I listen to Jeff Goins’ podcast, “The Portfolio Life.” Jeff is a NYT bestselling author who writes about finding work that matters, but he also speaks specifically about what it looks like if that job happens to be as a writer—presumably because that’s what he knows. He created the title, “The Portfolio Life,” because there’s an entire chapter in his book, “The Art of Work” about just that. Anyone’s life’s work, he argues, is often not just one thing. It’s a hodgepodge of things, a patchwork that makes up the individual.
This is especially true for creatives: writing, acting, producing, directing, music, art, or any other career in that category are necessary to the soul of the creator, but they’re in the category of “luxuries” for the consumer. (One can argue whether they are, in fact, just as necessary to the consumer as they are to the creator, but that’s a different topic.) From the standpoint of what *sells*, your best bets are always in the critical industries: teacher (everybody needs education). Farmer (we all need to eat.) Doctor or nurse (we all need health care). Business (regardless of the industry, business is the “art” of creating wealth. We need wealth, as an economy). Technology (maybe not always as lucrative as it is now, but at this point, that is the fastest growing sector in business).
But art? We’ll pay a couple bucks to rent a Redbox, but how many of us plunk down $30 to see a play? (And if we do, it’s likely to be the touring Broadway shows, not the local playwright’s creation.) We buy prints for our walls, but few can afford the luxury of a one-of-a-kind painting. Maybe we’ll buy books, but the ones we pay for are usually those whose authors we recognize, which means they’re probably big names with a lot of marketing dollars behind them. We might give unknown authors a chance, but only if the book is free—and considering the oversaturated market and our limited time and resources, can you blame us? We want a sure thing, as cheap as we can get it.
That leaves most artists, of course, with a few simultaneous hurdles to climb: she must 1) create her work; 2) find a way to market her work (now she’s an entrepreneur); and 3) while she’s waiting for people to catch on, she’s got to be doing something else on the side so she can still eat. Which means of necessity, artists, perhaps more than anyone else, must life a “portfolio life.”
When people ask me what I do, for the sake of simplicity, I say I’m a naturopathic doctor. That’s the thing that currently pays the bills. I suppose a more accurate answer would be, “Lots of things.” Depends on which hat I’m wearing at the moment.
And you know what? Even though I was kind of thrust into that, it’s perfect. I fretted endlessly about choosing “one” career path, because I knew my interests were far too diverse to settle on just one thing. It never even occurred to me at the time that I could do about eight things and still have time for them all… otherwise I probably would have picked that all along.