A Wedding and a Funeral – Reflections on a Portfolio Life

Please forgive me for having not blogged, but life should be allowed to intrude. And intrude it has this season: I officiated a planned wedding that became suddenly very interesting, and then conducted an unplanned funeral that tears at my heart still. These reminders of real life pushed aside the comparatively mundane promise of writing a regularly scheduled blog.

Oh, I am also grading papers and final exams these days. In addition to my rewarding day job, I am privileged to conduct a graduate course. Every ten weeks, I meet and engage with bright minds – not all that young, necessarily – as they work through the foundations of ethical leadership in pursuit of their MBAs. This is one of the aspects of my portfolio I hope to continue for as long as I breathe.

Wait, portfolio?

We all live a portfolio life. Many stirring (and ordinary) orations begin with a recitation of our multiple identities. I am a father, a son, a grandfather, a husband, a consultant, a blogger and I’m already tired of myself here. The “portfolio life” I reference above just means I live some of these identities with intent, attention, and focus. For example: I am also a professor, a wedding (and now funeral) officiant, and an academic. While philosophers and therapists advise us to embrace these many identities, and there is some research hinting that our cognition is improved against tasks with distraction rather than focus; there is also some financial security in diversifying our attention. That college course brings in some income. The officiating does not, yet, but it helps to satisfy a creative outlet that brings a level of emotional stability. The academic pursuits help satisfy a yearning to pursue deeper truths, and yes, helps qualify me – on paper – for that professorship thing.

A brief aside: A professor of mine once asked me if I had ever considered going in to teaching. “Yes,” I replied airily. “I was thinking I would become a college professor when I retire.” “Oh, that’s lovely,” my England-born mentor replied acidly. “Imagine how that sounds to poor saps who pursue it as their lifelong vocation.” And so I am an adjunct professor, no longer imagining I will march onto some grateful campus at age 65. As the Bride and I discuss retirement plans, I now factor in a modest stipend rather than a second career.

Anyway, I focus on aspects of my identity with an eye, yes, towards monetization in my dotage – but also on the attention they deserve now. While I happened into these roles accidentally in most cases; I find the fact that my attention is thus divided benefits my work against each. I am better at individual pursuits because I have the others. My business relationships are richer because I can talk about something other than knowledge management and business transformation – some days I actually manage to sound human. My years spent dabbling in (very) amateur videography for community theater gave me the confidence to compose a memorial video for my departed friend. The costs are significant: It’s been six years since that last distant Caribbean beach trip; I have signed up for two online courses and then not had the time to fully explore them; and constructive boredom has eluded me for over a decade. But this is who I am.

What aspects of your multiple and shifting identities can be monetized, or otherwise deserve your attention? When will you start writing that book? How is your garden doing? Pick up the guitar lately? This “portfolio life” isn’t anything new, but an observation that living an intentional life is made more difficult because of the noise. I recall a gourmet restaurant this year where the host said as we were seated: “Please refrain from using your phone this evening – for conversation, texting, or especially taking photos of your food. Please just enjoy your evening.” He was ready for an argument, but I was grateful for this. Otherwise I would have been taking those photos; and we really need to start living rather than endlessly documenting our lives. For some of us, it takes effort to focus on great food and friends without checking email or otherwise feeding our networks.

We live in an age where our attention quota can be filled to overflowing with other people’s trivia – it takes intention and planning to live fully these multiple identities. To overtly start living a portfolio life. Here’s to hoping you too have a ten-minute answer to the cocktail party question; “What do you do?”

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