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.

How did I establish a portfolio career – and why?

How did I establish a portfolio career – and why? by Melanie Girdlestone, freelance trainer and translator

My choice to work for myself was essentially the result of a system of elimination! Even as a teenager, I knew that money, status symbols and a “positions of responsibility” in  a large company were not things I aspired to. Instead, I somehow envisaged spending my days spreading happiness in some way. The question was: how?

When I finally got serious about finding gainful employment after settling in Munich,  fate came to my rescue. I spotted a newspaper advert by Langenscheidt, the famous dictionary producer, and was lucky enough to be taken on as a member of the teaching team at their new language school. Over the years, further coincidences (including phone-calls out of the blue) allowed me to teach in major companies including a luxury carmaker, major telecommunications provider and a national airline.

My teaching activities ended in 2004, when I accompanied my husband to the UK on his 5-year expat contract. Having left all my clients in Munich, I started from scratch – once again with luck on my side. When a former student of mine contacted me about some translation work, history began to repeat itself, with word spreading and clients accumulating in my contact list again.

To attribute these developments to fate alone would oversimplify the matter. I believe a number of other factors were involved. Surviving on your own seems to me to be a question largely of self-knowledge, of knowing exactly what makes you – and consequently your clients – happy. I, for instance, prefer freedom over rules, so the more creative and open-minded my client, the more I feel my teaching and/or translations can contribute. In addition, creative thinking has enabled me to build up business by linking my personal interests to the opportunities I see in the world around me. For example, my fascination with the way we determine interpersonal relationships through language makes me relatively “creative” as a translator – ideal for tasks such as translating advertising straplines and song lyrics to be (hopefully) as engaging in English as they were in the German original. And then, of course, there’s the importance of an open mind. As well as allowing me to spot an opportunity, broadness of vision helps me tolerate and learn from virtually anything, including my clients’ “quirks”. On top of this, a degree of inquisitiveness helps me share their understanding and fascination for the cars, simulation technologies, wind turbines or cakes they write about – an enthusiasm I inject into my translations. But most of all, at the risk of sounding corny, I believe passion is essential. My love of language has allowed me to devote myself to my studies for two MA’s and consequently produce work that is hopefully of higher quality. It also allows me to evaluate and learn from the work of others.

We all know, however, that life has a marked tendency to throw occasional disasters at us. In this context, I believe it is important to feel able to handle things when they take a turn for the worse. If I do not get along with a client, I end the relationship as elegantly as possible, if only as a means of self-preservation. When confronted with a crisis (such as a key client who is restructuring the way translation or teaching activities are contracted out), I give myself time to deal with the inevitable sadness of losing my contract but soon set about identifying the opportunities the change represents – chiefly time to think, reassess, rebalance and re-orientate. If I feel underpaid or undervalued, I am not afraid to bid a client farewell in order to free up time for other, more lucrative or rewarding work. Conversely, the risk that the client might do the same to me is constantly at the back of my mind, inspiring me to think beyond my daily work so as to be prepared should the worst happen. Scary but exciting – because whenever a door slams shut another window of opportunity opens somewhere.

There are, of course, several aspects of independent work that are hugely inconvenient. Out with PAYE, in with self-assessment tax returns. And who to call when the computer goes strange? Tax returns are a drag, I will admit, but they are invariably completed in the company of my old record collection and a nice cold beer. IT problems tend to be resolved by somebody who knows somebody somewhere that can help. Because although your office network is rather limited when you operate as “sole trader”, you frequently meet like-minded folks who are only too pleased to help, especially if you can return the favour some day. I have often done free translations for people in the past and invariably found something the recipient of these services can do for me at a later stage.

And finally, of course, comes the question of success. At the age of 46, I am by no means rich, but I have never had to restrict my spending and always had plenty of cash available to fall back on in case of an emergency. I live very comfortably in a desirable part of town and focus my energy on the jobs I enjoy most. Meanwhile, my mind continues to churn out new ideas about things I might write, study, tell my clients about, or explore in years to come. I have no employees (which is probably wise considering I have no management skills), but I often share projects with people whose work I like. And with no prospects of promotion, I tend to promote myself; treating the mind by engaging in studies automatically helps promote your bank balance. Bring on more geeky books to make me that bit better at what I do than the others! When my clients come back for more, I know I’ve done the right thing!

