, as often the assumption is made that a portfolio career is a response to having failed to find more ‘secure’ work. For me, designing my career around this idea of a portfolio is important, particularly with regards to my own well-being. When I was interviewed by Jayne, she told me that only 20% of people enjoy what they do every day, according to research by the Gallup organisatin, and for me having a portfolio of work is one way of ensuring that I fall within that 20%.

Part of this revolves around doing things I enjoy: my portfolio is increasingly focused on teaching and working with students, particularly in further and higher education. However, working in this way also allows me to carve out time and space for my own creative projects, and this is something that I value immensely. Some of these projects relate to my own research interests; others are creative writing projects, including the children’s novel I have been working on in my spare time. Maintaining a balance between these different jobs and projects takes some effort, and isn’t always straightforward; however, creating space for these things is one of my priorities when it comes to building my own career. Having time to work on my writing, or pursue my own research projects, makes me happy. I have also found that it improves my creativity in my other roles—something that has been particularly valuable as I have taken on more teaching work and have been challenged with thinking up innovative approaches to a range of subjects in order to keep different sets of students interested and engaged.

The idea of making space in your work week for your own creative endeavours may seem like something of a luxury, but I believe it is crucial to my own well-being, and keeps me focused on the things that I am passionate about. Inspiration might still strike halfway around the supermarket, or squished in a corner on a busy commuter train, but by actively creating space in my working life to explore and work on a variety of projects, I feel like I am taking steps to recognise my own well-being as central to my career development.

If only I could remember the milk.

Just Space to gain perspective

Portfolio Career?
By Claire B Jenkins of One to One Interview Coaching

Portfolio careers can take many shapes and forms, and here Claire talks about how a short term, 3 week project helped her to gain new perspectives, taking time out before setting up her new business as an interview coach.

See how Claire uses the opportunity to find out more about the skills and strengths she brings to her work. Having some fun and earning money along the way!

Over to Claire:

I can still smell those bags of dirty washing as they ‘steamed’ in the boiling hot cab of the transit I was driving in the summer heat of 2011… How did I get here?

The pungent odour was the New Zealand Women’s cricket team kit. And I was their Tour Liaison Manager for 3 weeks on behalf of the England & Wales Cricket Board (ECB) – after a suggestion by my “other half” to take the work while I formulated exactly what my business model would be for the Job Interview Coaching.

If I’d made a list of why I thought I could do this it might’ve been something like this: I’m good at project managing and persuading people to do things. I played county cricket for 14 years and umpired hockey to international standard. I love sport enough to do a degree and postgrad diploma in Recreation Management… So, why wouldn’t I want to spend 24/7 “on call” to ensure things ran smoothly for the “White Ferns” while playing in the Quadrangular series against England, Australia and India?

I’d been told it would be long days, and involve driving a van full of cricket kit, water bottles and a ‘ginormous’ cool box around the country. And that, whilst there would be the glamour of televised games and some free New Zealand kit, the most important task would be …ensuring the washing was done on time!

It makes sense. You’re living out of a kit bag. You’re getting through ‘warm up’ and playing kit at an amazing pace – and there’s only so many spare shirts, trousers, shorts etc the baggage allowance and your aforementioned ‘kit bag’ can hold.

Along the way… I nearly blew out the clutch pulling a particularly heavy vanload of kit up a steep hill in Bristol. I had a plastic surgeon on standby to stitch a clean but gaping hole in the Kiwi Captain’s knee after she’d ‘spiked’ herself. But more importantly I managed to avoid sitting in a launderette doing the washing myself – as my colleagues working with the other teams had done – by planning ahead, as we zigzagged across the country in our matching transit vans.

I loved the experience. It reminding me that I’m organized, I can adapt quickly and I have a canny knack of persuading folks to give me ‘stuff’ or to ‘acquire’ what the team needed. Bearing in mind their requests varied from needing chocolate to …a spare set of stumps, a trip to A&E, contact lenses, vitamin C tablets… and the list goes on.

So my recent portfolio career was really a fortunate ‘chance’ opportunity. Although it reassured me that I could be useful in a role supporting and encouraging others to perform at their best. Not able to do what they do, at the level they do it, but feeling a ‘high’ from knowing that I’d got the washing done in time for them to pull on clean kit to face England under the full glare of the Sky TV cameras.

Moving away from or towards


I recently stumbled on an article which I’d written last year for about career change and the motivation of moving away from a current situation or towards new job opportunities. There is content in the article which I think will be of interest to portfolio careerists and I’ll reflect on some of the key points in this blog. The original article can be found at this link

What is your “moving towards” motivation when embarking on your portfolio career?

Is it also important to consider what you are moving away from?

I decided to go portfolio at a mid stage in my career and was drawn to do so by the flexibility and the freedom to try out and explore new opportunities. Writing is one opportunity which has emerged for me as a result. Not sure I would be writing this blog unless I’d branched out and made space in my work life for creative stuff.

I was also motivated by the chance to give myself options in the second half of my working life. I enjoy and value having a regular contract within a big organisation as part of my portfolio and wouldn’t totally rule out the idea of returning to work full-time in one job for one employer again. This however would be with the knowledge and experience I’ve gained from developing a range of skills and by working on a self employed basis. I can now turn to my portfolio of skills and experience to manage my future career.

Enough about me! Would you like to share your motivations for working portfolio on this blog? It could be a great way to promote your work and skills to potential clients, employers or collaborators.

Consider these questions?

Have you been pushed to develop your career by taking on bits and pieces of work because there was no alternative of full time work?

Or would you describe your situation as a “Move Towards” scenario where it was a choice to do what you want and work portfolio?

