Your Free Time Activities Can Energize Your Career

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Because energetic, enthusiastic employees get more done, today’s managers are exploring many ways to stimulate employee engagement. Some programs work better than others, but one point seems clear: it’s difficult for bored or unhappy leaders to motivate their teams. So perhaps your first rule for engaging colleagues is to be engaged yourself.

Of course, it’s not always easy to pull yourself out of the doldrums. A variety of steps might help, like remembering why your work matters, learning something new or spending more quality time with supportive co-workers.

In this article, however, I’m focusing on a strategy that brings dramatic results for some people: pursuing your healthy hobby so passionately that you remain in great shape for your busy work life.

Kerry Hannon with her horse Saintly (aka Brinkley)
Kerry Hannon with her horse Saintly (aka Brinkley)

A striking example of someone whose thriving career is supported by her favorite free time activity is work and finance expert Kerry Hannon. She is a prolific author of books like Love Your Job, as well as a columnist and writer for media organizations like The New York Times, Forbes, Money and The Wall Street Journal.

Kerry seems to be constantly in the news, speaking at conferences across the country, testifying before Congress, serving as an expert for groups like AARP and turning out a steady flow of influential articles.

It’s hard to understand how she does it all, but part of the explanation is that Kerry’s favorite free time activity helps her remain grounded and upbeat. Riding horses is Kerry’s passion and she has been doing it since she was six years old.

But Kerry doesn’t just hack around. She has elected to pursue a very challenging sport, one that requires intense concentration. She regularly competes and wins blue ribbons in top, “AA” rated, Hunter and Jumper shows. In these events, the horse jumps over a series of fences, all the while maintaining a smooth stride and excellent form. It’s almost as though horse and rider are joined in a choreographed, flowing dance.

Here are some of the ways that Kerry’s passion for horses supports her busy work life:

  • It keeps her centered. Kerry loves being outdoors, looking at the countryside, particularly when she’s with horses and dogs. And substantial research suggests that human beings are hard-wired to let go of anxiety when they spend time with animals and in nature. More than that, Kerry seems to find something almost mystical about working so closely with a horse. She says, “horsemanship is about caring for another living being and accepting accountability and responsibility for another life. And that is magic.”
  • It reduces stress. Kerry says that being with horses is her time, “it’s incredibly freeing” and it’s “the ultimate de-stressor.” She says, “Earth people don’t know what it’s like…You can’t think about anything but what you’re doing when you’re on a thousand-pound animal… Riding requires, and, in fact, demands total focus.” Kerry says she’s like a new person after a few hours with her horse Saintly (also affectionately known as Brinkley).
  • It makes her a tougher competitor. Kerry is more entrepreneurial because of her experience in the horse world. She says, “In many ways, setting goals and developing the inner tools to grind it out during rough patches to achieve at this level are transferable to other parts of my work and personal life. To succeed in the show ring and jumping courses of fences, for example, you must be positive, have a plan, be prepared for the unexpected. You must flow forward, always moving and adjusting to changes in a fleeting second while appearing calm and steady on the surface. You must be confident and instill that confidence and trust in the horse… And you’re always learning when you work with animals. You’re learning about the sport, about the animal, about yourself, facing fears and the rewards of hard work and practice.”
  • It offers another reason to work hard. Kerry says that horses are expensive, so they provide a financial motivation that spurs her work. She explains that, while in many ways competing at a top level reduces her stress, participating in this world also brings certain pressures. “So I’ll equate a new assignment I get with Brinkley’s board bill. It becomes a barter system in my brain — if I do this extra assignment my hobby is paid for.”

Not many of us have a long-time interest that we can enjoy with the intensity that Kerry adores riding. But we each have the potential to find a few entertaining weekend pastimes that can transform the attitude we take to work on Monday. What might work for you?

And for more ideas for bringing energy back into your career, check out my book, “Think Like an Entrepreneur, Act Like a CEO.”

Beverly Jones, an alum of Ohio University, is a former lawyer and Fortune 500 executive, is an executive and transitions coach, and a leadership consultant with a broad and varied practice. Her column appears at Clearways Consulting LLC. Republshed with permission. For archives and additional content, visit the Clearways Consulting website.