Not Just a Hobby: Professional Value in Adult Extracurriculars

January is typically a time filled with resolutions to better ourselves and make positive changes in our lives. Kate and Courtney, two twenty-somethings fresh out of their graduate programs and enjoying their first year of professional work in higher ed, both decided independently to take on new hobbies. Late February, Courtney asked Kate if she thought what she learned during her “adult extracurricular” was transferrable to her professional work.

 

Fun fact: the answer was yes.

 

This blog is a condensed version of lessons and skills learned in two very different places: Roller Derby and Improv Comedy, and how these transferred into our professional lives.

 

Kate’s Lessons from Roller Derby:

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Say Yes to Being “Bad”!

I hadn’t realized until learning to skate that as an adult, we generally stop doing things that we aren’t good at, gravitating toward things that come more naturally to us. I don’t think that I had struggled at an activity - and yet persisted and returned to it - since I was a little kid! Doing something that I’m not seasoned in (ie, doing burpees while wearing roller skates) broke me out of my comfort zone. It has changed my idea of how much improvement I can make when I actually take the time to participate in things that I am “bad” at. This applies professionally as well - I’m trying not to avoid the parts of my profession that I think of myself as “bad” at - better yet, I should practice them even more.

 

Have a Growth Mindset:

In derby, everything you can’t do is something you just can’t do yet. There are a lot of complicated skills that look impossible to a new skater. But with time and effort, each and every one is achievable. I’ll watch someone do something on skates that looks unfeasible for me - and a month later, I’m doing it with ease. Just like things I’m “bad” at, there is a lot of “I can’t” or “I’ll never be able to” going through my mind as a young professional. This growth mindset - that anything is possible if you take the time to practice and learn - applies to career development. All of the job skills that you haven’t mastered are just skills that you haven't mastered yet.

 

You Don’t Need an Expert:

Peer to peer coaching without a hierarchy of experience is effective. I’ve had a lot of help from more experienced skaters in learning derby - but a significant portion of my learning has come from working with peers who are new to the sport and struggling just like I am. We can easily understand one another’s challenges, and coach one another through skills when something finally “clicks” with for us. Professionally, this has helped me remember that mentors and coaches for me in my career don’t have to be experts - I can learn just as much from my professional peers when we share lessons, accomplishments, and struggles within our career.

 

Courtney’s Lessons from Improv:

 

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Accept the Gifts You’re Given (even if you think they suck)

The first rule of improv is saying “Yes!”. Enthusiastically, with energy, and, most importantly, actually believing it. Scenes often start with someone miming an action (I think I’m making a PB&J sandwich). My scene partner can walk on stage, proclaim “Dolores, I told you last week to stop shaving the cat!” and you know what? I have to immediately forget about my PB&J and say YES. You did tell me last week to stop shaving the cat. Here I am doing that again right now.

The simple act of accepting whatever walks through my office door has been a skill that has better engaged my students. Rather than assuming what will show up, I allow my students to start meetings with what they are looking for. This provides space for students to express their current state and, with my improv skills, I accept it all with full belief. This skill also helps with saving face for whatever comes out of my students’ mouths. Did he just say he used all his meal points in one month? Yes! And…

 

Share your Statement

Say something bold. Period. Questions are a big no-no in improv. They place the work on your partner which leaves scenes feeling one-sided. They also lack confidence. As a young woman and a new professional, it was very easy for me to feel imposter syndrome on the daily. I had great ideas, but often I would either keep them to myself or preface sharing that idea with “Can I ask a question? What if we…” After you accept what is given to you in improv with “Yes,” it is immediately followed with “And- “ where you provide your own statement of fact. After practicing the skill of making statements in my improv classes, I found myself making statements confidently in meetings – no matter how outlandish or ridiculous they may have been. And guess what? People liked what I had to say.

 

Make your Partner Look Good

Underlying all of the Yes-Anding is to make your scene partner look good and have their back. If you have their back, and they have yours, then the scene will be supportive and accepting no matter how weird it might get. This is so valuable in the professional world! Too often are women either mansplained to in the workplace or simply shot down, it is imperative that women in higher education have each other’s backs and make each other look good. You may recall a 2016 HuffPo article on Obama’s female staff “amplifying” each other in meetings to be heard. This rings true in improv and the office. Make your partner look good, and together you will create something amazing.

 

Conclusion

We often think about hobbies as unrelated to our professional lives because they something they “take us away” from our desks, but we’ve found that these hobbies can actually enhance our capabilities and growth as professionals. In a helping profession, hobbies are also a great way to do something for yourself. Something that helped us both immensely was the buy-in and support we got from our office in starting these new hobbies - not only do we recommend finding your own extracurricular, but also, provide support to your co-workers in their endeavors and recognize what these extracurriculars will enable them to bring to the table professionally.

 

Kate Walford and Courtney Campbell work together at the Shepard Academic Resource Center at the University of Portland where Kate serves as a Program Assistant and Courtney as the Program Manager of First Year Programs. Inspired by their words? Reach out to Kate at walford@up.edu and Courtney at campbeco@up.edu

 

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