By Ryan Healy — A question I have been thinking about for months is, what is more beneficial to a young person’s career; putting in the extra time to do great work for a company that undervalues them, or finding a hobby that will positively contribute to the career they hope to have in the long run?

For me, the answer is the latter. Until I find the perfect career that I yearn for, I will keep searching for areas that interest me outside of work. Searching requires time and effort outside of work, but my career is my personal responsibility, so I refuse to rely solely on a company to develop the skills necessary to become successful in the business world.

When I first started out in the corporate world I listened to all of the typical corporate advice. I networked within my company as much as I could. I tried my best to do amazing work to prove myself to my managers. I stayed around the office until my superiors went home. I did everything in my power to get noticed within the company. And of course, I sucked up to every bigwig I happened to meet.

Wow was I wrong. Listening to this advice and doing all of these things probably are really good for my career — if I want to go to the corner office. But working 20 years to make it to the corner office is the last thing on my mind right now, and statistics show that I probably won’t even stick around long enough to make it the corner cubicle.

So I’ve decided to work hard and participate in some of the office politics. But I’m going to devote a large portion of my time to a new hobby that will probably be more valuable to my career in the long run– blogging.

Most of my friends don’t love their jobs and aren’t sure what they want to do. Of course, many of them just go through the motions at work and relish in their “play time,” which is completely respectable; but some of my most motivated friends are trying to find their next hobby that could spark a great career.

My girlfriend Niki really wants to help children with disabilities. So she wrote some emails and made some calls to local learning centers. Two days later she had leads on multiple volunteer opportunities. Niki found a new hobby that allows her to test the waters in her new field of interest and potential career.

My friend and blog partner Ryan Paugh is teaching himself about web design and plans to take a class to improve his skills. Ryan knows that working hard and networking at his current writing job can be somewhat beneficial to his career. But his new web interest will probably do more for his career in the long run.

One of my friends spends his free time writing screen plays for a potential future in the movie business. Another friend is so bored with work that he decided to take advantage of downtime at work and he’s learning Spanish.

Investing all of your energy into a corporate job is extremely limiting. If I love my current line of work and want to climb the corporate ladder all the way to the top, then making the right contacts, waiting around the office for my supervisor to leave and sucking up to the bigwigs might be the best career move. But my current work probably isn’t what I will do for the rest of my life, and anyway there is always a risk of being fired. So I will do good work, network a little, and put the rest of my energy into a hobby that just might take me where I really want to go.

18 replies
  1. jaerid
    jaerid says:

    Great post. I think hobbies not only open up a world of career possibilities but can also greatly expand our networks and experiences. Two things which can help even in your current job or career path. I have also found that volunteer work actually helps in two ways: 1) you get to contribute to something you believe in which can be very fulfilling and 2) you get to have a small taste of something you may be interested in. Great thoughts.

  2. Liz
    Liz says:

    Hi Ryan,
    I enjoyed your post. I am glad that you and your friends are taking some time to focus on hobbies. While I was at my last job I did the same. I realized that I wanted to take art classes and really explore creating art for a while. I took painting, drawing and photoshop courses and became a regular at a figure drawing group. At the time it was totally unrelated to career aspirations, although now I am thinking of moving into a more design related field (I guess my choice of hobbies was telling me something).
    I think hobbies are a great way to explore potential future career ideas, but beyond that they also provide a means to:
    1) meet people
    2) learn about yourself
    3) learn about other things
    4) enjoy your life
    5) help people (if your hobby involves volunteering).
    Sure hobbies may help you try out a new field, but they can also help you enjoy your life and get you through difficult times in the paying (work) or personal aspects of your life.
    As for you and your hobby–maybe you will get a book deal from your blog, and realize that it is providing you a gateway to higher paying positions or a job change. If so, great! But maybe you will realize that you just enjoy blogging for itself, for the process. That’s not so bad either : )

    ********

    Liz,

    I agree, hobbies provide much more than potential future career ideas.  Blogging has helped me develop as a person.  I am learning to be tolerant of different view points and perspectives and I am learning how to better deal with criticism (both constructive and not so constructive).  These intangibles will help my career no matter what field I go into next.  And I very much enjoy blogging for itself, for the process!  Thanks for the comment.

    -Ryan

  3. Ben
    Ben says:

    You’re missing a great opportunity, choosing between one or the other extreme. Serve your company as well as yourself, if you want to go far.

    With any job, there are areas which help you grow and also benefit the company. It’s these opportunities which are the optimum use of your time. Furthermore, you can get the company to sponsor and pay for them.

    These include – additional education, attending conferences, publishing papers and books, and giving talks. They provide status to both your company (for employing such experts) and yourself (establishing your personal brand).

    For instance, I’m currently writing a book on my own time; my company has agreed not to take the copyright via ‘work-for-hire’ privilege. Yet because it’s a book related to the industry, my company will be buying copies and giving them away to potential customers. This raises both my company’s credibility as well as my own, may result in increased company sales, and will result in a few extra bucks for myself.

