Portfolio Careers and Success

*First appeared on APME blog: https://apmepopblog.wordpress.com/

About a month I found out that the way I organize my professional life and career has a name.

It’s called a Portfolio Career. A portfolio career is exactly what it sounds like – your career looks like a constantly changing, moving, and growing portfolio.  It encompasses all the things you hear about musicians doing – writing, teaching, playing, touring, putting out albums, business meetings, website design, mixing, mastering, recording, bookings…ect. – each opportunity and experience adds to the breadth and depth of the portfolio.  Pretty sweet, huh?

From the perspective of many people working traditional ‘jobs’ where they do the same thing, go to the same place and interact with mostly the same people every day, portfolio careers can look really messy and perhaps even stressful.  But for the creative (one who creates) it’s exciting, exhilarating, fun, engaging, challenging, and always changing.  Just like their art.

Yet rarely do we talk to our students about this kind of a career.  Too often, I talk to students and ask them what they are planning after graduation.  Standard responses range from: “I’m going to be a performer,” to “I’m going to work in publishing,” to “I have no idea and I’m really scared.” It’s the last one that I find brings the most sadness to my days.  While it’s great that so many schools are integrating entrepreneurial and music business courses into their curriculums, they seem to be leaving out an essential part of the puzzle.

Many schools seem to not let students know that it’s totally OK, and even wonderful, to not do ONE thing when they get out of school. To help them figure out what their version of success looks like and how they might achieve their goals.  To show them how the things they’re learning about in their courses can give them the tools they need to create a rewarding portfolio career. 

In America, and I suspect in many other countries, this is almost completely antithetical to the accepted norm of success being completely linked to the amount of money in ones’ wallet and the amount of years at a ‘job’ and how high up the ‘ladder’ one is.  But is this really the only measure of success? 

I’ve worked a portfolio career for over 20 years.  I’ve taught every age from two to eighty. I’ve booked and run two successful tours.  I’ve given masterclasses and workshops.  I’ve taught beginners and advanced students.  I’ve released three records, with a fourth and fifth on the way.  I’ve put myself through grad school – twice. I’ve sung backup vocals for famous people.  I’ve helped people learn how to find the beauty in their voice.  I’ve authored a chapter in a book.  I’ve spoken at international conferences.  I’ve never worked outside of music in the 20 years I’ve lived in NYC.  Ever. 

Yet by so many standards, I am not successful.  How sad to have this view.  How happy I do not.

Finding out that what you do has a ‘place’ in the world is extremely empowering. Let’s help our students know that having a portfolio career is a completely viable and wonderful way to move through life and that it isn’t a failure – it’s just a different way of viewing success.