The Portfolio Life

“For the past century, we have been told a story about work that says we must commit to a certain path in life, spend most of our career doing that one thing, and not veer too far from our area of focus. This, we think, is what mastery is all about. But is that really what great artists do? Is mastery made up of one craft…or many?” -Jeff Goins

I could feel it coming.

That uncomfortable question again. The one perfect stranger were always asking, completely unaware that they had just catapulted me into internal panic.

Like a frantic file clerk caught off guard, I was mentally scrabbling through cabinets and drawers, scattering papers in all directions, stepping on pencils, tripping over waste-baskets, and generally wishing I could hide under my desk and tell them to try the next office.

All because somebody had the audacity to say: “So. What do you do?”

Now you might think I was panicking because I didn’t have an answer. But that wasn’t the problem. Actually, I had all kinds of answers. The trouble was, I had a pretty good idea they didn’t want to be there for the text ten minutes, listening to the itemized list. They were looking for something simple like “I’m a CEO.” Or “I’m a bank teller.” And I could not figure out how to cram my entire spectrum of interests into a single word.

What do I do? Well, I have a part time job as a medical scribe, I write stories, I create costumes, I act, sing, and dance, I adore cooking and organizing, I love studying and experimenting with healthy lifestyle ideas…and on and on it goes.  But there’s no single thing that stands out as my driving, overarching passion in life, or even my sole source of income.

I didn’t haven’t the simple answer they wanted. My life just didn’t fit that blueprint.

So what was I supposed to say?

Well, as many of you know, for the past few years I settled on the answer “I’m a writer.” It makes sense, right? I DO write a lot. I’ve spent 2 and 1/2 years on a book that lots of people are very excited about, so I have a nice solid conversation piece.

Only problem is…I don’t feel like a writer.

Or at least. I don’t feel like I’m only a writer.

Of course I am partly a writer. I have a book coming out this summer, I post regularly on my blog, I’ve been published in magazines, and I’ve won a contest with one of my short stories. That definitely makes me a writer…right?

But last fall, when a friend said innocently, “This is what you want to do for a career, right?” guess what I did?

I stammered.

And all of the sudden, I was tripping over waste-baskets and trying to hide under my desk again.

Because honestly, I don’t want writing to be my career. Not the kind of career where you do just one thing for eight hours a day, five days a week, and have no time left for anything else. There are several other things I enjoy just as much as writing (costume design, for instance) and I wouldn’t want to give them all up to do nothing but write all day. The idea of having to choose just one thing to be my “career” for the next fifty years sounds about as appealing as grabbing a hammer and nails and permanently boarding myself up in my house.


Yet everything around me, especially those well-meaning questions from strangers, told me that’s what I had to do. Much as I hated the idea, at some point I had to buckle down, follow the blueprint, and start pounding those nails.

But then, one day, Jeff Goins came along.

I first heard him speak on a podcast I was listening to, and then came across an article about him in a magazine. A few months later, I got my hands on a couple of his books (The Art of Work and Real Artists Don’t Starve), and inhaled them like a fresh spring breeze.

And that’s when something changed.

Within those pages, I discovered the concept of “the Portfolio Life” and suddenly realized I’d been trying to cram myself into the wrong blueprint.

The portfolio life is different. It’s whole new way of living.

You still absolutely pursuing training and excellence, but you don’t need to pick just one thing to pursue them in. You can make money at more than one thing. You can explore whatever talents God has given you. And if somewhere along the way you discover a new talent or interest you didn’t know you had, you can go after it full-throttle, even if it turns your life in a whole knew direction.

That’s the amazing thing about a portfolio. It’s never complete. There’s always room for another skill, another business, another dream.

It actually kind of amazed me that I had never thought of this before. Because really, don’t we all live portfolio lives on some level? Even those people who are perfectly comfortable calling themselves CEO’s or bank tellers or waitresses aren’t JUST those things. They have families, hobbies, and friends too. They have clubs they are part of and charities they volunteer for. Their lives are not defined by just one thing, even if their career might be. Everyone’s life is multifaceted. Everybody has a portfolio.

So readers, I want to give you a little head’s up. If you thought I was just a writer, well…I’m not. And now that I’ve made up my mind to admit that, this blog may change a bit. You might find I’ve written a post on costume design, or culinary explorations, or organizational tips, or healthy lifestyle ideas.

But don’t worry. It doesn’t mean I’m giving up writing stories. It just means I’m letting you peek at another page of my portfolio.

And yea, it might be a little messy.

But creativity always is.

What do you think? Do you like the idea of a portfolio life? Are you already living one? Is there something you’ve always dreamed of doing but haven’t had time for because it wasn’t your “career”? Let me know in the comments! And be sure to subscribe to the blog if you enjoyed this post.

2 thoughts on “The Portfolio Life

  1. A Stoltzfus says:

    I think the whole career mindset is wrong, because it limits you to one thing as your “job”. As a mother of four children, most people look at me and say, “You have your hands full!” But I’m not just a Mom, I’m also an avid gardener, seamstress, cook, baker, researcher of healthy living, teacher, helpmeet, and the list goes on and on. I find as I get older I dislike being stuffed into a box with a label on it, and that’s all I can be. Being stuffed into that “Mom only” box is stifling and I still haven’t found a way to explain what else I do in less than a paragraph.

    • Leya Delray says:

      Well if you need a quick title you could always tell them you’re a “Proverbs thirty-one-er!” 😀

      The woman in that passage was skillful in so many areas it blows my mind! She was definitely not “Mom only” or “seamstress only” or “cook only”. She wasn’t “only” anything! The older I get, the richer that particular passage becomes for me. Every time I read it, her job descriptions gets bigger and bigger! (And it definitely takes more than a paragraph. 😉 )

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