People tend to underestimate how seemingly extraneous activities may help build their skillset and mental integrity in a way that contributes to their career development. And this fact is tightly connected to that inevitable question we ask ourselves when it comes to our jobs: How much do you need to sacrifice to get ahead?
The obvious answer is that no career is worth your wellbeing, because if you’re not well – physically or mentally – you are not fit to work, regardless of whether you are a freelancer or a regular employee.
Your mind requires time for itself. What makes this topic conciliatory in nature is the fact that you can invest time in something of your own (hobbies, projects, and such), but this pursuit can also contribute to the development of your career.
In other words, you can have your cake and eat it. The key is to narrow down the list of passion-driven hobbies and personal projects based on this particular mixture of qualities: whether they inspire you and advance your career.
1) They can improve your confidence
People that focus solely on their career may find that their confidence is lacking in other areas. After all, life requires more of us than focusing all our attention on one field, so this rarely bodes well in the long run. Working only on your career will likely stifle your personal development, which, long story short, can leave you feeling inadequate for everything other than your job.
Having a hobby or a personal project that you are developing on your terms universally leads to an improved sense of integrity and freedom. It builds character because all people are wired to enjoy things that they can call their own.
And you know what? – Whatever you choose to do with your own time can be considered a hobby. This includes seemingly inconsequential activities, such as spending time with people. Maybe you are a thoughtful and analytical observer of the work environment, and your observations help you develop your skills as a leader. Maybe you are a highly gregarious person.
The point is: meeting new people, talking to them, developing relationships – this all contributes to your networking capabilities. And that often proves to be a deciding skill if you plan to move up on the career ladder in today’s dynamic work environment.
This is also why traveling is such a beloved hobby among people that want to boost their careers and render themselves more employable. Traveling puts you in all kinds of unpredictable situations, encouraging you to communicate with a variety of people from different cultural and ethnic backgrounds. You’ll learn about other cultures, their ways of thinking and communicating, and all of this undeniably contributes to a sharp boost in confidence.
Remember – the more you travel, the more confident you’ll become.
2) They can boost your creativity
We cannot discuss traits that boost your career without mentioning one of the cornerstones of success in today’s job market: creativity. Thinking outside the box is a ubiquitously treasured trait in all facets of art and industry. And those who invest time and effort into the development of their creative mind can truly master this skill.
If you want to develop the kind of creativity that will benefit your career, you probably know what key obstacle you need to overcome: push through baby steps. Whether it’s painting, writing, photography, model-making, or anything else – you have to pass the crucible of being bad at it before you get better. After all, nobody was born with the skill – not even people with great talent.
Now, here is the important thing: nobody has to look at your initial works! They are all about personal (and private) development.
You just have to put in hours of practice, which won’t always feel like a breeze. For example, if you’re trying to learn about outdoor photography, you’ll need a lot of trial and error before you develop a feel for the details. Likewise, if you like to write, but you’re not quite confident in your skill, the only way to get better at it is by reading and writing more. Pretty much the same goes for every other creative activity.
The more you practice, the more assured in your ‘movements’ and ‘strokes’ you will become – and it will show. You just have to make peace with sucking for a prolonged interval.
3) They can enhance your organizing skills
Time is a commodity we rarely have at our disposal. You either learn how to manage your activities, or you sink into chaos. Now, many people become so consumed by their business ventures that they dedicate 90% of their waking time to work.
But once you ‘free up’ your schedule to create a slot for a hobby or a personal project, things get interesting.
At first, it may appear insignificant – you dedicate as little time to a hobby as you can afford. But then you start thinking about your hobby while you’re doing other things – the joy it gives you, the progress you’re making – and you start making an effort to dedicate more time to it. Don’t underestimate the human proclivity to passionately pursue goals the more time they invest in a project. There will come a time when you’ll become just as enraptured with your hobby as you were with work.
What happens then is that you’ll have to learn how to organize your time well. This is not a bilateral relationship between you and your job anymore. Now there’s a third element that needs to be factored in, or a fourth one if you have a family.
And what if you’ve started a project with a friend, and they’ve come to depend on your participation?
In short, you’ll not only have to learn to create a comprehensible (and comprehensive) schedule, but you’ll also have to stick to it more than ever before. While this multitasking endeavor might pose a source of great stress for you in the beginning, the more you persist through it, the better you’ll become at organizing.
This will further reflect on your behavior in the work environment if a particular project becomes overwhelming. You can step up to the challenge and show your newly acquired organizational skills, which are, crucially, imbued with a steadiness of character. That brings us to the next topic.
4) They can keep anxiety at bay
We’ve already touched upon the idea of hobbies and personal projects building character and how we’re wired to enjoy the things we explore on our own.
The main reason behind this is that you can go through the cycle of trial and error on your terms. Nobody is watching or assessing your performance. Paradoxically, this fact alone often leads to better performance.
You can take a hint from this paradox, as the newly acquired initiative to make mistakes and course-correct at a quick pace becomes an invaluable skill at work. Your employees will notice if you begin treating mistakes at work as hurdles that can be overcome, rather than cataclysmic failures.
You can embrace hobbies known to reduce anxiety, but even if you’re not doing something typically relaxing, pursuing a hobby or a personal project contributes to managing anxiety in other ways. When you’re putting a lot of work into a project or trying to learn a skill, and it gets awkward, difficult, and even stressful at times, exposing yourself to making mistakes will help you learn to accept it as part of the process.
Along with that, there’s also the multitasking and scheduling angle to tie it all together. In order for you to thrive at work and at home, while simultaneously managing personal projects, your brain will have no other choice but to learn to ‘count to ten’ and operate calmly, at peak efficiency.
The ability to juggle multiple facets of life and stand in the eye of the storm without giving in to paralyzing anxiety is the defining feature of all great entrepreneurs. And if you’re not pursuing the entrepreneurial path yourself, having your superiors notice that you have developed that skill as well won’t pass unrewarded.
All in all, learning to make peace with failure is the ultimate anxiety killer, and hobbies can undeniably help you develop that skill.
A busy life is all about prioritizing. Physical health and mental wellbeing come first, of course. But personal expression through hobbies and private projects is intrinsically connected to both the former and the latter factor. No human can thrive without sovereignty over, at the very least, one aspect of their life.
After all, deeply rooted personal passion is what drives all of our pursuits and conquests in the first place, and we cannot forget that. What do you find compelling about your career? If you are an entrepreneur, does your work fulfill you?
In the (admittedly paraphrased) words of Steve Jobs: If this is the last day of your life, can you look at your reflection in the mirror and honestly say that you love your work?
Hobbies and personal projects are a good litmus test that answers these questions. Pursuing an activity that is truly meaningful to you may (or may not) uncover dissonance between your work and your wants, which further determines your career path.
Who knows – developing new skills through hobbies may lead to personal revelations that would encourage you to venture off the beaten path. Whether that means redirecting your career within your field or completely changing fields is a whole other story, but have no doubt that this change will be beneficial for you.