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Doing Dumb Things — AKA — The Most Important Thing I Learned at UCLA Was How to Properly Waste My Time


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Countless hours of my life have been spent doing things that will never amount to anything.

I have wasted so much time doing random, abnormal things.

But I would not have it any other way. I love wasting my time on dumb things!


College is the hardest easy challenge we will ever face.

In college, everything we are supposed to do is very clear.

It is fairly common knowledge that everyone needs to take courses in order to graduate with a degree. It requires choosing a major, understanding requirements and pre-requirements, enrolling in certain courses that are offered in certain parts of the academic year and making sure you are on track for a timely graduation.

It is obvious that good grades are a primary target, which requires studying and attending class, purchasing books and reading them, taking notes and attending office hours (occasionally).

It is clear that involvement in different clubs, recreational, academic or professional, is a good idea. This requires searching for, engaging with and eventually joining and committing to certain groups of people and their rules.

College is a well-structured challenge.

Each aspect of the college life is well-understood and easily grasped. The academic calendar is universal across your campus community, the difficulty and consequent necessity to devote time to study is universal (except for north campus majors of course, because we don’t actually work hard), and the desire and pursuit of internships or work is also universal.

Everything is laid out in a clear framework of:

Receive Structured Challenge -> Do -> Reap Near-Immediate Results -> Receive Structured Challenge -> Do -> Reap Near-Immediate Results -> 
… etc.

It is very difficult to break out of this structure because the process makes it so easy to understand why you are doing X…because Y is guaranteed to be the outcome!

It says so on the syllabus!

Don’t waste your time on anything other than “what’s necessary”…

Any energy or work devoted to things outside the bounds of the tight feedback loop of college (Do -> Reap Near-Immediate Results -> etc.) is easily perceived as a waste of time.

You have a paper due in 48 hours and an exam in 16 (this is how UCLA students measure time), these are clear targets with clear pathways to success (sit down and write the paper or study for the exam) and obvious outcomes (either a good grade or a bad grade).

After living within this framework for an extended period of time, our minds become accustomed to seeing life this way.

Receive Structured Challenge -> Do -> Reap Near-Immediate Results ->…

But what happens when we are not fulfilled or entirely satisfied with the contents of our spoon-fed structure of struggle and reward?

What happens when we feel the desire to reach beyond the framework within which everyone and everything around us exists ?

Let’s say you want to read a book on a topic entirely unrelated to your major, work or club(s). This is the framework you operate in:

Select Topic Out of Millions with no Guidelines Other Than Your Heart/Mind -> 
Devote Time and Energy to Something with no Clear Consequence Attached to its Completion 
-> 
Feel Guilty That You Are Wasting Time on Something with No Reward When You Have an Exam in 16 Hours 
-> 
Finish the Book 
-> 
Receive No Clear Benefit, No Letter Grade, No Advancement in the Structure, No Pay Check.

VERSUS:

Receive Structured Challenge -> Do -> Reap Near-Immediate Results ->…

Which do you think is easier to live according to?

Which do you think leads to open minds, ambitious goals and the flexibility necessary to thrive in the real world?

College does not foster the kind of growth I needed after deciding not to go to law school. It does not make room for the process of searching, growing and discovering what I needed to make sense of a world full of too many questions and not enough answers.

Wasting time to save my life.

The most important thing I learned in my last year of outrageously expensive college was how to properly waste my time.

I began a process of using time on things that had no connection to my grades or progress in school, no paycheck attached, no one taught me what to do or how to do it, and that had zero promise of success.

It was all done in faith and it was terrifying to do while simultaneously living within the university structure.

Receive Structured Challenge -> Do -> Reap Near-Immediate Results ->…

I couldn’t be happier.

Every hour I spent reading a strange book for no good reason other than curiosity and a desire to grow, every long article I wrote that no one read, every carefully crafted message that never received a response, every event that took 2-hours to get to via the Metro at which I felt I made no progress…every minute wasted was a minute invested.

Every minute I devoted to non-university related endeavors was a minute added to my true education. The education that was worth far more than the 47K/year that UCLA charges.

One year of investing.

I spent one year investing as many minutes as I could spare in this strange, unstructured world outside the classroom.

I won’t lie, many, many of my investments never went anywhere (notice I did not say that they didn’t “pay off” because in reality, the lessons I learned from the times I did poorly were stronger than when I succeeded).

I can show you hundreds of words that I worked long and hard to write that no one read.

I can show you hundreds of messages through Gmail, Linkedin, UCLAONE, and even Tumblr that no one will ever respond to.

I can tell you that there were dozens of events I lost the courage to show up to or where I left early because I couldn’t handle the pressure.

But perfect investment track records do not exist. This is why it is better to be prolific rather than perfect.

More is better than perfect.

If I had written only one article and stopped since no one read it after I spent 5-hours crafting it and because of the fact that it still kinda sucked, my life would be less amazing than it is today. Instead, I continued to devote time to something with no clear reward (writing) and continue to reap the benefits even up to today.

If I had written only 10 cold emails/messages and become discouraged after they never received any response, I would not have the mentors and friends that I have today that so deeply enrich my life. Instead I continue to write those messages knowing that the more I send the better chance I have of getting through.

You get the idea.

Everything I did for a year was in bulk. More emails, more books, more articles, more questions and….

MORE ANSWERS!

The more I searched and the more often I placed myself in environments that might provide answers, the more answers I found! Go figure.

Encouraging others to begin wasting their time today in good faith that eventually it will pay off.

The process of finding answers in the real world could not be more different than the process we learn to find answers in college.

There is no Wiki article or SparkNotes summary or Google doc study guide to life.

If you have questions that reach beyond the small world of 
college -> cubicle -> Dog -> Spouse -> fancy car
then you’ll have to get creative in your search.

Questions about your purpose, what you’re interested in or good at, questions about success and giving back and legacy in relation to the short time span of our lives, these questions can be answered.

If you do not know the questions that you need to ask (that’s where I was a year ago), you not only need to get creative, you also need to get consistent and disciplined in your search for both questions and then answers. But, both the answers and the questions can also be found.

Perhaps the hardest part is the ambiguity.

Part of this whole thing is searching for something that you don’t even know exists. You don’t know what its called, you don’t know where to find it, you might not even recognize it when you first see it. If you have ever sat down with Google open and a vague idea in your head….you know it can be daunting to have everything at the tips of your fingers but yet not actually know what part of the everything it is that you are looking for…

If the answers were easy to find then you’d have them. So, why then do we shy away from hard work?

Put in the work and it will always pay off.

I promise you.


This story is published in The Post-Grad Survival Guide, a publication for recent grads followed by 8,000+ people.

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