Why Hobbies Matter

We almost never use the term “hobby” anymore; it seems like an outdated concept, something for bored housewives in the 1950s. Indeed, the 1950s saw a boom in leisure activities. Three million women left the workforce after the troops returned from WWII, and machines like the vacuum cleaner, dishwasher and clothes dryers became widely available. What was a girl to do with all that spare time?

Gardening, home improvement, and crafts, of course. We still take on work for pleasure, of course, which is the definition of a hobby. Sometimes, we even monetize our hobby; Etsy is exhibit A. But for the most part, a hobby is something you do for love, regardless of how skilled you happen to be. But does what you do for fun matter to your career?

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Jared Lindzon, writing for Fast Company, says that hiring managers should ask about hobbies and promotes several that he says improve focus and performance on the job (yoga, team sports, and performing music among them.) Here’s how I think hobbies can advance your career.

  1. Hobbies provide down time from a stressful job. Thinking about work 24/7 is unhealthy and unsustainable. Doing something to refresh your mind actually makes you better at your job; that’s why experts recommend that you take short breaks during the day to increase your productivity. Tony Swartz, productivity consultant and founder of The Energy Project, says that “Without any downtime to refresh and recharge, we’re less efficient, make more mistakes, and get less engaged with what we’re doing.” The Energy Project site says that “we’re at our best when we move rhythmically between spending and renewing energy.” Hobbies are a great way to replenish your spirit.
  2. Hobbies improve your creativity. Many hobbies involve actual creative pursuits: community theater, flower arranging, music, swing dancing, art, quilting, or cooking. It’s a very good idea to unleash your inner artist. Creativity helps you look at problems from a different and innovative mindset. This can only be good.
  3. Hobbies diversify your skill set and expand your mind. To master a hobby, you often have to teach yourself to think with another part of your brain. Gwen Moran, writing for Entrepreneur Magazine, says that hobbies almost always require a system, and that teaches you to think systematically at work as well. Doing something you love puts you into a state of flow, or intense focus. You know the feeling – hours pass like minutes. Recognizing that state of flow and finding it at work may boost your performance.
  4. Hobbies help you focus. Many workers are overloaded with information, making them less effective on the job. Whether you’re gazing at your drishti in yoga class, assembling an intricate model, or snapping photos of hummingbirds in flight, your ability to focus intensely will become a career asset as well.
  5. Hobbies build confidence. Mastering a tough athletic challenge like an Iron Man competition or finishing a marathon gives you the confidence to persevere when things get tough at the office. Leading or coaching team sports builds leadership off the field as well. Having your art, your cooking or your writing recognized by your peers or in competitions creates well being in the moment that carries you through stressful projects or letdowns at work.

What do you do for fun? Do you think your hobby has made a difference on the job? Leave a comment and let me know.
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