Climbing Trees Instead of Ladders

Photographer - Alex Stuart

Photographer - Alex Stuart

I grew up as the daughter of Portfolio Careerists Farmers/entrepreneurs/salaried employees who streamed income from various sources, so I have had the added advantage of having role models who indirectly taught me to diversify. Even though they suggested I get a nice, secure, steady job with a reliable income, they never worked like that and I don't think they would change their work history. I watched them as they streamed income from various sources and it has made sense to have more than one income stream to sustain me.

For years, we were taught to climb the ladder, but in all honesty it never fit for how I organized my work life. Working my way up wrung by wrung just didn't work for how I choose to work and it wasn't until a few years ago that I came up with the idea of a tree. It sways in a storm, I can climb it and if a branch breaks, I have other branches in tact to sustain me. When I  apply this model to my portfolio career, it makes sense.  The root system contains my network, skills, education and experience, creating stability and rootedness. Through the trunk of my tree, I draw upon my root system, generating and transporting ideas for potential branches of income turning the leaves on my tree into - yes, you guessed it! Income. Money can grow on trees.

A portfolio career approach and climbing trees instead of ladders  isn't without it's disadvantages and isn't the answer for all situations. The work world is far too complicated and people are too complex to think that one approach to work will fit everyone, their occupation and work in all economies. However, I believe the tree model vs. the ladder model resonates with me because over the years it has simply worked, it made more sense and I have weathered some pretty big storms because I work like this.  I have used this approach to put myself through school, to transition from school to a full-time job, to work in another country and as a model for my entrepreneurial ventures.

This doesn't mean that some days I don't want to pack it all in  and find that reliable, steady, full-time job (that my parents obviously fantasized about at times) and start climbing the ladder. Juggling more than one income stream can be challenging. However, the tree model has provided structure to how I approach my portfolio career and as I interview other portfolio careerists, they approach their work life with a similar structure in mind. The concept of growing branches and having multiple sources of income gives a model to visually hang our hats on.