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.

Designing your career with well-being at the heart


In July I am speaking at a Well-Being Conference in Birmingham on the topic of career well-being, and will be sharing some of the thinking I’ve been doing about the changing priorities for career management over recent years.

Do you have a portfolio career? Do your want to volunteer to take part in the research?

To prepare for the conference I will be researching how individuals incorporate personal well-being in to their career management and how these aspects are defined. The focus will be on portfolio careers and will consider individuals’ personal motivations and priorities for their career management.

I want to involve two key groups in the research:

– graduates working portfolio, either by choice or as a temporary solution in place of a full time job
– professionals working portfolio, who are mid career and have changed the way they work and manage their career in recent years


I have personally made the change from a work life which was ok and ticking along quite nicely, to design a way of working which has allowed me to redefine what success means to me, to blossom and use my strengths and to do interesting work. It’s been a positive experience but not without challenge and uncertainty along the way. I see this project as a useful way to build on my own experience and my work with coaching clients, by considering the experience of individuals including the positive impact on their well-being and the challenges.

So, what do we mean by well-being? Here is a definition from the book “Wellbeing – The five essential elements” written by Tom Rath and Jim Harter:

“Wellbeing is about the combination of our love for what we do each day, the quality of our relationships, the security of our finances, the vibrancy of our physical health, and the pride we take in what we have contributed to our communities. Most importantly, it’s about how these five elements interact’.

The project will build on published research in the areas of well-being, engagement at work, positive psychology and the changing face of career management. Through speaking to individuals about their experience of working portfolio, we will explore the impact on their well-being, summarise key themes emerging and make recommendations for supporting individuals as they embark on more flexible career pathways. I hope to continue the research by considering implications for employers and educators.

Do you want to get involved?

I am keen to interview graduates and mid-career professionals who are based in the Midlands and who have multiple jobs or work freelance. You can choose to simply take part in the research with no sharing of your information beyond the contribution to the research paper. Or if you wish to use this as an opportunity to share your story on the blog, we will be creating a number of case studies from the research. Could be a great way to raise your profile and promote your work!
If you are interested to take part please e-mail:

If you are a researcher or careers professional doing work in this area I’d love to hear from you also.

Research outcomes

Updates from the project “Designing your career with well-being at the heart” will be shared on this blog. We will also publish case studies and ultimately build a bank of resources for portfolio workers. A paper to share the first stage of the research results will be presented at: Well-Being 2013 at Birmingham City University in July 2013.

I’d like to thank friends and colleagues for encouraging me to start this piece of research and to share it in the form of a blog as I go along. Thanks in particular to Doreen Yarnold one of my mentors, who encouraged me to just keep writing blog posts even though I wasn’t sure where Portfolio Career Connections was heading. It’s great to start this research with 18 months of blogging behind us.

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.