Many people have passion for their work.
If you’re someone whose passions are both personally fulfilling and a means to a financial end, you’re lucky.
But it’s also important that you take time to indulge in passions that don’t really have a point.
For example, after my kids were born, I bought a camera to capture family moments. Soon after, I began playing around with Photoshop to edit the photos, which got me interested in the Adobe Suite. I tried InDesign and was hooked. Today, it’s the only software I use for my board presentations. It’s been years since I first started using it, but now I really enjoy creating presentations, animations, and even cartoons.
Here’s the thing — I’m not that great at it.
I’m no graphic designer. I just really enjoy messing around with the tools and seeing what I can create. I have no agenda, no timeline. My goal isn’t to become a designer in the next five years. A real artist would be mortified if she saw my method, but it doesn’t matter.
Some people get so wrapped up in making sure everything they do is related to some master plan or grand scheme. They forget to enjoy smaller, personal indulgences.
But there’s merit in doing something enjoyable that isn’t part of a larger goal.
Indulging in random, mediocre passions is good for developing your unique skills and style.
Passions let you goof around free from judgment.
Nearly everything you produce at your job is aimed at some objective and is being evaluated at some level. If you’re creating a presentation, a room full of people will be reacting to it next week. If you’re working on a project, your deadlines are always looming. Any mistake — or success — is noted by someone. There’s no truly “exploratory” time.
Working toward an objective is very different from “practice” or “play.” That’s where your individual style develops over the years.
Your passions outside of work are one of the only places where you can be mediocre, where it’s ok to be mediocre.
You can play around, experiment, collaborate, do weird things — no one is going to tell you it’s wrong or a waste of time.
The benefit of that freedom was captured by cognitive psychologist Amos Tversky, who said, “The secret to doing good research is always to be a little underemployed. You waste years by not being able to waste hours.”
Having spare time helps you develop your abilities in unique ways. It places you in a different, more experimental mindset. You can’t go wrong because there’s no “right” way to do it. There’s no agenda behind what you’re doing.
You’re just having fun and learning something new.
Interests may lead you down new paths.
You never really know where these unremarkable passions will lead you.
Steve Jobs said, “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards.” He was talking about dropping out of college his freshman year, where even though he wasn’t enrolled, he sat in on calligraphy classes. Those classes inspired him to create the beautiful typography of the original Macintosh.
You won’t be able to figure out where your interests will lead you until you actually see the path.
And that’s a very different perspective to have in life.
This has happened so many times in my career. In the early 2000s, the FDA clinical reviewers started using JMP, a graphical version of the statistics program, SAS. They ran into some problems reviewing our data at Cubist Pharmaceuticals. I still remember the moment my boss said, “There’s this program JMP. Clinical has been looking for a consultant and can’t find one anywhere.”
It turned out I knew JMP better than virtually everyone. It was a statistical program we used at Wharton during my MBA, but I played around with it for weeks and months on end on all kinds of datasets because it was such a cool way of exploring data. There was no purpose to that exploration.
Things like that have happened time and again.
Someday, you may look back and say, “Wow, I was only able to create that analytical graphic because I became interested in Archimedes circle,” or something else that randomly caught your eye.
But in the moment, it’s impossible to know where your seemingly unimportant interests will take you.
People bond over shared passions.
We’re all very tribal, and the strongest relationships are often built with people we identify with.
If you find yourself in a city thousands of miles from where you grew up, and you happen to meet someone from your hometown, chances are good that the two of you will become friends.
You instinctively trust the person from your hometown a little more because they know about that great pizza place on the corner of 5th and Main. The same thing happens when we meet someone who shares our interests. We geek out on our passions. And we instinctively grow a little closer to them.
Bonding matters in the workplace more than you may think because everyone wants to like the people they work with.
Shared interests create connections that can be more effective at fostering good working relationships than any networking event can.
Most people understand when it would be beneficial to work together from a business standpoint, but it’s often a bond over a shared interest that leads to an offer or partnership. Some people say it’s all about who you know. But that’s only half of it. It’s also about what you know.
The more skills and hobbies you hone simply because you enjoy them, the greater the likelihood you’ll run into someone with whom you share an interest. Maybe it leads to a great career opportunity. Or maybe you’ll just be able to create cool posters and funny cartoons.
Either way, you’ll never know unless you indulge yourself in that pastime in the first place.
Originally published on Medium.
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