Looking for work can be emotionally draining. It creeps into your life, consuming nearly every minute of your day. At 11 p.m., you’re browsing job boards. At 3 a.m., you’re rewriting your resume for the five thousandth time. Weekends become a haunting ground for feelings of guilt and self-loathing, and any time spent away from the hunt feels squandered.
But a growing body of evidence attests to the positive effect of “non-work creative activity” on work-related performance. As it turns out, workaholism doesn’t work, and the best way to find a job (or excel in the one you have) may be to do the thing you’d least expect: something else.
Whether you’re looking for a new job or trying to accelerate the career you have, having a hobby can take you far. So, put down the resume and close the job board, and read on to see how popular hobbies can benefit your career.
- Grow Your Circle
Surveys of former job-hunters have generally returned the same results for the past few decades. While the medium may change, the single consistently highest-rated source of a new job is that dreaded n-word: networking.
But networking doesn’t mean what many job-hunters think it does, i.e., glad-handing business cards at swanky conferences. All it means is forging connections with people to whom you can potentially prove useful, and vice versa.
The best way to do that, then, may be to take up a hobby with a group-oriented focus. If you’re an athletic person, that might mean joining a recreational sports league in your area. If not, you could try a gaming group or table-top board game meet-up.
No matter which route you go, these hobbies help to build and strengthen connections through cooperative competition. When it comes time to start job-hunting, having broadened your circle can increase the size of your dragnet. The more people you know, and the better you know them, the more likely it is one can lend you that crucial early tip-off or put in a good word.
- Learn to Manage Your Time
Chronic busyness is endemic, and it has a destructive effect on recreation. When every hour in your day is spent working or looking for work, trying to find time for something as seemingly frivolous as a hobby can be downright impossible. On the other end of the spectrum, over-indulgence in a leisure activity can lead one into the dangerous self-perpetuating spiral of addiction and escapism.
The trick is to find a happy medium and doing so both requires and cultivates time-management, a skill which is highly in demand. Having a hobby forces you to learn how to handle your time: how to make, invest and spend it.
So why not kill two birds with one stone and take up a time-oriented hobby, such as cooking? Nothing teaches you how to master the clock like trying to get a hot four-course meal to the table all at once.
- Better Mental Health
The links between personal pursuits and personal happiness are well known anecdotally and have recently begun emerging in research. People who have hobbies are generally happier, and people who aren’t happy tend not to have them. Furthermore, hobbies with repetitive physical motions can put us into a flow, a psychologically beneficial state that is remarkably similar to that achieved through meditation.
- Better Physical Health
Studies show it takes around 66 days to form a habit and repeating habitual behavior is psychologically rewarding. So if you’re looking to improve your physical health, you’d be hard-pressed to find any way of doing that which doesn’t involve taking up an ongoing hobby.
The good news is when it comes to physical activity, your choices are only limited by your creativity. You could take up jogging, hiking, kayaking, a sport or any of the other 100+ activities listed on the President’s Challenge website.
- Stronger Self-Discipline
Soft skills are the focus of increasing attention by employers, and effective self-management is one of them. More than that, though, people with stronger self-discipline are happier and more productive overall.
Gardening has long been used as a way of cultivating self-discipline, and metaphors for the garden as the physical manifestation of the spirit crop up in just about every world religion. Learning to care for plants every day is one of the best ways to learn how to care for yourself. When you backslide, the results are immediate: your garden withers. When you master self-discipline? Your garden — and your job-hunt — flourish.
- More Self-Reliance
Have you ever known — or worse, worked with — someone who seems powerless to do anything on their own? The kind of person who’s constantly requesting help, feedback, attention or permission on even the most mundane of tasks?
This kind of paralysis is called learned helplessness: the tendency to stop taking action when you learn or perceive your actions have little effect. In the context of a job hunt, learned helplessness can take on another face: the discouraged worker.
By taking up a hobby that encourages self-reliance, you can avoid the trap of learned helplessness and steer clear of the steep-sided pit that is worker discouragement and unemployment. After a week of hard searching, outdoor activities like camping are great ways to blow off steam and learn self-reliance at the same time. There’s no better encouragement to “figure it out” than trying to pitch a tent under dwindling daylight — and no greater satisfaction than eating food you made in a shelter you built yourself.
- Encourage Creativity
Here’s a fun exercise: grab a piece of pen and paper, and in 60 seconds, list as many uses for a brick (besides the obvious “building a wall”) as you can possibly think of.
This experiment, first devised in 1967, is called the Guilford Alternative Uses Test, and it’s a means of measuring creativity. No surprise, then, that those who score the best tend to be those who are regularly creative in their daily lives.
The health benefits of creativity are well-known, and likewise for job-hunting benefits. Employers desperately want workers capable of outside-the-box thinking, so why not make yourself a more appealing candidate by taking up a hobby that’s creative in nature, like photography? Photography For Beginners books are a dime a dozen, and you probably have at least three devices that take pictures within arm’s reach right now.
- Figure Out What’s Important and Cultivate YOU
Soul-searching is not an idle exercise: It’s hard work, with distinct consequences for neglect and strong benefits for success. Hobbies, then, are the mad scientist lab of the soul: they’re your opportunity to play and experiment with what makes you tick.
One of the best ways to cultivate yourself as a person is also one of the most rewarding hobbies: Volunteering your time and skills to charity. Head over to volunteermatch.org to find causes and events near you.
Taking up a hobby is the best way to discover what you can do, what you like doing, and what excites your passion. When seeking to define your personal branding for the purposes of a job-hunt, these three qualities are absolutely essential.
Read more: 7 Quick Fixes To Accelerate Your Job Search