In India, loved ones rarely use the word ‘goodbye’. They say ‘Live long!’ or ‘Take care of yourself!’ And to the young ones, they say ‘study hard’. That this particular parting message is common, reveals an attitude we have towards studying. We regard it as a virtue that demands pious devotion. The elders are boastful of the ones who spend sixteen waking hours in the study room. They consider young people who wake up before the sun to study, as responsible. Many bright ones have inherited this prejudice. Married to their textbooks, they firmly believe that more study means better grades and later, a better future. The Ivy League schools beg to differ. The Ivies, known to be ruthlessly selective, value students who go beyond their scholastic pursuits. Every year, Harvard, Yale and Columbia reject applicants despite their extraordinary SAT scores, if their interests are limited to academic subjects. Their acceptance rate is as low as 7% because they believe that their ideal candidate is an all-rounder. These additional interests needn’t just be limited to music or sports, as most schools would have us believe. In an article that appeared in the New York Times, the Harvard Dean of Admissions, Mr Fitzsimmons says “The term ‘extracurricular activities’ covers an enormous amount of ground. We are interested in whatever a student does: in addition to school extracurricular activities and athletics, students can tell us of significant communities, employment, or family commitments. There are many who spend a great deal of time helping to run their household, preparing meals and caring for siblings or making money with a part-time job to help the household meet expenses.” (Source: http://thechoice.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/09/14/harvarddean-part3/)
Even if your dream checklist doesn’t include Harvard, you should pursue something new, just for the adventure of it. Researches reveal that the brain releases happy hormones, when you take on a new challenge. This doesn’t necessarily mean that we have to swim with sharks. Enrol for a dance class, if you have two left feet. Learn Chinese, arguably the world’s most difficult language. Cycle to college. Stand up for a cause. The oxytocin, dopamine and endorphins that then gush through your body will improve your confidence and restore your concentration.
No wonder, Albert Einstein took up sailing while he was at the Polytechnic Institute of Zurich, Switzerland. Though his sailing prowess was not much to write home about, he loved it enough to continue it all his life. When his friend Hermann Anschutz-Kaempfe offered him work and a home away from busy Berlin, Einstein responded “The prospect of a downright normal, natural life in tranquility, connected with the welcome practical employment in the factory, enchants me. Add to that the wonderful countryside, sailing – enviable.” (Source: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2013/jun/21/peter-forbesrereading-albert-einstein)
We don’t know yet if Einstein was aware of this, but pursuing a passion can improve cognitive abilities. You will analyse and solve problems, like a Life Coach. Your wit will be sharper, your senses more astute. Now that’s good for your studies, isn’t it? A lot of young people are survivors of a turbulent past. A non-academic pursuit can heal the stubborn scars of dysfunctional families, abusive childhood and other trauma. Moreover, it helps reveal new facets about yourself. For example, a tennis match can tell you if you are someone who accepts defeats gracefully, or an aggressive lion who plays until you win. The mirror in a dance class can tell you that you are different from the others, and therefore unique. Volunteering for a cause might make you realize that you are very passionate. Allow me to digress a bit. What do Kenny G, Mick Jagger and John Grisham have in common? A degree in accountancy. Not just that. All of them went ahead to do what their professors didn’t ask them to. Non-academic interests, touted perhaps as a frivolous pursuit, led them to their career. What fun, if you could also stumble upon what you love to do, and do it all your life. Be warned though. You can’t always turn a hobby into a career. However, rest assured. Whatever you pursue is going to have a significant impact on your life. Steve Jobs said so. Way before he founded the Apple, he had stopped regular courses and had started dropping in for calligraphy classes. He found the experience beautiful “in a way that science can’t capture”, but didn’t have the slightest clue how this would help his future. Several years later, the knowledge of serif and sans-serif helped him design the beautiful typography of Mac—the first computer ever to offer multiple typefaces. Referring to this in a speech delivered at Stanford, he said “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever.” (Source: http://news.stanford.edu/news/2005/june15/jobs-061505.html)
These dots could also be people who could change your life forever. After-school activities can lead you to those people you would never hang out with otherwise. Then you might discover that the beefy footballer in class, is but a pure-hearted friend. Or that the bespectacled front-bencher is a witty lady with a sense of humour. You will get to hear a difference in opinion. You will start to value people who are unlike you. Your friends circle will grow more diverse and you, a richer person. You might even discover birds of the same feather as you. And who knows, you might just form a rock band. There could still be those of you, who wonder if these additional activities won’t take away some of your precious study time. Bravo! You have led the conversation into yet another plus of extra-curricular activities—training in time management. The deadlines that wait for you in the real world are brutal. Your boss, spouse, children and parents will demand your time, rightfully. Better you practice the art of juggling many things early on in your life. The surge and thrill of an extra-curricular activity will only motivate you to finish the day’s assignment faster. Also, a to-do list will come in handy. Hope yours has ‘bungee jumping’ inserted somewhere between Algebra and Calculus.