Institutional learning is old hat. It kills creativity. It motivates through fear. It robs you of all your time. It robs you -full stop. The traditional-minded, especially the older generations who are still stuck in their “get a job” mindsets and snubbing their nose at any kind of informal learning, have kept education entrenched in a parochial, test-driven game of memorize-regurgitate-grade-repeat that they keep shoving down the younger generation’s throat. This can lead to a socially acceptable degree, true, but it also tends to leave people with rigid institutionalized mindsets that make it all too easy for them to conform to the dull-minded nine-to-five daily grind of the common workplace. Unless you’re an autodidact first and a student second.
Still, this “it’s just the way things are” mindset regarding education, becomes a smokescreen that keeps people ignorant to the fact that our world is becoming more and more connected. Technology has changed the education game, especially with the power of the internet making knowledge available at the click of a button, but also with transportation shrinking the world and making it more available and hands-on.
Aware of how technology has changed the education game, autodidacts are changing the way the game is being played. They are taking full advantage of it. It’s the age of information, after all. And since information means knowledge, and knowledge means power, they realize that it would be foolish for them not to wrap their brains around all the information they can soak up.
Learning doesn’t have to be excruciating and burdensome. It doesn’t have to be lifeless, boring, repetitive, and fear-induced. Nor does it have to cost you an arm and a leg. Knowledge is free. And freeing, in turn. It always has been. Learning can just as easily be a stimulating, absorbing, enlightening and captivating experience.
What the self-taught have discovered is this: when you learn something because you want to learn it (intrinsically motivated) rather than because you must learn it (cultural pressure or for good grades), you are more likely to enjoy it and retain it. And the beauty of it is that you can have your education cake and eat it too. It’s not like you have to choose. An autodidact can be both a traditional student and a nontraditional student at the same time. The intrinsic motivation is the thing. Most of all, self-learning has the potential to give your life meaning, whether inside or outside the classroom. Here are five signs you are surfing the wave of autodidacticism and self-mastery, despite the outdated modes of formal institutionalized learning.
1. You Have a Deep Drive to Know More (Curiosity)
“The important thing is not to stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing.” ~ Albert Einstein
You have a deep desire to enrich your mind, even in the midst of poverty. You have a profound urge to master ideas, even in the midst of oppressive circumstances. What keeps you going? Curiosity: deep, primal, absorbing, imaginative and ravenous for new knowledge that has the potential to put the old outdated knowledge to rest. It all begins with curiosity.
The world of knowledge is a giant playground and your mind is on recess. You are ready to stretch your cognitive boundaries into imaginative horizons. You are chomping at the bit to connect dots that have never been connected before. You are bursting at the seams to discover something new-fangled and innovative to shatter your current mental paradigms like the fragile cognitive constructs they are. Curiosity is the cornerstone of the philosopher’s stone and you’re more than ready to wield it.
2. You Are Not Dependent Upon School for Learning
“You can get help from teachers, but you’re going to have to learn a lot by yourself, sitting alone in a room.” ~Dr. Seuss
When it comes to your education you are neither codependent nor dependent. You are independent in an interdependent way. Meaning: you accept the fact that the infrastructure of the academic system and the internet are propped up by others, and sometimes teachers are necessary, but you don’t allow that fact to limit your educational mobility. You take advantage of all the knowledge that both traditional and nontraditional education systems offer, so that you’re able to eventually contribute your own unique knowledge back into the knowledge pool.
You strategically infiltrate the classroom/library/bookstore/museum/internet (whether you’ve paid for it or not). You learn whether there is a teacher or a classroom or not. You read voraciously, stacking up books at libraries and Barnes and Noble, and reading online. You watch documentaries like TED Talk, Shots of Awe, Crash Course Philosophy, and Zeitgeist (just to name a few). You attend seminars, local workshops, and online classes. You write it all down in journals, diaries, blogs, articles, and essays. Your autodidacticism is full-frontal interdependent, connecting all the dots, sometimes even despite the dots themselves.
3. You Tend to Think Outside the Academic Box
“It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it.” ~Aristotle
You are an autonomous student of life. You are a self-directed learner both inside and outside the classroom. