Genevieve Deaconos, 25 October, 2019
We differentiate between professional development and hobbies. Professional development is serious. It is usually related to our current occupation, delivered online or in a classroom setting. It’s also often a chore, something we know we should do rather than something we want to do. Hobbies, on the other hand, are usually fun. We get to spend time building skills or expertise in an area unrelated to work, without the expectation that it will increase our earning capacity later down the line.
Hobbies are the first casualty of a hectic schedule. But there is a good reason to keep them high on the priority list – hobbies can actually help you at work. Spending time learning something – anything – is professional development. There are a few significant reasons why.
It improves your brain power
Learning is like exercise for your brain. According to a number of academic studies, the process of learning a new skill and practicing that skill increases the density of myelin, the main component of white matter in your brain. New and interesting sensory experiences can have the same effect. Myelin has been found to be critical for high-level cognitive operations, such as reasoning, problem-solving, and working memory. Almost every job requires those abilities.
It fuels creativity
Learning, whatever the subject matter, also fuels our creativity. Ideation processes often begin by making connections between seemingly unrelated things, and creativity is often inspired by new experiences. The four c’s – creativity, communication, critical reflection and collaboration – have been identified as critical for employment in the new economy. They are less able to be replaced by technology and are transportable across industries and roles. However, they are difficult skills to learn in a classroom setting.
Manage stress and build resilience
Stress in the workplace can be measured by comparing the demands of the job with the resources available to the employee. Working with fewer than optimal resources requires a well-developed sense of self-efficacy – the belief that you have the capability to meet the challenges presented, despite the difficulties you may face along the way. When you learn something new, you are building on your skill set and thus improving your sense of self-efficacy.
When learning becomes a regular habit, it can transform your mindset as well. Instead of seeing abilities as fixed and limited, you begin to see your capacity as evolving and elastic. A growth mindset is developed, a critical element in individual and organizational resilience.
Workplaces need to be more accepting of professional development requests that are not perfectly aligned with an employee’s current day-to-day business. If we can take a broader, more holistic view of what constitutes professional development, it will become more appealing. That means smarter, more creative employees who are less stressed. So, take that pottery course you’ve always dreamed of – it may just make you a better accountant.