Some people think passion projects are indulgences, something to squeeze in only when daily work is done. Others feel hobbies detract from on-job performance, preventing us from building skills we need now. But “hobbies are essential for healthy work and life integration,” explains Alexandra Levit, business consultant and author of How’d You Score That Gig? “If you have something else important in your world, you will have fresh energy to devote to your career.”
Passion projects “provide opportunities to network, learn more marketable skills, and pursue new income streams,” she says. Here are seven to try—or that you might already enjoy—that help you from 9 to 5.
1. Writing. Levit didn’t set out to write a best-selling nonfiction book. “I started with fictional stories,” she explains, “and in writing and selling them learned the essentials of editing, proposal writing, and marketing, all of which improved the caliber of my business writing and my career as a nonfiction author.” Writing also teaches discipline—and the art of gracefully handling scrutiny and rejection.
2. Volunteering, especially in a leadership capacity. Organizing an adoption campaign for your area animal shelter or serving on a women’s rights organization’s board, as one of career coach Phyllis Mufson’s client did, can show employers how they can put your organizational and leadership skills to work. “If you have the natural ability, your hobby can help you develop transferable skills to advance your career,” she says.
3. Playing the stock market. If you have money to spare, learning to invest your extra dollars “builds business acumen and financial knowledge,” says Levitt, so that when your company commits a financial faux pas or doesn’t know enough about the state of the market to confidentially choose its new 401K plan, you’ll be in a position to lend an educated hand.
4. Working out. “Exercising builds focus, discipline, and provides practice adhering to a schedule,” explains Levitt. “It may also provide opportunities to hone teamwork skills.” What’s more, Center for Creative Leadership data has shown that employees with higher body mass indexes are more often—and unfairly!—viewed as less effective in their jobs by their higher-ups. Working out beats back that bad image.
5. Playing video games. Staring endlessly at a computer or TV screen, touching nothing but a remote, might sound like little more than a massive time suck. But battling digital aliens or dragons actually “increases strategic perspective, problem solving ability, and creativity,” says Levitt.
6. Taking classes. If your hands itch to paint or your feet yearn to dance, don’t toil at your hobby from home. Instead, take lessons—because you never know who you’ll meet in class. “Everyone knows that networking can advance your career, but many people feel uncomfortable networking. That discomfort disappears when you are meeting people through shared interests,” Mufson says. “Even if your hobby is solitary you can join a club, take classes or go to a convention and create genuine connections with like-minded people.”
7. Traveling. Taking a long weekend or your dream two-week vacation in France isn’t all about escaping work. Rather, traveling hones valuable and teaches skills that employers universally appreciate: It “increases language ability, resilience, flexibility, and the understanding of other cultures,” Levitt says.
Finally, even if your passion project doesn’t translate on the job, consider it could become your job—and whether it should. Mufson recalls a client who loved sailing so much he left a journalism job to captain a crew and teach young people how to command a ship. Another woman regularly volunteered with Court Appointed Special Advocates for Children, advocating for foster children and their families. When she was laid off at her day job, Mufson recalls, CASA immediately offered her a full-time paid position.
However, “don’t assume every hobby can or should be a viable career path,” warns Levitt. “Some hobbies, when they become day jobs, will have the enjoyment sucked out of them. It’s also hard to make a living from many hobbies—that’s why they are fun!”