Talk About Your Passions
Your interests may have absolutely nothing to do with your job: most corporate jobs don’t take your passion for the arts or your after-work involvement in sports into account. But that doesn’t mean that limiting your discussion of such topics will pay off in the end. If you want to balance your work with your passions, it’s worth making sure your work actually knows that you have a few passions.
I went to school with a friend who took an IT job immediately after graduation, despite being far more interested in making films. Just talking about his passion opened up some opportunities for him: he’s gotten involved in national competitions for films on his employer’s behalf, gotten access to company property for sets and props for his own projects and has been able to add some interesting responsibilities to his resume that actually involve making films. At the very least, he’s turned his job into something he enjoys — but he also has moved a little closer to working in a job that focuses on his passion, rather than incorporates it.
You don’t need to dominate every conversation around the water cooler, but it’s worth mentioning your hobbies and interests when they’re relevant. And if you see a clear path to bringing your interests to work, speak up. Even if it’s as simple as something like asking your employer to sponsor a local sports team, the company probably isn’t aware of the opportunity — or benefits — of sponsorship.
Look for Flexibility
There are certainly passions and professions that don’t really intersect: if your employer primarily targets local customers, you probably won’t be able to convince the company to send you to Thailand. That fact doesn’t stop a web designer that I’ve worked with in the past. She doesn’t have any interest in running her own business or freelancing — she likes the company that employs her. But she also enjoys spending about half of each year in Thailand. With a little flexibility on both the designer and the employer’s part, they’ve come to an agreement that works out pretty well for both of them. She telecommutes for months at a time, making sure to be in the country for those projects that her employer really wants her to handle inside the country.
Once again, you’ll have to actually mention that you’re looking for some flexibility to actually get it. As long as you have a pretty clear idea of what you want — leave work early once a week, telecommute or any other option that makes it easier for you to devote time to your priorities — and how you can turn that into a benefit for your employer, ask for a meeting with your supervisor. You may not get a ‘yes’ straight away, but if your employer sees that you are serious about making a change, you’ve at least built a starting point.
Skip the Bluffs
Adding your own priorities to your work day isn’t necessarily the easiest thing to do. There will be cases where bringing the two together just isn’t possible, times when you have to focus on the fact that your employer is paying you money for your time and the company just isn’t interested in your hobbies. That’s okay. You don’t have to stop trying to focus on your passions during your 9 to 5 — it’s just time to step back and asses the situation.
There’s a danger in pushing too hard for one of your own priorities. There are plenty of examples out there of folks who told their employers that another priority or the need for flexibility and heard that the company couldn’t or wouldn’t offer them any help. In such situations, there is a temptation to try to bluff — to suggest that if you’re needs aren’t meet, you’re ready to move on. Such a bluff is generally not an ideal option. That isn’t to go against my suggestion to simply talk about your passions, especially to your boss. Instead, it’s an issues of the force you put behind such discussions.
Instead, before things progress that far, it’s worth considering your options as a whole. For the time being, the best option may be keeping your job as your main priority: you still have after hours to work on your own projects, and you can slowly work towards finding a new job or business that allows you to shift your priorities. Your alternative is making the jump now: you can start a job hunt in earnest, hopefully focusing on jobs to are more closely related to your own pet projects. Or you can strike out on your own, focusing on freelancing or building your own business focused on your own priorities. It’s a question of which option is practical for your own situation.