The beauty of a side project is that you don't need anyone's permission to get started. And while your company might not be able to afford to put you in a role in which you'll be mostly learning instead of producing, side projects let you stretch yourself in any direction that interests you.
Being an avid reader benefits you professionally. First, reading stimulates your mind and makes you a better thinker, as incredibly obvious studies such as this one have shown. Less obvious but arguably just as valuable is how books serve as a bridge to connecting with people. Engaging someone about a book that they loved is a great way to build rapport quickly. But how do you find time as a busy professional to read all of the great things that are out there?