Serious Fun — Use Hobbies to Propel Your Career

Share By Sachin Shenolikar

Susan Shapiro remembers the story well. The founder of Visionary Life Coaching had a client who absolutely loathed public speaking, but it was a big part of her job. The woman wasn’t against using her voice — in fact, she loved singing. To unwind after a long week at work, she would do karaoke with her friends on weekends. It was just for fun — a good way to blow off some steam — but she started devoting a lot of her free time to perfecting her songs. Eventually she got won third place at a karaoke competition.

After a year of honing her karaoke skills, the woman had an epiphany: She was also feeling much more comfortable speaking in front of co-workers and clients at her job.

“She had overcome her distaste for public speaking and actually now enjoyed it and looked forward to it,” says Shapiro. “Having fun singing in front of total strangers had changed the way she felt in general about speaking in front of people.”

“You could say she developed the skill of public speaking while singing karaoke.”

Pastimes such as singing, blogging, photography, and countless other activities can be great for developing skills for a seemingly unrelated day job. Sure, it goes without saying that hobbies are great for self-expression and relaxation, both important factors in keeping your mind and body fresh. But hobbies also hone creativity, confidence, and an eye for detail — skills that are useful in everything we do.

For example, an employee who runs a personal blog on the side will likely improve at writing. But the benefits don’t stop there. They can also develop social media skills while promoting their blog posts. Since there’s a nuance to posting and interacting with people on social media, they can experiment to see what works and what doesn’t since the consequences of failure aren’t as great as if was for a job.

“We learn when we are having fun. So, in a way, a hobby can develop a useful skill with more ease and pleasure than we might develop it otherwise,” says Shapiro. “In some cases, we can develop a new skill without even knowing we have done so.”

Another area where hobbies can help your job is in making contacts. Let’s say an employee loves photography and has organized an exhibit to display prints. Fellow photographers, their friends, and other people who come to see the show could be valuable to know. One of the keys to being a successful networker is meeting and befriending as many people as possible with have a variety of backgrounds and experience. If transitioning to a different career is a goal, it can be helpful to pick the brains of experts outside your field.

The potential benefits go on and on. A golf aficionado could impress business contacts during a client outing. A dancer could help improve posture while sitting at a desk. Even being passionate and knowledgeable about fantasy football could help break the ice during a business meeting.

The key is to find what you love and focus on enjoying it. “It may not be wise to approach a hobby with the intent of developing a job-related skill, as you may get caught up and miss out on the balance and renewal of doing the hobby in the first place,” says Shapiro. “But if you loosen up and keep a playful approach, a hobby may just be the perfect means to develop a skill.”

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