When you think about developing habits to support your career, your mind might immediately go to those old standbys: joining an industry association, subscribing to a trade journal, volunteering to do some pro-bono work for a good cause.
All of these are certainly great ways to develop your career and are worthy pursuits. But I’ve recently been thinking about how less-obvious habits and hobbies (and those that are more fun!) can play an equally vital role in developing our careers and keeping us happy, well-rounded humans too. Let me back up a second to explain.
Currently I’m reading a couple of non-poetry books written by poets. It’s not my usual go-to text, but the prose of rhymesters has proven to be a very enjoyable genre for even those with only a basic understanding of literature (like me).
At one point, both books – Blue Pastures by Mary Oliver and some selected writings by Thich Nhat Han – dive deeply into the same notion: how important down-time and deep observation of the natural world is to their art. Oliver talks about her daily walks, her escapes into the nature, and her process for capturing fleeting moments of beauty, rawness, power, and inspiration on paper. Only once she’s seized them in this way might they plant a seed and perhaps, someday, bloom into verse. Han speaks to his gardening – the nurturing and watching and waiting and wonderment it entails – and how without his gardening he wouldn’t be able to write.
Not being a poet, I can still appreciate the necessity of this practice. Poetry depends on the author’s ability to experience and observe life so fully that with the use of only minimal words they can convey the most magnificent details of the natural world and the most gleeful and heartbreaking sensations of our human existence. The depth of thought and consideration required to produce such moving work is… well… really deep. I’m clearly no poet.
So all of this got me thinking about what we do that supports our efforts in our own work.
Downtime and communing with nature is important for all humans, certainly, but for poets it’s an absolute necessity. The quality of their work – perhaps their ability to even write at all – depends on it. But this idea of having complementary practices that enhance one’s work shouldn’t just be reserved for artists and dreamers.
So what about the rest of us? What are the complementary practices we can undertake that will improve our performance on the job? The yin to our usual career development yang.
Here is one such practice I’ve noticed is complimentary to my career:
As a professional fundraiser, the quality and effectiveness of my work depends on my ability to motivate donors to give – which requires me to really understand the donors of the organization I’m working with and what moves them. I also happen to love documentaries about niche groups of people. Films like Somm, which follows a group of sommeliers about to take the most difficult and comprehensive exam in their field. Or films that showcase individuals accomplishing incredibly creative and astounding works, such as Cavedigger and Marina Abromovich: The Artist is Present.
Why do I like these films so much? They help me to understand people who, in many ways, are so unlike myself. I start to appreciate what drives them, what motivates them, and how they see the world in a completely different light than I do. And it turns out those skills come in very helpful in my job. It’s a lot easier to put myself into the shoes of a donor who’s passionate about a cause and figure out how to motivate them to give when I’ve spent some of my free time learning about what motivates people to do seemingly impossible things.
Now, I could develop this skill of understanding donors in many ways. I could read biographies about interesting people who are driven to do incredible things or work for a particular cause. That would achieve a similar end; but I enjoy watching films more.
Or, instead of watching documentaries, I could just spend that time reading more books about donors and fundraising. But at the end of the day, I know I’d get really tired of that – it just feels like more work! That’s the thing about finding a complimentary practice – it should be something you enjoy that enriches your life in many different ways, including having a positive impact on your career path.
Just like Oliver and Han have identified that time spent in nature is a critical complimentary practice to their poetry, we too can identify the practices that compliment and enhance our work – whatever it may be.
And perhaps the most important thing we can do is to acknowledge that these complementary habits are worthy of our time. In our busy day-to-day lives, it can be hard to find the time to cultivate habits that have a less direct, more long-term impact on our work performance and overall wellbeing. We may feel like it’s not worth it, and others may not understand. Han recounts being told, “You could be a more prolific poet if you stopped gardening and spent that time working on more poetry.” But as he explained, without his gardening he would cease to be a poet at all.
So what are your complementary practices or hobbies? Are you making time to enjoy them? Unsure you have any at all? Here are a few thoughts to get you started:
- Taking computer coding courses through Codeacademy and looking at them as a game can be a fun, no pressure way to learn a new skill. When I worked in software implementation, I tried it out and found I was a better problem solver in my 9-5 because I finally started to understand how the programmers saw the world. If you like mental puzzles and especially if you work with lots of data, learning coding can be a lot of fun and help you develop great problem solving skills.
- Spending time with a pet, and trying to teach them a new trick or skill, can really up your own communication skills. I found this to be true from working with our dog, Maverick. They help to humble us, force us to learn new ways to get our point across, and to keep our cool when we get frustrated – skills that can really help in professions where communication is critical, especially customer-facing roles.
- Dance and yoga can quickly reconnect us with our bodies, helping to develop spatial awareness and balance, not to mention strength. Work on your feet, or in a setting where there are lots of people (I’m looking at you, restaurateurs) or machinery around? Practicing these art forms can help you to be more mindful of your body and keep you safe and effective on the job.
No matter what your profession, there are all kinds of unique, complimentary hobbies and practices that can help you achieve more on the job. Don’t just let the poets have all the fun!