How well does your job fit you? We give high importance in meaningful work research to the concept of authenticity. There are literally thousands of self-development books dedicated to being authentic, and the inspirational quotes are all over social media encouraging us to be our true selves at work. It normally goes like this:
1. It’s essential to be yourself.
2. So, figure out who you are and what your passion is.
3. Do that one thing as your job.
4. Be happy.
But of course we are all different versions of ourselves at different times and in relation to different contexts. Can one job give us everything we need? With side-hustles and the gig economy more and more of us don’t have a single career path any more. Instead we’re fulfilling our varying needs and passions through different jobs in a “portfolio career”.
The future of work is likely to look more and more like this. So what’s the key skill to making this work? Nina might just have found the answer. I’m inspired in our recent interview by the playful way she has crafted her jobs around the different versions of her.
“I love all of my jobs!” Nina exclaims when I ask which is her favourite. She currently has four. She is a very talented Illustrator making beautiful, whimsical drawings, wall art, posters, and greeting cards which she sells on her Etsy store. Making money as an Artist can be difficult, and inconsistent, so she does other jobs to balance her passions and pay the bills. She is also a Freelance Graphic Designer, Social Media Manager, and most recently, a Make-up Artist in the Vienna state opera.
When I meet Nina, she is nearly three months into her new role in the Opera. I want to know how she got into this.
“Art is sometimes hard to get paid so I decided to look for another income stream. I was curious about makeup and theatre, so I did a training course to be a makeup artist. Working in the opera was randomly suggested to me by the trainer. So, I applied and here I am!”
Although the opportunity seemed to come up randomly, it’s easy to see why the trainer suggested it. This fits Nina’s interests PERFECTLY:
“I am a big fan of theatre in general. I love going to the Opera in real life. My last full-time job was in the field of classical music, it’s great to be working with something that I have a genuine passion for. I just love opera. The costumes, the characters, the whole atmosphere. I love that it’s full of crazy people and creative people and kind of unconventional people. And I can actually be creative and work with my hands. And so I love all of that!”
If it sounds like Nina is having fun at work, it’s because she really is! She has a beautiful, light and breezy spirit. It’s contagious! This spirit might have always been there but it’s taken her some time to get here, to find a balance where she is comfortable and happy. I want to know what she’s learned about herself from her Opera experience so far.
“I learned the importance of socialising and how it can really brighten your days. Because before as a self-employed illustrator I was just at home, hanging out by myself. It’s REALLY nice in the opera to have this connection and to talk to different people, to be social at work. I love that. It’s really so cool.”
Follow your passions?
Nina speaks about this like I imagine a bird uncaged would talk about being in the forest again. Even though her art and illustration work is her major passion, she realized that she was missing some important elements. It’s why “just follow your passions” is only half-good advice. Being authentic means not only doing what we’re passionate about but acknowledging and being attentive to all of our needs while we’re pursuing passion.
“I think it’s important to do what you love because you’ll get depressed in the long term if you just have this mentality of ‘I’m going to work only to get paid. Then you just kind of live for the weekends, but you need to live every moment in order to be happy. If you’re waiting for the weekend or you’re waiting for your next vacation then that’s not life because life is made up of all these small moments that bring me joy. So it’s important to feel joy every day and to think everyday is special because it is.“
I love this! It’s a perfect philosophy for balancing life and work. Nina is like a living embodiment of one of the main reasons I started this fun jobs project. I wanted to explore new ways of working with lightness, that bring more moments of joy.
Finding freedom through authenticity
One thing that I’ve noticed a lot in the opera and with outside with people who are happy in their work, they give off a distinct sense of freedom. You can see it even from a distance in the way they walk. There is a spring in their step. It becomes clear when I ask her about her ambitions, that this idea of being free is extremely important to Nina.
“With the opera job, I actually don’t have any big ambition. I used to have a lot of ambitions or expectations in the past but it didn’t make me happy. It’s just not for me because it stops me from just living every day as special as I can. Maybe in the future I’ll want to do something different and I love that I have this flexibility. I can choose my own working hours. I have the freedom to say okay, ‘I want to travel to South America or to Asia for three months’ and it’s fine and I can come back and pick up where I left off. With other jobs you have your working contract. You have to be there. You’re not free.“
The freedom that Nina has found is only partly about the flexibility of a portofolio career. She’s found the the spirit of freedom that can only come from being her real self/selves. That’s the priceless benefit of genuine authenticity.
Jack of all trades
So, is the multiple/portfolio career the best way to achieve this? Well, it’s not for everyone. If you need security, the flexibility that Nina finds so appealing might be your idea of a nightmare. There is less structure, you have to do your own time-management juggling act, and then there is the career development (or lack of it). Although you might learn a lot of different skills, employers with older mindsets can see you as ‘a jack of all trades but a master of none’. If you are planning to try this, then it’s often a good idea to start with something on the side of your secure job or freelance with clients that you already know.
Finally, as we’ve talked a lot of about having different versions of ourselves, I want to know which character Nina has encountered in the opera that she most identifies with:
“I’m actually doing the make-up for a children’s opera where we had these really cool characters called ‘fantasy creatures’. We got really creative with crazy make-up: Yellow and pink and gold stuff! I asked one of the Extras ‘what are you supposed to be?’ It was really nice how he explained it to me. He told me: ‘We’re supposed to be a fantasy. We’re not supposed to be a specific character but just whatever the child sees in us, we are that’. I loved that because it’s kind of it’s open for interpretation. You are what the other person sees in you. ”
I love this too!
And as the full saying goes: “A Jack of all trades is a master of none, but oftentimes better than a master of one”. Perhaps that’s the key skill to managing a portfolio career, being able to be different things all at once. Nina has found a way of doing that, like she’s figured out how to play tetris with her work, adjusting and moving the blocks around to find something that fits. Of course, just like tetris, freelance, gig economy, or portofolio work is never stays still. As soon as lines get made they disappear and have to be rebuilt. Nina seems to have mastered the the art of playing with her career. Turning the blocks, restacking, and changing up her relationship with work to find the freedom to be herself.
Help and resources:
If you’d like to figure out how to play Tetris with your career like Nina, a good starting place is my “Bubbles of Meaning” model. It explains the seven elements that we need to fulfil to make our work feel meaningful. You can watch a TEDx video about it here. It gives some questions for you to help identify what areas might be missing in your work.
If you’d like more help to find a different way of working, why not also sign up for my newsletter to be informed of upcoming free talks and online workshops on authenticity and finding meaning at work as well as my coaching offers. You’ll also get notified of updates on the fun jobs project. Click Here.
If you’d like to talk with me about authenticity in your organisation, click here to find a time for a introductory chat.
Nina’s illustrations, cards, and artworks can be found on her Etsy store here