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Finding Your Emotional Anchor

by Brought to you by the ACS Career Navigator
November 3, 2014 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 92, Issue 44

Some days, everything seems to go wrong at work. Equipment breaks, experiments don’t turn out as expected, and progress is impeded at every turn. On days like these, it’s nice to have something else that you care about and that’s going well. Just as diversifying your stock portfolio enables you to spread out your financial risk, diversifying your personal and professional interests helps to balance out your emotional investments.

Credit: Shutterstock
Hobbies can keep you grounded when work goes awry.
Photo of someone woodworking
Credit: Shutterstock
Hobbies can keep you grounded when work goes awry.

TASKS & PROJECTS. Hopefully, you have a variety of projects going on at work—both short- and long-term, important and routine, ones where you are leading and ones where you are learning. Although it can be challenging to juggle all of them, having multiple projects enables you to make progress on one assignment even if you’re stuck on another.

PROFESSIONAL ACTIVITIES. Outside activities that are related to your work can help keep you on the forefront of new developments and allow you to develop new skills and pass your knowledge on to others. Volunteering to help judge science fairs, organizing symposia, and giving presentations, for example, give you outlets where you can talk about science in a new way to new people. These activities can also force you to think about your own science in a new way. One of the best ways to learn something is to teach it to someone else.

HOBBIES. Outside interests allow you to get your mind off work and take a mental break. They can also provide personal fulfillment and allow you to express other dimensions of your personality. If you can’t be creative at work, perhaps you can express your creativity at home through woodworking or playing music. If you take pleasure in nurturing others, volunteer at a school or an animal shelter on a regular basis. There are likely many worthy causes that would benefit from any time you could give them. You may want to seek out groups of people who share your interests and then cultivate those relationships outside of work.

FAMILY & FRIENDS. Whom do you want to spend your free time with? Ideally, your family and friends have no connection to your professional life. They may not even know what you do for a living, and they may not care. You can complain to them without fear of recrimination. Or, you can spend time talking to them about things other than work. It’s also helpful to have friends who are in your field but who aren’t working at your organization. They may be able to provide you with educated and objective assessments. You also may have friends who are intimately familiar with your organization who perhaps have the most insightful advice, but with whom you need to be very careful in what you say.

Broadening your passions will not only make you a more well-rounded person, but it will also give you more areas in which to succeed and provide balance and hope when work doesn’t go as planned. By cultivating these outside activities, you’ll be better placed to use your time and energy appropriately.

Get Involved In The Discussion. The ACS Career Tips column is published the first week of every month in C&EN. Post your comments, follow the discussion, and suggest topics for future columns in the Career Development section of the ACS Network (


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