More young people are opting for freelancing gigs so they can learn new things, improve skills, spend time with family and have the freedom to choose how and when they work
Pursuing different careers exposes you to different experiences and skill sets, making you more diverse as a person
Several people around Sujith Venkataramaiah, 32, work on alternative careers, using varied skill sets to do multiple projects. “My brother is a web designer and musician. Another friend is a subtitler and a drone-racer, another who studied hotel management is now a sea-diving instructor," says the Bengaluru resident.
Venkataramaiah too has explored careers as a screenplay writer, a singer, a tech-support engineer, a teacher, a social media manager, a movie reviewer and a subtitler. “Right now, 70% of my income comes from translation and subtitling. The rest from songwriting, singing and scriptwriting for Kannada movies," he says. He, like his friends and brother, enjoys the freedom that comes with choosing projects and their respective challenges. “There’s no boss. I can take time off any day. I have time to think and spend time with my wife, son and parents," he says. Of course, it’s not all fun. He has to be always on his toes and network to ensure steady stream of projects, and maintain his “portfolio" career.
A portfolio career is working towards developing a bouquet of careers in one work-life, that is, using different skill sets to generate multiple sources of income. You may have a full-time job, work remotely and have an extra career on the side. Or you may, like Venkataramaiah, have a series of part-time positions or freelance projects.
Such a career doesn’t follow a single path, a particular function in a company or a vertical corporate ladder. That’s the reason it suits millennials, who are a multifaceted, multi-skilled generation, says Ananda Rao Ladi, chief learning officer, Edureka, an e-learning platform.
“They perceive a portfolio career as a great opportunity to try and learn new things, achieve self-improvement, get the autonomy to choose how and when they work and an opportunity to explore divergent passions," he says, adding, “Portfolio career has become a more viable option because of normalization of the remote work market and gig economy."
Pursuing different careers exposes you to different experiences and skill sets, making you more diverse as a person. After working successfully as a corporate lawyer, Malek Shipchandler, 28, took a sabbatical in 2018 to pursue a design course from Indian Institute of Technology (IIT)-Bombay. The idea was to transition from law to design and consulting. By 2018-end, Shipchandler turned entrepreneur and launched kinstrukto, a wearable manufacturing startup in Mumbai. At the same time, he began working as a litigation consultant with a company.
Both careers are important to Shipchandler. “I want to pursue my creative entrepreneurship but law is something that’s built in my DNA and I can’t leave it behind," he says. He doesn’t see it as a distraction. “For me, it is more about skill security than job security," he says. “I use the articulation skills I developed as a lawyer in my design startup as a communications strategist. The managerial and multitasking skills I develop as an entrepreneur help me plan my consulting projects better."
All of us have different personalities, and a single career all our life may not suit everyone’s needs.
After a decade of being a software engineer, Delhi’s Nalin Kumar Jha, 40, rued the fact that there was no opportunity in his job to be social. “I’m a people person but my job came with long hours in front of the computer with barely any people interface which started to affect me," he says.
Eight years ago, just when India’s hospitality industry was booming, he changed his job to become a software consultant with the same company where he was a full-time employee, and also became an Airbnb host alongside. “It gave me an opportunity to meet people from around the world as well as create an alternative revenue source," he says. Today, he’s a Superhost with Airbnb and handles seven apartments. “Being a consultant gives me intellectual stimulation, while being an Airbnb host gives me social stimulation."
What has changed now from a decade ago, is that there are multiple opportunities to create alternative careers that didn’t exist a decade ago. “When I grew up in the 1980s, you could be an engineer, doctor or an academician. Now that’s not the case," says Jha. As he reaches another decade of working on two careers consecutively, Jha is already thinking of a third career, a playschool for children.
NOT A SMOOTH ROAD
Building a portfolio career is not easy. Since his design course at IIT, Shipchandler has done multiple courses, from brand communication and digital marketing, to watchmaking and even learnt some Japanese.
“You need to be resilient, confident, optimistic, highly organized and flexible," says Edureka’s Ladi. Upskilling is important for both regular and portfolio careers, but more for the latter. “You need to keep learning, be on your toes because everyday you have to be ready to face new things."
Effective time management is a definite requirement so you can keep up with deadlines. Delhi’s Vandita Grover has learnt this the hard way. On maternity break from her teaching job at Delhi University, she picked up content writing skills and started working for companies as a freelancer. “I like both my careers," she says, “but I cannot cut down family time so I have become very organized and complete tasks that I have listed on apps."
“I’m an ambitious working mom. Only high level of motivation keeps me there," she adds.
You need to have the ability to manage a varied workload, be responsible for your own work, confidence to network, promote your work extensively and, most importantly, the ability to recover from setbacks in any one of your careers, says Anuj Grover, assistant professor, Indraprastha Institute of Information Technology, Delhi.
There is a lot of uncertainty in the world today so multiple streams of income make a lot of sense. However, if you do it only for this reason, it might become counter-productive. Fear of a layoff or of becoming redundant in one career is a wrong reason to develop a portfolio career, says professor Grover. “It’s impossible to completely give yourself to a job when you have another which distracts you," he says. “Chances are you might be replaced by someone who is performing better than you, because they are giving their entire focus, attention and energy to it."
A portfolio career makes sense only when it is based on multiple talents, skills and interests. Grover says, “You establish alternate revenue streams that emerge out of your natural skills."