If you’re reading this, it probably means that you are an out and proud multipotentialite or at least exploring the possibilities. I, like many didn’t have a definition for my varied and often starkly conflicting interests. A life spent flitting from obsession to obsession: exploring creative, manual work, retail, office temping, academia, writing etc in the process.
My dreams have changed so many times that I have spent my life feeling like I’m wasting it. Until I came across Puttylike. A fantastically reassuring website dedicated to and maintained by people like that. Brilliant.
I realized long ago that I’m not very good at working for a big employer. I can’t do it. I find distant authority very hard to cope with. If the main boss is not directly WITHIN my situation (especially if I don’t have any access to them) then I don’t have the patience to listen to their demands (usually demands for more efficiency or conceivably irrational practices). I’ve worked a few such jobs, but never last long before I get bored, frustrated and end up leaving. I thought this was just because I lacked stickability and that there was something fundamentally lazy and non-committal about me.
That was until I decided to create my life around my creative projects. My desire was to make a living from doing what I love, which is recording and performing my music, and writing words that inspire, encourage and challenge. This was not a business plan, and I didn’t know what I was going to do.
What I did know, however was that I couldn’t do this while I worked full time for a big company. I would have a break down. I would spend too much time concentrating at getting good at my job that I would forget that the reason I was doing it was to pay to live while I pursued my creative dreams. No, the dreams would have been forgotten about.
The portfolio career
The impression from those living a creative, unorthodox life—such as that of the so-called portfolio career (a work-life filled with a multitude of income streams), can be that everything we do is related to the central dream. Now, while this might be true for a number of people, it is certainly not true of all and I want to reassure you that if you are brave enough to try this out you don’t need to feel like you’re doing anything wrong when you find yourself doing work that bears no relevance to your dream path.
This is why I want to make a clear distinction between the dream and the subsidiary career. I define a subsidiary career as the assorted portfolio work done parallel to the “dream work.” It’s work that means something, but also brings in the money—it’s the work that allows you to pursue the dream without pressure of having to prematurely make a living from it.
My portfolio career starting pretty much by accident, when friends of mine had a baby and were trying to balance being a doctor with studying for college, right alongside the fulltime occupation of first time parenting. They were struggling. They had no time to cook, to clean, to do the washing (with a baby there is LOTS more of that!), and we were joking one day about how I could do meals on wheels for them. Before I knew it I recieved an email with the offer of 8 hours work a week doing various household jobs. This was not something I would have even considered before, but it seemed perfect. I needed work, I didn’t want to be officially employed, and they needed the help. It was perfect for both of us.
Before long word had spread and I was cleaning half a dozen houses a week, doing odd bits of gardening, building furniture, and any heavy lifting that people needed hired help for. It was quite a bizarre few months as I started to make more than enough to live on from a selection of jobs that were generally flexible enough so that I could chop and change where I was on any given day.
This was immensely liberating, and despite the fact that I wasn’t doing what I would want to do forever, there was a real sense of integrity in the fact that I doing work from a point of need, and was supported by my various “clients” so that I had the time and flexibility to build on my music without worrying about making money from it.
2. Reputation and experience
Oddly my reputation as a cleaner, and someone who could generally do odd bits of work led me to the point where I was having to turn jobs down. It’s not until I recently reflected on it that I realized quite how diverse a set of skills I have developed over the past four years:
- Looking after Dogs
- Painting and Decorating
- Fence, Shed and Greenhouse Construction
- Kitchen Fitting
- General Labouring Work
- Dementia Care
These are some of the unrelated subsidiary jobs that I have done since being self-employed. There are a lot of varied skills that have been both required and acquired during this time. It’s reflecting on this list that makes me appreciate this way of life.
3. Discover new passions
During the time of my self-employed career I have done lots of creative work, been paid to write magazine articles, played a huge number of gigs, sold many of my records, done festivals, taught drums to a handful of students, and done design work for a software company. I have had the freedom to be able to do these things (and increasingly build momentum to replace much of the subsidiary work) BECAUSE of the subsidiary work that has happened a long side. But I think it’s unfair to see that work as simply a means to an end, ie to earn the money to support my dream until my dream can financially support itself. It is more than that.
The work has its own intrinsic value, and has opened my eyes in terms of the people I have worked with/for and awoken in me new passions. For example, the final point on the list—I have done a lot of work over the last year with a friend of mine who has dementia. It went from just sitting with him a couple of hours a week to helping out on a permanent part time basis and being a live in carer when his wife takes her much needed periodic breaks. I am going through the process of training for qualifications in dementia care and by the end of the year will have an advanced skills certificate. This has sparked in me a passion for this role. I would never have even considered it if it weren’t for the flexibility, reliability and reputation that has built to the point where I was even asked to do it.
I think that it is really important to bear in mind that we really can make of life what we will, and as well as being a fantastic way to build up a catalog of work, earn some money and keep above water, going out of your way to do subsidiary work, unrelated to your dream field is a fantastic way to build experience, get to know a wide range of people, and find new passions that you may never otherwise discover.
I am now in the very fortunate position where I can balance off my creative work with my subsidiary work and counterweight depending on my needs (time and money). I feel lucky to be able to live such a life, but it has taken (and continues to take) lots of hard work and many sacrifices a long the way.
Are there any needs in the people around you that you could meet—in exchange for increased financial freedom to pursue your dream? Let’s inspire each other in the comments!
Andy Mort is a UK based musician and writer. He has been described as having a “daring and innovative approach to creating and releasing modern music, which has proved him and his alter-ego Atlum Schema to be a bright beacon in the depths of British music today.” His first e-book, ‘What Because (Why You are an Artist…)’ was released in September 2012 and you can download it for free from SheepDressedLikeWolves.com where he also writes a philosophical blog on creativity, art and things that inspire. Check out the music at Atlumschema.com.