As someone with many hobbies and passions outside of work, it can feel like these interests are competing for attention versus self-directed professional development initiatives. Should I go to a yoga class, work on a side project, or write this blog post? Are hobbies viewed as a waste of time by current or future employers? There is a growing body of research that suggests what you do with your free time can have a positive influence on your work and that hobbies can even improve your work.
Embrace a “growth mindset”
A desire to continue to push myself to learn and experience new things has been a commanding driver in my professional as well as personal life. Hobbies should be a free and open space for you to experiment in ways you might be hesitant to at work. Afraid you might look silly in a Zumba class? Who cares, it’s not like anyone’s going to mention it in your quarterly performance review.
Hobbies are a great opportunity to train your brain to embrace a “growth mindset”. Dr. Carol Dweck popularized this term when she introduced the idea that people generally see life through the lens of a “growth” or “fixed” mindset. “In the fixed mindset, everything is about the outcome. If you fail — or if you’re not the best — it’s all been wasted. The growth mindset allows people to value what they’re doing regardless of the outcome” (source). When you embrace a new or existing hobby there is often a fear that you won’t be good at it. Why waste your time doing something you might falter at when you can keep doing what you know you’re decent at? However, when you look at a new activity from the perspective that just trying it is in itself the achievement (notice some parallels with “The Power of Habit”), you are better able to live in the moment and enjoy the experience. Embrace the journey of tackling a new or existing hobby without imposing the burden of needing to necessarily excel at it. As an added bonus, it is often by accepting that this new pursuit will be a journey towards skill and proficiency that you are actually more likely to find success and mastery.
Get your blood pumping
In addition to being good for your health, an active hobby can pack some serious benefits at work. Athletes often find it easier to work as part of a team and to sacrifice short-term personal gains to better contribute towards a shared goal. They are also more likely to be able to accept delayed gratification and recognize the need to manage their time effectively- 5am workouts certainly don’t happen without a lot of dedication. With all these virtues drilled into them at an early age, it’s not much of a surprise that a recent study (source) found that former high school athletes’ wages were 5–15% higher those who did not play a high school sport. But don’t fear, it’s not too late to enjoy the benefits an athletic hobby can have on your life just because you were on the debate team in high school. I think any blood pumping hobby has a lot to offer- from those that are an individual effort such as a triathlon, or a group sport like co-ed volleyball. CrossFit is an interesting combination because it focuses on both personal achievement and a collaborative team-like environment, arguably a key factor in its popularity. Time to get moving!
Get used to feeling uncomfortable
I’m not sure I’ve ever felt more uncomfortable in my life than sleeping under a mosquito net in the rainforest with thunder booming 360 degrees around the thin walls of my hut. Would you also believe that this same trip was one of my all-time favorite adventures? The new perspectives you gain from traveling are great opportunities for driving creativity and innovation when you return to your day job. Getting out of your comfort zone can make you feel more capable when tackling unexpected hurdles that come up at work. The billing team messed up your customer’s invoice? Still nowhere near as a stressful as that time you got lost in Luxor without GPS or any cash!
Sometimes we grow the most when we’re thrust into an extremely uncomfortable situation. Placing yourself in unfamiliar surroundings or situations creates opportunities to come at your problems from a different perspective. Maybe you can better empathize with your technology challenged customers after a weekend feeling confused about how to edit images in Photoshop. If you’re never pushing yourself out of your comfort zone professionally- whether it’s by taking on a presentation you’re not sure you can handle, or selling to a customer you think might be too big for your software- you’re missing opportunities to grow your experience and brainstorm new ways to tackle hurdles.
Return to your work well rested
Feeling drained after a long week at work and dreading that watercolor class you signed up for on Saturday morning? Good news- hobbies can help you recover faster from work-related stress and burn out. One study found that people who have a creative hobby are more likely to feel a sense of relaxation outside work and maintain greater control and peace in their lives, (source). I know that from experience that a well balanced weekend can lead me feeling ready to take on the world come Monday morning. A little distance and perspective also helps me come up with new ideas for facing particularly challenging problems.
“At the core of it, people that have hobbies or side projects say that they are on a path for continued improvement, intellectual curiosity and well roundedness.” — Dawn Sharifan, Slack’s Director of People Operations (source). Your hobbies should be a source of enjoyment and an opportunity for self exploration, and those benefits can carry over and have the added benefit of having your hobbies improve your work.