Russ Juskalian, 30, is a journalist based in Munich who has reported from Southeast Asia, above the Arctic Circle in Finnish Lapland and from the Himalayan foothills in Indian-controlled Kashmir.
As you'd expect, he writes articles related to his travels. But, unlike most journalists, he also sells his photos, giving him a second career as a photographer.
If that weren’t enough, in his spare time, he teaches classes in science writing, international freelancing and travel writing through an online program offered by the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.
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“My schedule varies dramatically from week to week, month to month,” he says. “Because I have so many competing things going on—writing, editing images, pitching, preparing for upcoming classes, grading student work—I tend to compartmentalize my time, so that I have a series of tasks that I must get done before moving on to the next ones.”
So-called "slashers," like reporter/photographer/teacher Juskalian, are part of an emerging trend known as the “portfolio career.” And if you're the right personality type, it can be an incredibly rewarding—and profitable—career move.
How Portfolio Careers Became So Big
Marci Alboher, author of "One Person/Multiple Careers," defines “slashers” as individuals who've created a "portfolio career" involving multiple identities. Their income comes from part-time employment, temporary work, freelance assignments or a personal business—or they work a full-time job, while pursuing other lucrative interests.
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Barrie Hopson, co-author of "10 Steps to Creating a Portfolio Career," says that this type of career offers a much more fulfilling work-life blend, not to mention a safety net of several jobs—so if you lose one or choose to quit a job, you’ll still have other sources of income.
During the heart of the recession, people took on portfolio careers out of necessity. So now that the job market is improving, why is the slasher lifestyle becoming even more common? “Increasingly, people are finding that they don't want to do the same thing day in and day out,” Hopson says. “The traditional, single-track career pattern of the last century (think ladder) is now more difficult to find, and if you do pursue that, you'll almost certainly have to move between companies.”
That said, portfolio careers aren’t for everyone.
Choosing Your Career Path
To determine if a portfolio career is right for you, consult your high school extracurricular schedule, suggests Erin Albert, author of "Plan C: The Full-Time Employee and Part-Time Entrepreneur." Did you dabble in one or more activities, such as theater, music, art or sports? “If you craved variety, then you'll most likely crave variety now,” Albert says.
Another question to consider: If you won the lottery tomorrow, and money was no object, what would you do with your life? “If your brain excitedly goes in 50 different directions in answer to that question, chances are that you have portfolio career potential,” Albert says.
All of the participants were happier as slashers, earning more within two years of their portfolio career than they ever did as a full-time employee.
If you think that you might be made of the right stuff, consider these questions before jumping into a portfolio career:
- Do you multitask and manage your time well?
- Do you crave flexibility and creativity?
- Are you organized?
- Are you open to new opportunities?
If you answered yes to most of these questions, this path could be the one for you.
Only one of the 46 portfolio careerists that Hopson studied have returned to a single-track career in the past two years. According to Hopson, all of the participants claimed that they were happier as slashers, which is no wonder, since most of them earned more within two years of their portfolio career than they ever did as a full-time employee.
What to Do Before Launching a Portfolio Career
- Foresee and handle any conflicts of interest. This applies to conflicts both with a specific day job and at the career level. For instance, if you stay at your full-time job, but you need more time to dedicate to other interests, have an honest conversation with your employer to come up with the best solution. Additionally, make sure that your other pursuits won't negatively impact that career overall. “The good and bad news here is that you have the power to create whatever custom-designed career you want,” Albert says. “But it does take work and an honest appraisal of what you really want.”
- Have at least one consistent line of work. Alboher notes that it's always smart to have one or two steady jobs, so that you have a base level of income. Alboher adds that many portfolio careerists take the anchor-orbiter approach, meaning one job requires a physical presence at a certain location during a certain time (i.e. office job), while the other jobs (i.e. freelance work) “orbit” around it.
- Start a rainy day fund. Put six months to two years worth of savings in your bank account to support your cost of living … just in case. For full-time freelancers, the recommendation is at least a year's worth of savings. (Read more on the seven reasons why you need an emergency fund.) If you’d like to create your own business, Albert suggests launching it while still working your day job. Whether you decide to quit or not, saving is an absolute must—especially if you have a family. Albert explains that a person with three kids, a mortgage and a lot of bills has different (and greater) risks to consider than a recent college graduate.
Portfolio careers also have many benefits.
“Anyone who has ever been pink-slipped, fired or laid off understands the importance of moving multiple careers forward and not putting all career eggs in one basket (figuratively speaking),” Albert says. “By juggling multiple careers, one can have flexibility and adaptability, which are two key skills every employee in this post-economic downturn needs to have to succeed in the future.” Plus, if you do choose to return to a traditional work environment, your extensive repertoire and transferable skills from your portfolio career might give you a leg up against other applicants.
Juskalian definitely seconds the flexibility and adaptability comments, not only because his income is irregular, but because his work flow is, too. Depending on what's going on in his personal life, his schedule can swing between periods centered around friends and family and periods of almost no personal time and all traveling, writing, editing and teaching.
“I find my lifestyle very fulfilling," he says. "But there's no doubt that it takes a certain mentality—and a lot of energy—to juggle my career.”