For over two decades, Toni Mitchell’s professional life revolved around one company. Though she moved through different roles and departments, she knew she wanted something more – to explore the diversity of organisations and causes out there in the world.
Now, she’s entering a new phase as a portfolio professional, feeling her way through the different possibilities that lie ahead. Find out how our Catapult course helped her recalibrate her focus and forge her own definition of career freedom.
We’d love to hear about your background. What were you doing before you started your portfolio career?
I worked for the same investment bank for 20 years. During that time, I was fortunate enough to have different leadership roles across a range of divisions. When I felt like I had done as much as I could in that organisation and was ready to move to the next thing, I couldn’t see the route clearly. I wasn’t sure if I needed a lateral move or a vertical move. It may have even been an age thing – I had just turned 40.
Suddenly, I realised I spent my entire working life (and half of my actual life) in one company. I had to ask if this was what I wanted, and it turns out it wasn’t.
So when my role was in scope to move to a different country, I took the opportunity to exit. I was really surprised by the sense of relief and excitement I had to explore alternate careers and industries. Most people thought I would be at the company until they pushed me out in a wheelchair. But I was really excited at the thought of trying different roles in new organisations and thinking about how my career might change and evolve.
Now, I’m hungry to go out and do lots of things. I’m still very ambitious and I want to work at a really high level, but I’m thinking about what I need to do next.
How did freedom feel after being in a corporate environment for so long? Now, you get to try out lots of different things. What has surprised you most since you started your portfolio career?
It’s been somewhat challenging for me, because I am constantly planning for the future. My most common career thread has been programme management. Anyone who knows me, particularly my poor husband, will know that I run my life like a project. There are meal planners on the fridge, there are diary events for everything, there is always a to do list.
The biggest struggle has been not knowing exactly what will come next, though it’s something I’m also excited by. I’ve got one main project that I’m focusing on right now, which is a Chief Operating Officer role in the electric vehicle industry. It’s a completely different sector for me, yet I have the comfort of being able to do a role with functions that I know and understand.
In terms of the rest of my portfolio career, I’m still defining what those other elements are. I think it will be a combination of mentoring, consulting and working with a team. I need that personal interaction.
Nothing has surprised me more than having to unlearn the corporate behaviours that I learned in a big organisation. I’m trying to unpick and work out who I am and what I like, all whilst pulling myself out of a very regimented life. It’s about giving yourself the permission to have a go at things and know that nothing needs to be permanent. You can try something new, and sometimes knowing what you don’t like is just as valuable as knowing what you do.
You recently completed our Catapult course. How did you find that experience and what have you learned that has helped you figure out your portfolio career?
I would say Catapult is great for anyone who’s wondering if they’re ready to start a portfolio career. Whether you need some inspiration from the people around you or are looking for a framework, you can get involved at any time. The lessons you learn don’t need to be implemented immediately. The framework is instilled in you for when you need it. If you move into a portfolio career months after you take the course, you’ll already have developed the mindset and process you need to design and launch a successful portfolio career.
My biggest worry was that I had been in one company for so long and that was the only client I ever had to please. The Catapult modules that were most useful for me were the ones that taught me how to plan out and cost my time to ensure I was charging for my services in the right way.
The inspiration and support you get from the other learners on the course is also really great, because they all come from different professional backgrounds. Having diverse perspectives on how you can shape your career, apply your skills and find your focus is wonderful.
During the branding module, you were asked to reflect on your ‘why’. Would you mind sharing what your ‘why’ is?
I’m in an evolutionary phase where I’m testing different aspects of myself. The company I’m working with now is very mission-led; it’s got a purpose built around sustainability and the environment. What that’s taught me is that I like to work with organisations whose mission and purpose can allow me to apply my corporate experience in new and interesting ways. Even though I’m delivering profit, I’m also delivering tangible benefits for society at the same time.
So what’s next for you? You’ve spoken about your current role and what you’re looking for, but what would be the dream scenario in six months or a year’s time?
Being able to take my first step into the startup ecosystem has been absolutely fantastic. It’s helped me learn such a diverse range of skills. I love to learn. I’ve taken an awful lot of courses over the last few months and it’s been nice to have the headspace to really focus on learning.
Discussing my career options during the Catapult course, the group networking sessions and in bilateral conversations really helped me to distil the aspects of my existing career that I really wanted to retain and also re-affirm those that I didn’t want to take forward.
My aim now is to secure a Chief of Staff role in a scaling organisation. This role not only pulls together multiple aspects of roles I have previously enjoyed but also plays to my skills in organisation, strategy, influence & network.
The Portfolio Collective network has stepped in again here linking me with the newly created Chief of Staff Collective powered by TPC and providing resources, networking and role opportunities.
I had forgotten how much I enjoy studying. Now, I create dedicated time for learning. That doesn’t necessarily mean formal study. It could just be reading a book I’m interested in or listening to a podcast. I need to be disciplined about keeping some time in my life for that education because it makes me happy and it’s obviously got a wider use in my professional career as well.
I really want to support the founder I’ve been working with to get their business launched, then take my skills somewhere else, whether that’s in a part-time consultancy role or going into another startup as a Chief of Staff. It’s all part of my goal to diversify the industries and companies I have exposure to.
Is there any particular industry that you would love to work in?
Anything that fascinates me, really. As you progress through your career, you have to continue going back and checking in with your values, your passions and the things that really excite you. One of the first exercises I did was to go through my personal and professional passions and build a grid of companies that aligned with those. That was my target range. Now, I have lots of companies that I know I want to work with.
I think looking at companies in that way is a very different approach to a job search than just thinking you need to go after programme manager roles. When I search ‘programme manager’ on LinkedIn I’m faced with a host of really boring companies that come up. So actually trying to tie it back to the industries and companies that really excite me is a nice way to approach things.
And finally, if you had one piece of advice for someone who was thinking of shifting from a corporate 9-to-5 to a portfolio career, what would that be?
Honestly, I would tell you to take something structured like the Catapult course because most of the blocks that you put in the road are self-made. None of those problems are insurmountable. Sometimes you just need some guidance, whether that be on niching down what you’re offering or learning to brand and market yourself.
This course gives you a lot of the tips and tricks you need to problem solve, as well as the support of a smart, supportive community of people who are going through the same experiences as you. There will absolutely be days where you have a crisis of confidence. Having that community there for you makes such a huge difference.
Feeling inspired by Toni’s story? Launching a portfolio career has never been easier.
Join our community to connect with others who have taken the journey before you. You never know what you might discover about yourself or your career ambitions.
Think this sounds like the right path for you? Come along to our monthly Get started event for new members to find out what a portfolio career could look like and how The Portfolio Collective can help you take those first steps towards professional success – and don’t forget to connect with our community!