Knowledge is power; never has that ancient axiom rung truer than today. There is more information available at one’s fingertips than at any previous point in history, and as a result, greater opportunity for advancement on the part of an autodidact, otherwise known as a self-taught person.
Those practicing autodidacticism through the years notably included Albert Einstein, Mark Twain, George Bernard Shaw and Margaret Mead. More recently, filmmaker Stanley Kubrick, author Ray Bradbury, musician Frank Zappa and activist Malcolm X have been so inclined.
I have ventured down that path as well and, in the course of my career, I have moved from the accounting field to investing in the telecom, media and technology (TMT) industry — something that was only possible after immersive study.
It has been no different in my personal life. One of my many passions is motorcycling, something I mastered through not only instruction but the study of various books on riding, racing, safety and touring.
By following my passion, in other words.
Autodidacts are set apart by intentionality (i.e., a thirst for knowledge) and intensity (study habits that bring the best results). They also vehemently reject formal methods of education. As Twain once said, “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.”
Aletheia Luna, an Australian who describes herself as a “spiritual mentor and soulwork teacher,” took it one step further in a post on lonerwolf.com, writing that she quit university after discovering that it was “slowly poisoning” her love for self-directed learning — that “all passion, drive and curiosity to learn about the mysteries of life slowly evaporated” during that time.
She went on to note that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling are among those who did not complete their formal education, and argued that such styles of learning create undue stress and rob you of your time and creativity.
Allow me to interject that I am not among those opposed to formal education — it does, after all, help pay the bills — but I fully embrace autodidacticism, whose adherents typically do these three things:
- Consume information: Immersing oneself in a topic, through reading or face-to-face interactions with others, has proven to be the best method. The first of those options isn’t always appealing, as reading — required reading, as it is ominously called — has long been one of the hallmarks of formal education. It is a matter, then, of finding something of interest and gobbling up every available scrap of information.
- Use information: Having a clear idea of how best to apply the information that has been consumed is critical. If you learn a new language, visit the country where it is spoken. If you learn the stock market, begin investing. The idea is to find the best possible use of all that has been learned.
- Connect Information: Finally there is the matter of connecting everything that has been gleaned from disparate sources. This is the path to true intelligence, according to autodidacticism, the way to revolutionize how one sees the world.
James Kerr, global chair for N2Growth, writes on Inc.com that he followed all these steps on his path to success — that he started out by following his passion, notably camping out in the New York City library while working on his first book.
From there he consumed widely, practiced what he learned and melded the information together. I can relate. Following those steps is, after all, the path to breakthrough thinking — and the end result of autodidacticism.