How to prototype your career development through side passions

Anna Carlson
Mar 20, 2017 · 4 min read
From ‘Steal Like An Artist’, by Austin Kleon

Like Austin Kleon, I believe side hobbies and passions are important. Over the last 10 years I’ve taken courses in nutrition, anatomy & physiology, interior design, furniture making, beekeeping, floristry and sculpture, spent many hours reading and learning about architecture and urban design and I’ve obsessively learnt about birds and gone on bird watching holidays. And over these years it’s been interesting to see others’ reactions to me taking these courses or exploring these passions; “so you want to become a furniture maker then?”, “oh, I thought you were trying to get into interior design?” and at the extreme (and slightly insulting end) “you seem to start a lot of things and not follow through on them don’t you?”… Ouch!

In truth, when going on these explorations, yes, sometimes, in the back of my mind is the question ‘could I do this, what would it be like to pursue this?’ — like little hypotheses I want to test, and the prototype is the course or the research and reading. It allows me to learn about the practice, get exposure to others exploring it and those working in the field. It provides a test bed to ask the questions I need and feel what it feels like to be immersed in that subject.

And, as you can probably tell, given that I’m not a practicing nutritionist or a professional interior designer, nor do I keep bees, these tests have resulted in me not pursuing those subjects as careers, at least for the time being.

That’s not to say I don’t still pursue those subjects. Asides my current career — the thing I do that pays my bills and most importantly is within my primary passions and personal needs for impact right now — I still have a mind that’s interested in other aspects of life and the world.

What’s more, I think my side passions all have an impact in my professional or personal growth in some way. How? I decided to make a list, snappily titled:

Benefits Of Exploring Side Subjects Seemingly Unrelated To Your Current Career:

  • Learning to learn. Learning something new keeps you in the practice of learning, which is an important competency for this day and age. “The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn and relearn” — Alvin Toffler, Writer & Futurist
  • New experiences make time slow down. Really. You know when you’re little and summers feel like forever? That’s because most of what you’re experiencing is new, so your brain has to process each and every experience, making time feel full and long. As you get older and into autopilot, experiences melt into one and time flies by. So a good way to hack this is to give yourself new experiences.
  • Increase your behavioural flexibility, get less stressed. On a similar note, the more new experiences we have, the more new pathways we build in our brains which mean we have increased capacity when new, unknown, and potentially stressful situations arise. If your brain is more exercised in coping with new situations then you’ll feel less stressed.
  • Get useful stuff for your day-job. Steal mental-models from architecture to explain organisational development, or sports development models for your agencies’ talent development (I had a very interesting conversation with a chap just today who’s exploring some very interesting ideas around that latter idea for his business). It’s hard to innovate when you’re only looking inward.
  • Stretch other limbs. If you typically hunch over a computer or use your brain in a certain way all day it can feel soo good to use your hands or solve very different kinds of problems. Similarly, if your work is more physical, it can be rewarding and exciting to work with a different side of your brain. Austin Kleon talks about this also.
  • You do actually pick up useful and fulfilling life skills! Learning a little about how the body works and how to feed it well felt like I was learning a fundamental life skill (on a side but related note, in Germany everyone is obliged to do first aid training, by law, because of a value that every citizen should be able to help their fellow citizen in a first aid situation… what beautiful common sense that is!) Technical drawing was handy for me in a recent renovation project, I didn’t need to get someone in to ‘do the drawings’. And learning about birds has made any step outside feel like a little safari for me, even in the city.
  • Low risk low fee way of testing out a career! For as little as £10* a week you too could try something new, no obligation! Bargain.
  • Spread betting on LIFE. It’s pretty cool to know you can turn your hand to a number of things, that you have a an introductory knowledge of a few subjects should you wish to make a change sometime in the future. You never know what’s around the corner…

Now, you’ll have to excuse me, I have some ’translating Swedish hip-hop’ to attend to.

  • fees may vary from £0 to £10000+, always consult your critical thinking mind before making a commitment.


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Anna Carlson works on Hyper Island’s partnerships with businesses and organisations in the UK and Europe, delivering Tailored Learning programmes to help them meet the changing demands of their marketplaces by unlocking the potential in their people. Anna is a life long learning enthusiast and believes it’s never too late to try something new.

Anna Carlson

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Life long learning enthusiast. Partnership Director at Hyper Island. Live in Brighton UK, but can be found here, there and everywhere.