Have you made a positive choice to build up a portfolio of skills, jobs and experience?

How would you describe the journey?

Do contact me if you would like to be one of our career stories on this blog or if you have any other comments or questions about this post.

Healthy Change and Well-being

It’s been a while since I made the time to write a blog post for Portfolio Career Connections, so it’s been a little neglected of late. This is in part because I’ve been busy delivering work (which is great) and in part because I’ve been reflecting on the purpose of the blog and who I am writing for. I’ve been considering the question “how does the blog align to other aspects of my work?” and “What will readers find of interest and what am I inspired to write?”

I’ve decided to focus the next few blog posts on the topic of healthy change and well-being. Managing our careers in a healthy way is at the heart of what I believe in and I want to do more research in this area. In the next few blog posts I hope to unpick what we might mean by healthy change and well-being, particularly in the career context.

In my Twitter profile I say that JS-Coaching is designed to communicate, coach and collaborate for forward-thinking and healthy change, leading to new ways of working and doing business. I’m going to expand on the healthy change bit of this aspirational profile  and will be considering how coaching can lead to change which positively impacts on our well-being.

Through coaching conversations we can increase self-awareness and open up opportunities to make choices, either staying where we are or taking actions to develop and move in a new direction. I always get clients as part of this conversation to check in with how the decision or action will impact on their well-being.

Coaching can be facilitated in a number of ways, such as:

  • self-coaching (individual reflective practice)
  • peer-to-peer conversations
  • manager as coach
  • with a professional coach or mentor

More about what coaching is and isn’t in future blogs. But before we get on to that I’d like to share three areas of interest associated with coaching and well-being, which I am currently exploring:

 1.     Putting well-being at the heart of how we manage and develop our careers

If we do work in line with our interests, what motivates us, what we enjoy doing and  aligned to what we are good at (our strengths), we are more likely to do well and be well. The critical balance for career success and well-being will be different for each individual and is likely to change at different life stages. How do we as an individual value well-being?  What does it mean to us?

 2.  Enabling organisations to design work environments which put well-being at the heart.

In organisations where staff are not realising their potential and are not engaged in their work, both the individual and the organisation can get stuck in a situation where the “well-being” of the individual and the organisation suffers. How can we design projects, work processes, physical environments and coach individuals and organizations to move to situations where they are:

  • Realizing potential
  • Engaged in their work
  • Moving forward and making healthy changes
  • Looking after their well-being

3. Designing coaching projects, career development projects and university-to-business collaborative projects, which have the well-being of the individual and therefore of the organisation at the heart.

In forthcoming blogs I’ll be reviewing and sharing on this blog real experiences and projects I’ve been involved in to draw out key themes and patterns in the area of project design and well-being. I hope that this will be of interest to portfolio career connection readers.

Do share your thoughts or drop me a line with your questions on any of the above topics.

The energy of a portfolio career

If you want to start working in a portfolio way or if you are in the midst of a portfolio career it’s useful to consider what type of work you enjoy doing and what gives you a good energy. To sustain a portfolio approach to working over time there needs to be a momentum and a purpose.

When all is flowing well you can create a great energy. For example I get energy from projects starting and coming to an end and from the variety of different strands of work and work environments. It does however require an investment in the first place to get the work and to then sustain over time.

There are other challenges with maintaining a healthy portfolio career. For example if a number of deadlines are coming to a head at the same time you need to manage the situation and adopt energy giving techniques.  Some tips:

  • Be well organised
  • Plan ahead
  • Don’t over commit
  • Get help and support from others
  • Build space in to your diary
  • Take time out during the day

Also notice what is working well and what is generating a good energy. Notice what is causing energy levels to drop. Make changes so you can build on the good stuff and whenever possible avoid taking on energy sapping projects.

Also be aware of overplaying your strengths. One of the health warnings of doing work that you enjoy is that if you don’t take time out, then it can be counter productive. So it’s all about balance and finding the right balance for you and your portfolio of work.

Just find the space to reflect on your energy levels and consider any changes you may want to make. In the next blog we’ll be looking at recent news coverage about part time working.

Space for parallel projects

One of the aspects I enjoy most about having a portfolio of work is the space for parallel projects which feed in to one another. Here I will share my experience of taking learning from my work in Higher Education to the business world and vice versa.  

Parallel projects

I’ve been lucky to have worked for two years on a student engagement project, which involves students in the design and delivery of their careers service. The work is totally aligned to my interest and work in employee engagement and the work I do to help individuals develop their career in line with their interests, motivations and personal goals.

During the university project we have seen the value of engaging students in ways which gets them interested in their career and which in turn motivates them to spread the word to fellow students. They let us (the careers centre) know what they want and how they want it delivered.

Approaching staff development in organisations in a similar way can also pay dividends, and engage employees in positive ways. With technology and more fluid work environments, there is great scope to engage employees in the design and delivery of their training and their development needs. Sharing ownership with staff at all levels and not just senior staff can generate motivation and a positive learning environment.

Transfer of learning

For me it is great to feed ideas from the work I am doing in education in to the work I am doing with business people and vice versa. This is one of the key benefits of developing a portfolio of work in different sectors and with diverse client groups.

For my clients and employers it is also win-win, they benefit from the creative ideas, new perspectives and ways of working, which working on parallel projects can bring. All of this starts with space to explore and start projects in new sectors, which is not so easy if you are fully engaged in a full-time project or job.

Are you working on parallel projects and would like to share your thoughts?

What are the challenges? How can you effectively manage parallel projects?

How can you look for creative ways to diversify in to new sectors?

And how can you create the right space conditions for taking on parallel projects?

More about this in future blog posts.