Seven ways your personal interests can help advance your career

Seven ways your personal interests can help advance your career

You’re two-and-a-half miles into your first 5K, and your legs are burning. Runners are passing you left and right. Exhausted and frustrated, you’re ready to give up. Then you remind yourself of the previous three months you’ve spent training for this race. Soon you find your center and realize you’re only in a race with yourself. Suddenly, you get your second wind, pick up speed again, and finish the race in a new all-time personal best.

Perhaps you’re volunteering at a soup kitchen, and the supervisor is called away for a few hours. Suddenly you’re left in charge at the busiest time of day with a team you hardly know. You’re intimidated, but people are depending on you. So you take a deep breath and proceed to coordinate everything as best you can. And you do well. By the time your supervisor returns, the afternoon rush ends smoothly without any incidents.

Maybe you’re considering joining the board of a non-profit professional organization and are invited to attend a retreat. Though you’re shy and reserved when meeting new people, you go anyway. By the end of the retreat, you’ve not only learned much more about the organization’s mission and vision; you’ve also made new acquaintances and solidified existing relationships. Your choice to join is an easy one, as it has the support of those you’ll be working with.

Most of us think of things we do in our downtime as relaxing, low-pressure, and nothing to do with work. But as the examples above show, sports, volunteer work, and other extracurricular activities can result in far more than just personal satisfaction. Here are seven ways your personal interests can benefit your professional life and help advance your career.

  1. You can build your network. Many sports, hobbies, and volunteer activities require you to interact with others whom you might not otherwise meet. Every person you meet is a new contact in your network; somebody who could help you or might know somebody who could help you at some point in your career.
  2. You can practice your soft skills. BBC Capital states that sports can help you hone your communications skills, time management capabilities, delegation skills, and ability to function in or lead a team. Moreover, sports require discipline and motivation; two traits that are invaluable when advancing your career. The same applies to many other extracurricular activities.
  3. You can learn new skills. reminds us that oftentimes, volunteer positions require you to participate in training, and in many cases, the skills you learn are transferable to your career. For example, if you volunteer for a state park’s safety patrol, you’ll undergo safety training that you could use in a professional capacity in a sports occupation or rescue work.
  4. You can build your confidence. Whether it’s climbing a rock wall, building a deck in your back yard, or helping a lost dog find its owner, the things you achieve in your extracurricular activities can help build your confidence. Knowing you can overcome your fears or find solutions to external challenges can boost your self-assurance when faced with difficult situations at work.
  5. You can strengthen your strategic insights and drive to win. In a recreational competition, the rules and opponents are clear. By competing regularly, you’ll learn how to strategize to beat your opponents. Moreover, since you don’t want to lose all the time, you’ll become more focused on winning. By assessing how to strategically utilize your strengths in your professional life and using your drive to win, you can actively advance your career.
  6. You can learn how to handle stress. From scoring the winning goal to volunteering in a hospital, extracurricular activities often come with their fair share of stress. The repetition of functioning under pressure can prepare you for handling stressful situations at work.
  7. You can learn about new opportunities. Sometimes it’s a new acquaintance who tells you about a job opening; other times it’s being given the chance to lead a project that will provide you with the experience you need for the job you want. By interacting in a wider circle than just your professional world, you enhance the chances of learning about new opportunities.

Playing sports, enjoying a hobby, and performing volunteer work are all good ways to enrich your life. And once you understand how to apply the benefits of your extracurricular activities to your career, you can even steer your activities to support your professional development. Just remember to take enough time to relax along the way!