Three months have elapsed since I abandoned everything I was familiar with, moved to Chicago, and embarked on my college career.
If I’ve come to a conclusion about anything, it’s that the amount of free time I have in college is the most I’ve had in my life.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m taking the maximum amount of credits for a full-time student, I have a part-time job, and I am involved with student organizations. Every college student still spends more time outside the classroom than inside, and if one can use that “free” time to her advantage, an immense amount of progress can be made.
Most college students don’t invest in their own craft.
Most college students sleep in when they could be starting their day earlier, and thus accomplishing more.
Most college students don’t view their time as an asset, an opportunity to grow and learn outside of class.
Going to class, going to work, and doing what is expected is the baseline. It’s the starting point. If you want to be the best in your field, you need to work harder than everyone in your field. This includes working in your free time. The people who occupy themselves with personal projects, attend seminars when it’s not required, go out and make mistakes, and take advantage of the time they have in their day are the ones who come out on top.
Don’t get caught up in what distracts most students: cell phones, technology, and social media. What are you really getting from investing so much time in Instagram, Twitter, and Netflix series? Are you reaping benefits from going out every weekend and getting wasted? Think of how many hours you have not taken advantage of because you viewed free time as leisure time.
The reason that I’ve seen real advancement in my writing is that I wrote when I wasn’t required to. I spent my Friday nights reading books that expanded my lexicon and exposed me to different styles. I attended talks by successful journalists. I viewed my “free time” as learning time, not just hours to waste.
Many activities can contribute to personal growth, including exercising, journaling, and meditating. Why not choose activities that will add meaning to your life and pursue them, even if your peers are not?
It’s just a matter of shifting how you view free time. You don’t always have to be doing stuff for yourself, either. Advocating for a cause, helping someone in need, or pitching in on community service projects are all fulfilling pastimes. Even something as simple as talking with another person can provide deep benefits. Conversations foster connections, expand ideas and ways of thinking, and teach us to be better listeners.
Think of how much you could grow in a day, a week, or even a month if you are intentional with your free time. I’ve met lots of well-meaning classmates and even adults who dream big but don’t put in the work required to attain their goals.
Becoming one of the best in your field requires that you work harder than everyone else. Free time can be your greatest asset – or biggest liability. I hope you are deliberate with your choice.
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.