    ********

    Ben,

    I try my best to serve both my company as well as myself.  Often I can put everything into both, but sometimes it just isn’t possible.  You make great points about growing and benefiting the company, and you offer a good example.  However, if I was to pick up a hobby related to my industry that could benefit my company, I would be limiting myself to that specific industry.  In my opinion, this almost defeats the purpose of a non work hobby. 

    -Ryan  

  4. Ella
    Ella says:

    You need to think a lot more about the way you feel about statistics. They’re descriptive, not prescriptive.

    Statistics may say that you’re unlikely to be in your current job for very long, but in most cases that will only apply to your life to a limited extent. Some people stay a lot longer, some people leave within a day, and a lot of the ones who leave at all leave because they choose to do so. If you don’t like your job, that’s fine. You shouldn’t write about it as if statistical data signed your permission slip to change priorities. You don’t need permission and you shouldn’t make excuses.

    Also, if you’re thinking that blogging should be your career defining hobby for now, I would suggest that you sign up for some grammar and writing courses.

  5. Matt M
    Matt M says:

    Ryan,
    Very good post about the focus on corporate life versus non-corporate life. In my experience, many people will move faster if they focus outside of work a little on their hobbies, etc. while still working hard and participating in some of the politics. You may have forgotten that many volunteer activities can also provide netwroking opportunities too. I volunteered at habitat for humanity one time and there happened to be someone else there volunteering from my company. However, he happened to be about 6 rungs higher up the corporate ladder than me but in another department. We made a networking connection pretty fast after that.

    ********

    Matt,

    I am well aware that volunteer work can lead to networking opportunities.  I try to find networking opportunities in whatever I am doing.  Great advice, thanks for the comment.

     -Ryan 

  6. Jacqui
    Jacqui says:

    Ryan,
    You and Penelope, both, have a knack for reading my mind. After only a couple years, my whole career plan has been turned on its head, and I have no idea how to begin posturing myself for my future career (given that I have no idea what it is). I like my job now, but I know without a doubt that this is not what I want to be doing forever.
    So I’ve been looking into some hobbies but, like some of your examples, those that could eventually turn into an extra source of income. Because, let’s face it, none of us can survive long on an entry level salary.

    Great advice!

  7. Shweta
    Shweta says:

    Ryan, you are very right here. The main reason we go about doing what we do is because we don’t pause to really find out what we truly want and what we are truly passionate about.. when you invest your time in career discovery and self-discovery the process of being in your dream job or career becomes much simpler. I hope you will find some similar thoughts on my blog post here:

    http://careerbright.blogspot.com/2007/04/10-reasons-why-you-are-not-in-your.html

    Good points you have here and very very relevant!

  8. AjiNIMC
    AjiNIMC says:

    It is always great to do what you love but do you know you can also love what you do.

    >> putting in the extra time to do great work for a company that undervalues them,
    Companies need to change and treat every employee as a partner. With time this will happen. This is a little low risk option of life.

    >> or finding a hobby that will positively contribute to the career they hope to have in the long run?
    I wish most of us knew what we hope to have in the long run. It is our assumption that we know but most of the time it is just a liking not really a strong decision. It is always a tough call and not everyone will be able to take this call. So be careful.

  9. Terry
    Terry says:

    As someone who has lived this road, I can only say that it depends on what kind of overall lifestyle you want. Own a business AND have freedom? Control over your destiny? DO you like the good life? Competition in the technology field is brutal thse days.
    Can you can live within your means? What if your means are big? THAT is THE question.

  10. Rambler
    Rambler says:

    I feel many people dont accept the fact that any job cannot fullfill all their dreams about it. For a techie person after years and years of studying and research the job activities in any leading technlogical firm might look trivial and people lose interest. Faster we accept the reality easier it will be for our career path.
    Hobbies play an important role, but as long as you dont learn to enjoy the main job, I dont think it would really matter

  11. Matt Maupin
    Matt Maupin says:

    Ryan,

    Thanks for the comments, I’ve certainly taken a similar approach to my career. Just one word of advice: Don’t become so wrapped up in your personal development during “work time” that it noticeably affects your job performance. Otherwise you could easily find yourself with plenty of time to pursue your interests – without a paycheck.

  12. Jeff Hunsaker
    Jeff Hunsaker says:

    Wish I would have reached this conclusion in my 20’s. Your wisdom exceeds your years. I certainly advocate giving 100% to one’s full-time firm but as in investing, diversifying is key for the long term. I’ve learned the hard way that giving 200% to a firm typically yields only a 50% return on investment.

  13. Oke
    Oke says:

    I love your great insight on life in general. I am doing the same. I have been blogging for almost a year and on the verge on starting a business around another blog I started last month.

    I have so many friends that hate their job and at times I feel the same way, but complaining about the status quo doesn’t get you know where. I hope with my planning and doing they will see the light and take control over their lives.

    Keep up the good work, I’ll keep on reading.

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