Graduating College in 3 Semesters

December 4th, 2005 by Steve Pavlina

As I explained in detail in the article “Do It Now,” I graduated from college with two degrees in just three semesters (no summer school). I went to California State University, Northridge and took all the necessary courses to earn Bachelor of Science degrees in Computer Science and Mathematics, and I did it by managing my time extremely well so that I could handle 30-40 units per semester. My specialization was artificial intelligence, specifically machine learning. I guess you could say I wanted computers to be able to experience personal growth too. :)

Many people assume that I set such a goal because I’m inherently a type-A person, but that would be incorrect. It was the focus on the goal itself that helped induce and refine the behaviors and habits required to achieve it.

The summer of 1992 (just before I started at CSUN), I was pretty lazy. Without a compelling reason to perform at this level, I didn’t even come close. I mostly played video games and hung out with friends. A couple friends and I also played lots of frisbee golf at Loyola Marymount and UCLA until security guards chased us away — apparently they didn’t approve of using campus monuments as targets. That’s a shame because there are few things more satisfying in life that the sound of a frisbee bonking off the head of St. Ignatius. My major accomplishment that summer was that I finished the Ultima role-playing game series (Ultimas I-VI) in order, which took me about two months (half of it just for Ultima VI). Now that’s drive! ;)

The “type a” label implies that this undertaking may have been overly stressful or difficult. Quite the contrary. I fell into a state of tremendous flow, spending most of my time focused on the present moment instead of worrying about past or future. I didn’t feel rushed or stressed — it was more a feeling of relaxed speed, similar to a runner’s high. Once I got used to the rapid pacing, it just felt normal. In fact, everyone else seemed to be moving in slow motion by comparison. I remember noticing just how much time other students spent thinking, talking, and complaining about assignments instead of actually doing them, sometimes investing 2-3x the length of the assignment in such silly practices.

Think about what would happen if you elevated one of your goals or projects to the level of “mission” or “purpose” and became deeply committed to it for 30-120 days, ruthlessly triaging out of your life everything that wasn’t connected with that purpose. Some type-A behavior patterns would naturally emerge, such as being driven, hard-working, and busy. But the negative side of type-A (aka “hurry sickness”) need not be present. That type of behavior is in fact induced by a lack of clear focus, trying to label too many things as urgent AND important instead of taking the time to discover the core of what’s most important and meaningful to you.

Understand that it’s the compelling goal — the vision — that creates the drive, not the other way around. People don’t normally drive super-fast when they can’t see where they’re going. Speeding in heavy fog is foolish.

When you can see for miles ahead across wide-open terrain, and there are no obstacles in your way (because you’ve triaged them out of existence), then why not jam the accelerator and enjoy the ride?

Focus focus focus.

Pick one clear goal and go at it with monomaniacal intensity. Then rest, relax, and repeat. It doesn’t matter if you don’t pick the perfect goal to begin with. Picking anything is better than nothing. You’re guaranteed to achieve nothing if you stand still.

Earn a degree. Write a novel. Launch a business. Get a girlfriend. Buy a house. Lose 20 pounds. What one thing would you dare to make your #1 focus for the next 90 days? What nonessentials are you willing to cut from your life in order to ensure that you achieve that goal?

You can always reward yourself by sailing frisbees at Jesuit statues once your goal is achieved.



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