The perils of portfolio practice

Since retiring from my consultant role in the National Health Service, I have often described myself as having a portfolio of work, because I do various different sorts of work and, at any one time, may have commitments to work with several different organisations. This gives me interesting and enjoyable variety and flexibility in my work pattern, and I can fill five days (possibly more) quite easily.

However, there are drawbacks…

Firstly, I think that the word ‘retirement’ tends to lead to assumptions. Here is a definition of retirement from dictonary.com:

‘the act of retiring or of leaving one’s job, career, or occupation permanently, usually because of age’ (see this link)

 When I retired, I retired from working in the National Health Service. I described the change at the time as a life-style redesign, which it was. Instead of working full-time as an NHS old age psychiatrist, I developed a portfolio of work, including: systemic psychotherapy, acting as an Independent Chair/ Author for Domestic Homicide Reviews and Safeguarding Adult Reviews, writing, and teaching. Yet sometimes people assume that if someone has retired they have become inactive. There is a phenomenon called serial retirement (read a news article about it here). A friend of mine exemplified this – I can’t remember how many of his retirement dos I went to, as he transitioned from one role to the next!

I guess retirement may best be seen as a transition, and it may be a transition to a well-deserved life of leisure or to another role, paid or unpaid or to a combination of all of these. For example, many charities would grind to a halt without the contribution of people who might be regarded by others as ‘retired’. And it is thought-provoking to read the WRVS gold age power list – see this link – it’s a bit dated now but gives some idea of the range of contributions made to society by older adults.

So, assumptions made about retirement and people who are ‘retired’ need caution – curiosity is a useful approach to their lives and roles after a transition.

Secondly, the word ‘portfolio’ can be tricky too. I looked up the definition and it didn’t really help me. (Do I have a thin flat case for carrying all the jobs I have on the go at the moment?) A portfolio career is a career that involves several different jobs or roles which may or may not be related. This piece (link here) written by April Rinne talks about developing a career portfolio and encapsulates how I see it now. The problem with a portfolio is that each organisation you work for (and each individual you work with) may well be unaware of your other roles and commitments, so they sometimes place demands on you that you can’t meet, because of all the other demands on your time, which may be work demands or family commitments or passions/ interests that are equally deserving of time and effort or a mixture of these. As an aside, I suspect that people who worked part-time in the past may have had similar issues most of the time along with full-time work colleagues who questioned their commitment – I hope things are better now.

I find that perils of portfolio working include others assuming that you can give them more time and effort than you are contracted to provide, and you yourself may feel pressure to try to fulfil those demands whether or not that is reasonable, practical or sensible.

I’m sure there are many other perils I could mention, but, overall, it’s a balance and I find personally that the flexibility, interest and variety is worth risking the perils!

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1 thought on “The perils of portfolio practice”

  1. Thank you, this is informative, thoughful and thought-provoking. I shall probably be thinking of more responses through the rest of the day and beyond. It is a wonderful thing for you and for the several agencies/organisations/individuals you now give time to. Running services it will be agreat asset to you, and others in similar positions, adding to the expertise and wsdom of the home-workforce. But I think it is difficult to hold things together when yo have too many people with closely defined schedules – less capacity for ‘give’ in the fabric. Interesting to note a new enthusiam for firms to offer a 4 day week – 4 days instead of 5 – but execting and finding that as much, or more gets done. Walking the extra mile makes for happiness both ways. Some people spend their whole careers in ‘portfolio’ mode. In my mutiple unpaid roles in retirement, I am aware of many of the pressures you describe from those in each component. We be thankful for what we can do, and grateful to those who support us and give understanding

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