AUTODIDACT: adj ‘A self-taught person’.
If you have ever watched the movie Good Will Hunting starring Matt Damon and Robin Williams, you can’t help admire the young man played by Damon who becomes way intelligent than the students by spending time at the library and by observation. The movie is inspiring. But there are people who have achieved raving success by teaching themselves a skill or a competency.
It could be on anything; playing an instrument, coding, painting, dancing, deejaying, writing, business management or any other skill. There are world-renowned personalities who went beyond the traditional education system to create solutions and possibilities by reaching into their inner creative capacity. These include; Bill Gates (College dropout), Michael Dell, Alexander Graham Bell, Ernest Hemmingway, Richard Branson, Thomas Edison, Charles Dickens…etc. Is formal education irrelevant? No. But it’s not sufficient if you have big dreams.
These people, and more, prove it’s possible to become proficient and successful in many fields. You can start with these principles, partly derived from Living Legends.
1. What and Why?
What do you want to learn and why do you want to learn it? It can be an end by itself but more often than not, it is a means to an end. i.e Learning programming so that you can create games that are different. You must answer these two questions before you embark on the journey of self-education. Otherwise, you will lose focus and get derailed in the process.
Without exception, all autodidacts are focused on their goal. Money is not always the motivation. They have a bigger vision which does not come to an end when money starts flowing. They are always looking for perfection and always see room for improvement. You have to keep focused even when you don’t seem to be getting anywhere, when no one believes in you or worse, they think you are crazy.
3. Practice, Practice, Practice
Author Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers put forward the principle of 10,000 hours. Malcolm says it takes 10,000 hours of repeated routine to perfect anything. This applies to all fields; athletes spend hours on the track, master pianists can practice for hours every day, surgeons perform hundreds of surgeries before they can rise to the top of the ladder and so on forth. Unlike conventional education, self-taught education is hinged on the principle of more practical, less theory. Be deliberate on the time you spend on your passion
4. Be Passionate
Do not attempt to start on a project if you don’t have an interest in that subject matter. If you are passionate about photography, don’t spend too much in farming just because it has more money. Follow your passion. It is easier to learn something if you have an interest. The more you learn about it, the more you become interested, and the more you discover the deeper details and how wide it is. A passionate guitar player can tell you the major manufacturers of different brands, the history, who uses what, which is the next big guitar etc. You do a lot of research around that topic, and in the process get knowledge.
5. Be open minded
“The mind is like a parachute, it works well when open”. Autodidacts have and keep an open mind. The school of self-education doesn’t have a curriculum, a semester and no graduation. There is no end and no scope, except the ones you put on yourself. Having an open-minded helps you absorb information from any source and process how that information is helpful to you. Like Steve Jobs said, “Stay Hungry, stay foolish”
6. Record/write it down
How do you know you are making progress or are still on the right path? If you don’t have notes to refer to or some form of recording, it will be difficult to track your path. Writing stuff helps clarify your objectives and vision You should also write down your targets and by when you should achieve them. Probably you want to run a full marathon under 2.5 hours. Record your weekly, monthly targets and compare to previous month.
Sweat, tears, time, money. You must be willing and able to invest these ‘factors of production’. There will be times you will question if it is all worth it, there will be times when some relationships will have to be sacrificed but you have to keep going. Successful entrepreneurs pour out their all in a business before the business can start giving back. There are no plug-and-play solutions.
8. Stay Connected
The people you meet influence what you learn, what you believe and who you are. Constantly evaluate what relationships best serve your goals professionally and personally. Keep the best and fire the rest. Everything magical in the world exists because of the people who came together to make it possible. The world begins and ends with your relationships.- Living Legend.
9. Be flexible
I know it sounds contrary to ‘stay focused’ but not really. Flexibility is about being open to other ways of achieving your goal. As you get deeper in your project, you discover that the subject matter is wide and has many facets, be flexible enough to explore areas that you didn’t have in mind when starting.
10. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes
Thomas Edison tried making the light bulb. He failed 1,000 times until one day he got it right. When asked about it, he said, “I have not failed 1,000 times. I have successfully discovered 1,000 ways to NOT make a light bulb.” In your quest to learn a skill, mistakes are guaranteed but failure is an option.
So set aside fear and procrastination and embark on the journey of self-improvement! The results will be worth the journey and effort.