You can find out more about Melanie’s work at:

Zumba classes alongside the day job

In this guest blog Yasmin shares how she has started to offer Zumba classes alongside her day job in Higher Education. She describes her motivation for offering the classes and how it helps to develop her skill as a facilitator of groups in a context which complements her work in careers. Over to Yasmin:

I was never one for much physical activity. I remember when I was 12 years old my PE teacher told my mum that I was accepted onto the Track & Field Team because he felt sorry for me, not because I was any good. So how did I manage to become a fitness instructor you may wonder?
I have always had a huge passion for moving to music and dance (again my mother can vouch for this based on  embarrassing videos of 5 year old me stomping along to 80s music in the living room, plus countless ‘shows’ and ‘performances’ I put on for my grandparents and classmates). However it did not occur to me at the time to take classes or translate this passion into something more.

Meanwhile I grew up, went to school, went to University and turned my attention to a career in the public sector. Having completed my Bsc in Public Policy, Government & Management at the University of Birmingham I started working for the Department for Work and Pensions. Following a brief but tumultuous 18 month contract I applied to the Careers and Employability Centre at the University of Birmingham, where I now work. I enjoy advising young people and supporting them with career choices both on an individual basis as well as in groups. In fact I particularly enjoy speaking to large groups and overseeing them engage in various activities to help them enhance their employability. I believe part of this enjoyment translated into my desire to instruct groups of people in a fitness setting.

I was introduced to Zumba in 2010. Previously I had never lasted more than a few months on a fitness program and was somewhat sceptical to start with. I began by exercising to Zumba DVDs and later on visited a class. I registered on the Zumba website to receive updates on training events happening in my area, with no real intent to attend any sessions. At the time it seemed more like an idea than reality. However one day I found out about an instructor training course happening in Birmingham and decided to register. After a short yet intensive training, I was ready to jump in and start teaching.

I contacted local Zumba instructors for practice opportunities and a few let me teach a track or two in their class. They seemed shocked that I jumped into teaching so quickly with little experience but I was determined! I continued to gain experience through covering existing classes with up to 40 attendees. The energy in the room would be so exhilarating I was buzzing for hours afterwards!

I set up my own class in city centre which after 4 weeks did not attract large numbers. I now teach every Friday evening and Saturday morning at Urban Fitness at Bournville College and love it!

I do not view Zumba instruction as a source of income or another job but rather a hobby that has translated into something I can share with other people and in a sense adds the missing puzzle piece to the career path I am already on!

To find out more about my Zumba fitness classes visit

Artists are the original portfolio careerists!

We are delighted to welcome our first guest blog post written by Sue Goodwin, sharing with us an insight in to her own career journey and how she values the space to think, reflect and to be creative in her portfolio career. Over to Sue:

When I left school there were no jobs and like now a recession. I was relieved, I didn’t want a job, I wanted to go to Art College and that’s what I did. I’d had a part time job at a green grocers and that was enough for me, and the green grocer. When  he handed me my last wage, I thought there’s not going to be a next employer.

Leaving art-college in the early eighties, there were still no jobs, only Manpower job creation schemes. My choices at that time were train to be a teacher, set up my crafts business producing expensive craft work for recession hit UK or join a Manpower Services job creation scheme. Teaching or the Manpower Services job didn’t inspire me and making expensive craft-work didn’t sit comfortably with my politics. So what did I do? I set up a community arts charity providing educational arts projects for a growing market for artists to work in schools and with community groups. Although back then artists didn’t think of themselves as having a ‘career path’ the charity provided a structure for a variety of activities which could be called my ‘career’. These activities included working as an artist-in-residence in schools, hospitals, and prisons; lecturing at art colleges; providing training courses for teachers, health workers and countryside workers and working as an artist producing public art works.

After 17 years I needed to move on and for a few years I did a mixture of teaching and consultancy work. Apart from 10 years working in local government my career has been ‘a portfolio’ and continues to be so. The most valuable thing it gives me is the space to think, reflect and to be creative. Many of my contemporaries and artists I’ve worked with and mentored over the years have had ‘portfolio’ careers, some have planned them and others have just followed the next opportunity. Either way it has suited them and helped them to be resilient to the changes in society, changes to the economy and changes in how people see the role of the arts and the artist.

More about Sue will appear on the portfolio career stories page in the next few days, so do visit the blog again soon. Inspired to share your story? Get in touch with or comment on the blog.