Chances are that you've heard the benefits of "giving back" as a way to make yourself look good on your college application. Well, the truth is that everyone else has heard that, too, so simply spending a couple of hours a month volunteering won't necessarily be the magic bullet in the application process that you wish it were. Still, there are clear benefits to helping others whether in an official capacity that makes it onto a resume or an unofficial capacity that's part of the fabric of your daily life.
I spent two years in a post-graduate training program for actors in New York City. Our teacher, Bill Esper, always emphasized the importance of putting your attention on the other actor during a scene. The minute you put your attention on yourself, you left the scene and you compromised your performance. When I started tutoring as a way to support myself while building an acting career, I realized that one of the most important benefits of the time I spent tutoring wasn't the pay check: it was the opportunity to put my attention on someone else, to help someone else to achieve their goals. It served as an immediate "upper." I would leave tutoring more energized, more confident, and more motivated to pursue my own goals.
That lesson carries over to test prep and life in general. Right now, you are so focused on nailing all of the little goals that culminate in your big goals, it can become overwhelming. Even though we often think of cutting back on our obligations, sometimes the best way to relieve stress in our lives isn't to cut back, it's to give back. Rather than stepping away from our homework or test prep, we might see if there is a way to help one of our peers with their homework or test prep—maybe you can even help each other. Not only will you feel better putting your attention on someone else, you'll also find that as you explain a concept to someone else, you gain a better understanding of it for yourself.
Here's an idea: come up with a study group of five forward-thinking friends. Divide a test prep study guide into sections and assign each section to one member of the group. Then, get together on a weekend and take turns teaching each other the sections. At the end, have a dance party (or do something else that is fun for you). You'll have learned, shared, helped, and even released pent up test-prep energy. By the end of a two hour session, you'll have more energy for homework and your other obligations than you had before.
Traditional volunteer work can have a similar effect. Try finding a volunteer activity that engages one of your interests. If you love animals, volunteer at the Humane Society or do work with an environmental NGO. If you love dance, organize a dance class for kids at a local school. When my brother was in high school, he organized a ping pong club that played at a recreation center for "active generations" (people the age of your grandparents). Fun was had by all.
Obligations drain us. Active choices energize us. Choose to find a way to help others and take your attention off yourself in a way that you find enjoyable and stimulating, and I can almost guarantee that you will reap the benefits.
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