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Ahhhh the Portfolio Life!



The reason I gave for quitting my nice job at Microsoft as an AI product manager is that I wanted to pursue a portfolio life. People would give me a blank stare when I shared that so then I explain,


"Ah, the portfolio life idea originated with an award winning Irish economist, Dr. Charles Handy CBE. The idea is that instead of giving all your time and energy to one employer or job why not design your life the way you wanted to live by assembling a portfolio of work that may or may not be financially driven."


Actually my Uncle Charles told me about Dr. Handy years ago in one of those life changing conversations. Let me backup and tell you about my Uncle Charles. As the only son in my maternal grandparents' household he was the hero and the wise man. My mom and aunties revere him but uncle Charles is one of the kindest and most generous person I've ever met. He's always taken care of his extended family and friends even as he himself became an accomplished academic and a famous economist in his own right. He has authored dozens of books and lectured widely. He set an example for me by being a life time learner and reader. One of the reasons I really like Uncle Charles is that he love books, like me, and is always giving me books to read. It doesn't hurt that he became a top publisher in the traditional Chinese market.


Uncle Charles pulled one of those inception tricks on me when I was a preschooler in Taipei. Having observed my curious nature and my proclivity to take every toy apart to study how they work even as a toddler he proclaimed one day that I ought to go to this American university called MIT. At that time I had never left Taiwan and had no idea what America even look like. Because Uncle Charles got his PhD in the US we all assume he knew exactly what he was talking about. He encouraged my parents to immigrate to America so that my sister and I can get the best education in the world. He gave me my English name to put on the application so at the tender age of 12 I got off my first jet plane ride in San Francisco and entered the USA as David Lin. And I did end up studying and graduating from MIT in engineering. But the best part of MIT experience is that I met my wife of 31 years.


Thank you Uncle Charles!


At the peak of my career as an executive for Microsoft Asia Pacific R&D Group I met up with Uncle Charles at a conference he was hosting. He always made time for me whenever I visit him so we met up in his sprawling headquarters where he publishes a top tier magazine, HBR in traditional Chinese and runs a publishing house. As I admired shelves after shelves of books uncle Charles pulls out this book, Elephant and the Flea, and told me about this strange idea of a portfolio career. Dr. Handy postulates that as we move into the 21st Century we are moving from a capitalism based on Elephants (large corporations) to Fleas (independent contractors and entrepreneurs). The fleas are the innovators and the source of disruptions as well as a new economic engine.


Dr. Handy quoted a Chinese proverb, "happiness is something to do, something to hope for and someone to love." and this formed a basis for his portfolio career of working as an academic, author, spending time with his wife and engaging in non profit/civic service. There is increasing discussion of the Portfolio Career/Life and even a few books to boot. They all talked about designing a life the way you wanted and create a balance between financial security, personal well being and contribution to society.



I was inspired and the seed blossomed into a plan in 2018 to leave the "elephant", though I do love this elephant very much; for a life of a "flea". My wife and I plotted to start our own business to pursue our passions in a portfolio approach after our youngest leaves home for college. It's almost a year into this new portfolio life and I can tell you, WE LOVE IT! So much freedom and happiness as we pursue our dreams and see the fruit of our own labor. We are impacting lives and enjoying flexibility as our own bosses. Although my wife may tell you that she doesn't care for me bossing her around. :-) Since leaving my corporate life I have traveled for work to Bangkok, Taipei, Hangzhou, Montreal and Los Angeles. We speak, train, coach and consult. Amazingly, we get paid to do what we love to do and making an income that is more than we had expected. We didn't have to draw from our savings and we are certainly NOT living the retired life. In fact, we emphatically tell everyone that we don't believe in retirement. We are in an active pursuit of a meaningful and purposely life with paid gigs, non-profit service informed by our faith and spending time with friends and family as we travel in our converted Sprinter Van, Curiosity. We have so much to look forward to as our children enter into their own fruitfulness and our work take us into new adventures.


My current portfolio is close to how I envisioned it last year. I'm investing 1/3 of my time in for-profit work, preferably technology related; 1/3 in the non-profit sector; and the final third for hobby, leisure with a heavy emphasis on doing it together with my honey. Time refers to my waking hours, not just 40-hour work week. This is consistent with what I teach that work is sacred and meaningful. I practice Sabbath so I enjoy working six days a week. My life is more integrated and the pace, more manageable.


I am also intentional about not packing my schedule with activities so that there is plenty of room for spontaneity and with it, serendipity. We wake up every day grateful for the life we have and pray for God's blessing on all that He has given us, relationships, projects and all. We enjoy doing life with people we mentor, often times by living with them because intimacy is how trust is built. We are looking forward to the release of our third book together, hopefully by the new year.


People often tell us that they are envious of our life and our response is that anyone can do this though it will take courage to get out of our comfort zone. We did part with the majority of our possessions and the security of a fat paycheck. We overcame many fears of "what if's" and the uncertainties. Ultimately we said yes to adventure, and to Jesus who leads us daily in perfect love.


When you step out into the unknown you will find joy you know not of.


--writing from Portland on our way down to the Bay Area to speak at a church conference.


p.s. I'd love to hear from you. Please log in and leave comments.

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