Three Things, Maybe Four.

Nicole Harkin
Oct 1 · 3 min read
by Nicole Harkin

A long time ago, when I was young, I did lots of activities: soccer, ballet, tap dancing, jazz dancing, Girl Scouts, and had a job. I went to church with my family and usually had a job. And I went to high school.

After years of waiting, soccer had finally become a high school sport my senior year and I had lettered. Spring select soccer would start soon.

My coach called. We had been together for five years by this point. He was an east coast transplant to our cold state of Montana.

“Listen Nicole, I know this might upset you but I am cutting you from the select team.”

“What?” I replied in shock.

“You’re a senior. Go do something else with your time. Go have some fun.”

I got off the phone embarrassed. And then I stopped doing everything. Looking back now I think I suffered a type of burnout from doing too many things. That spring I worked and went to school. Nothing else.

Howard Schultz, the CEO of Starbucks wants Starbucks to be your third place. I remember learning about the “third place” when I trained to work there. People spend time at home, work, and he wants Starbucks to be the third place you spend time at.

I don’t want to spend any time at Starbucks. I don’t like the coffee, but the philosophy is akin to my thoughts on how I organize my life as an adult. I realized a few years ago that you can really only do three things, maybe four.

By “do” I mean spend time on. For most people this drilled down, historically, to family, work, and church. I don’t go to church, so for me I have family, work, and one other thing.

Work for me is really one and a half things: I write and I own a small business taking pictures for local families. This leaves me with another half a thing: I could get a hobby, I could exercise, I could do lots of things.

I can tell you the things I don’t do anymore:
Paint water colors

Looked at from the point of view of time, a day can be divided up into three eight hour chunks. The first eight are for sleep. The second eight are for work. The third eight are half for family. This leaves four hours a day for the “third place.” This can be used for eating, showering, exercise, reading book, watching TV, working. Regardless of how the time is used, that’s all that’s realistically available.

I use this paradigm to help me make decisions as I move through life. My uncle’s best advice is always, “What do you want to have happen and what are you willing to do to make it happen?”

If I want to start playing soccer again, then that will mean that the other things I have been doing will need to move out of the way.

What’s your third thing?

Mine’s biking.

Nicole Harkin

Written by

Nicole Harkin lives in Washington, DC. She recently published her first book, Tilting, A Memoir. You can read more of her work at

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