Curating a Career Portfolio Rather Than Forging a Career Path


Dr Julie Rosengren is the Founder and Managing Director of the Life Institute. She is a transition specialist with more than 20 years’ experience in researching, writing, training, consulting, coaching and counselling. 

Something very exciting is happening in the career space. I am not talking about emerging jobs, jobs in demand, or AI, but rather about a change in thinking about one’s career.

Traditionally, we have thought about careers in terms of forging a career path that is laid out before us if we take certain steps. But this is limiting. We can’t adapt in this fast-paced world, be creative, join the dots, and importantly take control of our future when we limit ourselves to a straight linear line. 

When we see our careers as a portfolio, rather than a path, a world of opportunities open up. Not just in terms of our transferable skills, but how we see our whole selves. Just as an artist showcases what they are capable of when they create, or when investors curate and demonstrate the diversity of investments, we too can have an opportunity to be creative by crafting a story that leverages our transferable skills and capitalises on our wealth of life experiences! 

If we think about our parent’s generation, careers were like a straight concrete pathway; you got a job with an employer and stayed for decades, walking the predictable steps before retirement. The career path was defined, felt safe and maybe some would say today, a tad boring.

Nowadays, the career path is a thing of the past. A job with one employer is rare, upskilling to stay ahead of the technological developments and disruptions is the norm, transitioning across roles and industries is mainstream, procuring income is sought from multiple sources including the gig economy, and a sense of meaning comes from a wider circle of connections. 

But it doesn’t finish there. We are more than our skills and experiences from past jobs. What is the purpose of work anyway, but to make a living, be useful and socialise. There are many ways to curate a sense of purpose in life, earn some money, connect with people to achieve goals and more.

When we see ones career as a portfolio, we open up opportunities to tap into a much deeper and richer you and what you can offer to the world, not just the labour market. Volunteering, side hustles, parenting, supporting others, passion projects, sporting endeavours, family businesses, freelancing, tapping into the gig economy, and more, are experiences that have given us opportunities to learn skills too.

Curating My Own Career Portfolio

When I reflect on my own career journey over the past 30 years, I have curated a career portfolio, rather than forged a career path. My first job was making and selling sterling silver thread earrings at a Sunday market in Queensland when I was 13 years old.

I loved that job, and I really liked my employer, Olivia who I recall as being the most formal person I had met, and the most well groomed woman I had set my young eyes on. She favoured the fashionable colour at the time in the 80’s, peach, a sickly pastel shade that clashed with her overpowering expensive perfume. I really liked her as she taught me ‘stuff’ and was patient about it. 

She taught me how to actually make the earrings using thin silver bars and chain coupled with an eclectic mix of little trinkets, charms and things that sparkle, how to display them to get the attention of potential customers, how to perfect the art of selling with fancy hand held mirrors, chit chat and lavish praise, and importantly, how to spot a thief. This one came in useful recently in my volunteering role at an Op Shop. But to be honest, I let it go, it is a charity after all.

But this wasn’t my first job really. I grew up in a large family, the second youngest of 11 children, yes all to the same mother and father. There were also 2 more children who were part of our family, 2 boys who lost their parents in a car crash, who were older than my birth siblings. There were always lots of people around our household, people who just loved my parents because they gave them a place to stay when they had nowhere else to go and included them in the laughter and mayhem of a very large vibrant family.

With all these people around, there was food to think about and this takes me to my first job. Not with an employer, but with my family. My farmer dad grew an abundance of fruit and vegetables in our backyard in his spare time which we then picked and washed ready to pound the streets to sell to our generous and welcoming neighbours. My job was to look and sound cute really, being the second youngest, and accepting the money in a cup, along with cupcakes and lollies that our very nice neighbours would give us as we hauled our wheelbarrow of fresh picks from one house to the next.

This wasn’t the only job I had had before reaching the legal age for work. Food was important in our household as I mentioned, and so everyone worked. My job was cooking the food for the whole family. I was only 10, but I was pretty good as I did it everyday and learnt on the job what hungry mouths liked and didn’t like. I was paid to be the cook by my dad, a handsome $15 a week.

It is clear to me now and it was back then too that my parents valued hard work and instilled this in me. Work is such an integral part of lives. Most of our days are spent working (paid or not) so it deserves a lot of attention. So by the time I was a teenager I had already acquired a decent suite of transferable skills. Each job we do sows another thread in the tapestry of our working lives.

I went on to do many more jobs and sowing those threads through whatever I chose to do. Selling doughnuts, making milkshakes, slicing ham and cutting cheese, serving customers, teaching aerobics, aquaerobics and gym, translating criminal cases from Thai to English, waitressing, teaching outdoor education, all before I started my first graduate job as a counsellor and educator. Even when doing this job, I acquired a heavy vehicle license so I could drive the university students to camps.

I have continued to add to my skillset over the years, culminating into titles such as entrepreneur, businesswoman, transitionist, career consultant, speaker, parent, linguist, volunteer, English teacher, writer, author, and more recently natural perfumer, distiller, seed collector, cow whisperer, airbnb superhost; the list continues to grow.

The Benefits of a Career Portfolio

In a world of uncertainty and constant technological change, a person who has curated a career portfolio rather than forged a career, will have more capability to make creative connections between their skills and be more agile in applying these to a vast array of opportunities.

When you are pitching for a job, contract, or opportunity, it is important how you tell your story. It’s your story so you have creative licence over how it is told. Being able to weave the tapestry of your skills and experiences into a story that is compelling will land you where you want to be.