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.

Escaping Metaphors

I read with great interest Jayne’s piece about ‘spinning plates’ which reminded me about the Magic of Metaphor. Metaphors are so pervasive in how we speak, how we think and reason, they are a great resource we can tap into when we want to achieve an objective. Metaphors help us organise complex sets of thoughts, feelings and behaviour and they help us understand, reason about and explain abstract concepts. 

Take some time to really listen to a news broadcast and you will hear lots of metaphors.  Reading more of the blogs on Jayne’s site you will also see metaphors escaping all over the place – ‘moving towards’ and ‘moving back’ and ‘spreading happiness’.  Each metaphor helps you create a great mind picture doesn’t it?

I have coached clients using metaphor to help them achieve sustainable change and its enlightening how a changing metaphor can lead to a sustained change for the individual. Why is that?  It’s the emotion attached to the metaphor that’s important to leverage change. It follows then that the most powerful metaphors are our own so become aware of and develop yours rather than try to ’use’ someone else’s. 

Here’s an example to get you going…

If to develop a portfolio career you need to be ‘determined’ for example, what’s it like when you’re extremely determined?  Remember to develop your own but let’s say it’s like a ‘star burning bright in the sky’. You could develop this by asking yourself, that’s a star burning bright like what? Where is the star burning bright? And allow yourself to feel the emotion that you attach to ‘the star burning bright’ as you imagine, verbalise and describe your metaphor. It’s important to be instinctive so don’t over think it just let it happen. 

When you are aware of your own metaphors you can start to develop them further and enhance the positive emotion attached to them. When you have become aware of your many metaphors we call this your metaphor landscape.

You can develop and explore the qualities of your metaphor to intensify the emotion there a relationship between star and bright? Or between star and burning? Or burning and bright? You might discover that the brighter the light the more determined you are? What does that tell you? What happens when the star burns brighter? How can you influence the star to burn brighter’?

As you develop your metaphors, you can anchor yourself to the positive emotion which in the simplest terms means thinking of your metaphor and feeling the positive emotion when you need to… that might be attending an interview, making a presentation, tendering for a contract or whatever. Its simple really … well it does take practice but it can become simple if you apply yourself.

Why and how does this work? 

We understand and learn best when engaging our left (logical) and right (creative, imaginative) brains sometimes referred to as whole brain learning. Using metaphor allows us to engage both brains and also our unconscious minds; it raises our self-understanding and self-awareness and is a source of creativity and development.

Our behaviours are driven by our thoughts, feelings and conditioning. The more positive messages (thoughts, feelings) you give to your conscious mind translates into your unconscious mind and like a library you build up a bank of positivity and that’s important for pretty much anything you want to do –did you notice two metaphors slipping out there ? – ‘library’ and ‘bank’ – using these helped to picture the concept didn’t it? (oops there’s another one escaping ‘picture’ ) 

So if we use metaphor naturally then why start to think about it and develop it? Well did you ever hear anyone say someone was being too positive, too self- aware or too creative? 

How could you use this to develop a portfolio career? 

You may choose to develop your metaphor for success for each element of your portfolio or for your portfolio as a whole. A good friend of mine uses the metaphor of a rope with each coloured strand interweaved and representing each strand of his business, supporting each element to make a strong, durable rope. There are some great messages behind this… strength, durability, support, variety interlinked, common purpose, resistance to break.

Why not draw your metaphors and display them on your office wall as a visual reminder. You might incorporate them into your business name or a logo – maybe as part of your brand and a website. The options are really limitless. I do hope you enjoy your metaphorical journey (oops another escaped there didn’t it?) 

If you want to learn more about metaphor here are some texts I have drawn from in writing this:

Lawley, J. and Tompkins, P. (2000), Metaphors in Mind Transformation through Symbolic Modelling, London: Developing Company Press

Geary, J. (2011) I is Another – The Secret Life of Metaphor and how it shapes the way we see the world, New York, USA: Harper Collins

Sullivan, W. & Rees, J. (2008) Clean Language Revealing Metaphors and Opening Minds, Wales: Crown House Publishing Company Ltd

Thank you to Irene Bayliss for this great guest post. Irene runs her own coaching and training business called EyeJBee Ltd – Coaching and Development Solutions and uses innovative techniques, models and strategies to improve business profitability through people performance. She has designed a coaching model for lasting change called Sustain ™ which is based around metaphor and aligned with individual values and personal beliefs.

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.