When you work at a start-up or SMB, it’s easy to dive headfirst into your career and think of little else. You might have family obligations and social events to attend, but as an entrepreneur you could envelope yourself in work without a second’s hesitation. After all, this company is your baby and your dedication to nurturing it to profitability has been your sole focus for years.
But that needs to change. As passionate as you are about your business, you need to look for a hobby to take your mind off ROI, CRMs, SEO and other three-letter acronyms. You need to slow down. A hobby, whether creative or practical, can be just the distraction you need to clear your head on weeknights and weekends.
Take Michael Papay, who cofounded Waggl, an employee feedback tool. Years ago, the serial entrepreneur from the Bay Area tried out wine-making as a way to carve personal time away from his work. Wine-making gave him a hobby requiring patience and dedication, lessons he could bring to his business. “Wine runs on its own clock,” says Papay. “Fermentation takes so long. Aging takes so long. The wine’s gonna tell you what it needs.” It’s the same with tech startups, he notes. “You have a notion you’re going to become the next Snapchat or Uber, and certainly there are cases of the unicorn billion-dollar business created overnight. But in most cases, there’s just a team of people laboring away, working to get it just right, with pivots and adjustments and patience and vision.”
Every startup exec needs to find balance outside the office. If you’re constantly thinking about your business plan, you aren’t able to take a step back and see the whole picture from a more stress-free vantage point. Being so neck-deep in your company might not allow you space to breathe, even.
For example, as editor-in-chief of Digital Journal, I am constantly keeping tabs on news updates from around the world, ensuring our Digital Journalists are on top of the most important issues of the day. The news doesn’t stop, it never sleeps, and thus I and our staff have to be as vigilant as possible to ensure the network maintains its high standard of journalistic quality. But I’m fortunate enough to have long had a hobby that keeps my creative muscle flexed and my mind nicely occupied with non-news ideas: spoken word.
I co-founded Toronto Poetry Slam, a competitive spoken word series, and for more than a decade I have written and performed spoken word across Canada. I work in schools to give workshops and performances on the art form, while also submitting poetry to literary magazines. It’s a hobby I find incredibly enjoyable and mentally enriching…and it’s helped me become a better entrepreneur.
How so? For starters, my hobby is all about language and wordplay and performance, so I’ve become stronger in how I communicate with others, how I write creatively (essential for headline writing) and how I view a block of text. Spoken word has taught me to think beyond borders, to try something new, to be bold instead of vanilla. I’ve been able to apply these lessons to my startup without watering down my hobby and how it fuels me.
Finding a hobby that speaks to you is easier said than done. We all can’t be a Papay who found wine-making years ago, or Richard Branson who daredevils his way to adventure. Below are some tips on how to find a recreational escape that resonates with you:
- Get out there: You’re not going to find your hobby by Googling at home. Instead, try something for the first time, like an improv comedy drop-in or a cooking class or a rec sports league. Maybe you’ll want to join a band with friends from work, or experiment with painting talent you never really applied in the real world. The more you test the waters, the easier it will be to dip your toes into something you love doing
- Be open-minded: Remember when your colleague asked you to play golf and you said, “Nah, I haven’t played in years, I’d be terrible.” Fear of failure prevents us from having an open mind and doing something we might eventually enjoy. Sure, you might duff a few balls on that first hole, but once you get into the swing of it (pun intended), you might see the value in a relaxing round with friends. Don’t stiff-arm an idea because of your past experience; many middle-aged execs try new things because, contrary to the adage, you CAN teach an old dog new tricks.
- Make weekends count: When your business needs you, weekends can be occupied with reports and email replies and social media schedules. Take time out on your weekends to savour your new hobby. Learn how a Saturday morning yoga session, for example, can relax your mind so it can be at a more creative level when you tackle your next batch of work.
- Stick to it: We’ve all attempted something that frustrated us so deeply we had no choice but to quit. That’s fine. But there are moments of frustration that should hopefully encourage you to stick to your hobby, whether it’s that bad round of golf or the painting that didn’t come out right or that wine batch you know could have been tastier. Don’t give up so easily and allow a failure to propel you to the next level of hobby happiness. After all, determination and passion is one of the key drivers of business success, and your dedication to your hobby could reap revenue-friendly rewards for your firm.
Photo of David Silverberg at Toronto’s Royal Cinema courtesy Michelle Darby