Leading Through Leisure: How a Hobby Can Build a Stronger Career

For the last five years, I’ve had a new passion. I’m not quite sure of its genesis, but I suspect it was related to a problem I needed to solve that was a bit out of my comfort zone.

Storage space in our home was woefully inefficient for all the mystery boxes and belongings my wife and I had accumulated over the years. Somehow I decided I could master a do-it-yourself project which I was pretty much unqualified to undertake. Imagine our surprise when we actually ended up with functional, attractive shelving in our home.

OK, I admit to being pretty smug about that success, but thinking back, it was the process of transformation that launched my interest. There’s something about the feel and the smell of the wood, the stress of frequent failures and adapting to them, and the pleasure of a finished project that has gotten me hooked on woodworking. With slide-out pantry shelving, a couple of tables and a few day-bed porch swings now on my resume, I’ve come to realize my passion for my hobby is a lot like my passion for my career. And I’m learning that, for me, the parallel processes make the outcomes stronger for each.

First comes the plan. Planning ahead is one of the many fun stages of woodworking. Often I am inspired by pieces I see in my travels, or, as was the case with my first project, by problems that need solutions. I ask myself, “What would I like, or do I need, to build? Do I have the knowledge and skill to build it?” Not having the tools or information is no reason to cancel the plans. In fact, that’s where my second burst of propulsion kicks in. I enjoy the research involved in choosing the proper wood and materials for the job, and learning about different designs. While I’m of course a big fan of the Internet, I’m a bigger admirer of other people who’ve mastered this work.

Learn from others. What a privilege it is to have a mentor or acquaintance who can share their skills with us. I have a co-worker who is also a hobbyist woodworker. Our approaches to the craft are very different. We call his approach “screws and glue” and he calls my hand-cut joinery “slow.”  He builds amazing pieces and gets them done much more quickly than I would. Is one approach better than the other?  Depending on the situation, maybe so. One thing is certain, we can each learn from the other’s process and adapt those skills to the task at hand. A combination of techniques fills out our virtual toolbox and makes us better able to tackle a variety of challenges. And if you don’t have access to another person, that virtual Professor YouTube is fortunately on hand ’round the clock. There are more than 24,000 videos showing how to hand-cut dovetail joints. Surely I can learn at least one more thing to further refine my technique. There is always another way to approach a task and we should be open to learning these approaches and adapting them to our own processes.

Teach others. As your skills increase, sharing your knowledge is simply the right thing to do. “Pay it forward” sounds a bit cliché, but the sentiment is certainly legitimate. By helping others we gain new understanding about the different ways people process information. We learn how to adjust our attitudes and approaches to meet different needs. We gain flexibility, humility and pride in the success of others.

Don’t be afraid to fail. Failure has traditionally gotten a bad rap, but it seems more people are beginning to understand that making mistakes is a huge part of learning. It’s the place we use our analytical skills to make sense of what went wrong, why it went wrong, and what it will take to correct it. Mistakes provide opportunities to adapt on the fly and push us to challenge our skills in an effort to get back on track. Sometimes these happy little accidents show us a new approach that had not occurred to us before. The only time a mistake becomes a failure is when we don’t take the time to stop and understand what caused the mistake and how it can be prevented going forward.  

Sign your work.  A few years ago, my wife had a branding iron made with my signature. Now every piece I make leaves my shop with my signature burned into it. It’s not done to brag, rather it is an opportunity to say, “I made this for you. I did my best and I’m proud of this work.”  That same idea applies to our efforts in the workplace. No one expects everything you do to be perfect, only that the end result be your best. Do the best you can and be proud enough to put your name on it at the end. Standing by your work and your actions will earn you the respect of your peers. 

Challenge yourself. To keep improving, you’ve got to challenge yourself. Don’t leave that up to someone else; take charge of your growth. Never stop learning. With each project you take on, do something you haven’t tried before. Push yourself! You might flop, or you might break into new territory that brings fresh and important change.

In 2014, a team of psychologists from San Francisco State University released a study showing how creative pursuits outside of work impact employees’ job performance. The findings indicated that people who engage more frequently in hobbies are more likely to come up with creative solutions to problems at work. In addition, those who spent more time with their hobbies scored 15% to 30% higher on performance rankings than those who only occasionally engaged in creative activities. The study also found that creative activities may indeed help people recover from the daily rigors of work.

That study, and the pointers I included in this writing, weren’t on my mind when I embarked on my latest woodworking project. I’ve only recently come to personally realize how important our leisure time activities are to our on-the-job performance. I do know, however, that I put every bit of my skill and my heart into building that crib for our newborn daughter, Mabel. I have no doubt that the joys of planning, learning and producing that very special piece will enhance my approach to every kind of challenge I may face down the road.


Many thanks to Caleb Lloyd, my guest blogger on this post of Pure Lucht. Caleb is a Supervisor in Smith & Howard’s Assurance Services Group – he brings the same level of skill and dedication to serving clients as he obviously brings to his hobby.


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