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The Biggest Mistake I Made in College


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The first time I realized that my phone knows where I live, I lauged. I laughed a lot. See if you can guess why:

A) I thought it was really neat that somewhere out in the world, a massive data corporation knew exactly where I sleep each night.

B) Someone started tickling me right as I noticed this fun fact on my phone.

C) The place my phone thought I lived was not, in fact, my home.

If you answered C, and I’m sure most of you did, you are correct! Here’s the story.


I was a junior in college studying Biology. I was bad at science, but managed to get pretty good grades through a combination of caffeine pills, not much sleep, and lots of time in the library. After one late night of studying, I finally made it back home and set my alarm for the next morning. As I did this, I received a notification on my phone that I had never seen before. It said:

“Traffic is light. It will take 8 minutes to get home.”

This was a perplexing concept because I was laying in my bed, at home, at the time. I clicked through and saw that my phone was providing driving directions from my house back to the library, with an arrival time of 1:38 am. So I laughed. I laughed a lot. And then I went to sleep.

Just because I —somewhat literally — lived at the libary in college, I wasn’t a complete recluse. I was a part of many different student organizations, I played trumpet in the marching band, I worked part time jobs, and I made time for a social life on the weekends. I didn’t sleep much, but I don’t regret anything about those four years. It wasn’t until a few months after graduation that I realized I made one big mistake in college without realizing it.


As a student, almost everything I filled my time with outside of classes only existed in a college setting. In college, it was almost effortless to find ways to fill my free time. As soon as I graduated, all of those student organization meetings, rehearsals, college parties, and endless on-campus events disappeared from my schedule. I was forced to come face to face with the one big mistake I made in college: I had a lot of free time and I had no idea what to fill it with.

For the first few months after graduation, this didn’t register as a problem. I enjoyed the option to come home at the end of the day and relax guilt free for the first time in years. But watching Netflix, looking at social media, and going to sleep early quickly started to feel meaningless. It’s not that I wanted to go back to sleeping four hours a night and studying all the time, but I realized that I missed always having a purpose driving the things I did in college. I was finding a lot of fulfillment at work, but my free time felt completely aimless.

There were a few things that I liked to do in my free time, like playing the piano, running, and reading, but I was really streaky about doing all of them. I had no consistency, so entire months would go by when I didn’t do these things at all. Most days after work, I defaulted to activity that lacked purpose and I went to bed with a lot of regret about how I spent my free time.

One year after graduation, I was experiencing anxiety any time that I had too much free time. I was desperate for a change, so I decided to try an experiment. I called it My Next Thing and I created three simple rules:

  1. Choose something.

  2. Do it most days for a month.

  3. Repeat.


I figured that by following these three rules, I would be able to sample a bunch of different things and eventually one would stick. All that I wanted was to find something that would give my free time purpose. I did not anticipate that these three rules would change my life.


My first THING was yoga. For the first week or so, I had to force myself to unroll my yoga mat after work rather than start scrolling on my phone, but I got in a good routine of doing yoga every day and surprised myself by really enjoying it. Even so, I figured I would do yoga for a month and then move on to the next THING. After I chose reading as my next THING, I found that instead of defaulting to Netflix or Instagram after reading, I started defaulting to yoga. Once I finished reading for 30 days and started meditating as my next THING, I would often default to reading and yoga in my free time. I quickly realized that something profound had occured:

My THINGS were becoming my default habits.


When I started following those three simple rules, my biggest problem was that my free time was full of aimless activity that lacked purpose. I was going to bed feeling unfulfilled with my free time, and dreading ever having too much of it. Flash forward 12 months, and I had so many THINGS that I enjoyed doing with my free time that I couldn’t make time for them all.


You could say that I’ve found a lot of new hobbies, but I’ve grown to dislike that term. What I’ve really done is repurpose my free time with THINGS that I never knew I liked before. The underlying aimlessness I used to feel during my free time has disappeared. In its place I have a bunch of new THINGS and a world of possibilities at the intersection of each of those THINGS.

College was still the best four years of my life. That time prepared me for professional success, gave me unforgettable memories, and introduced me to lifelong friends. To be honest, those years will be tough to beat. But My Next Thing is equipping me with skills for personal success and introducing me to lifelong passions. After 42 months of My Next Thing, I’ll check back in and see how these years compare to the college years. If nothing else, my phone knows I live in an apartment and not a library now. That’s progress in my book.

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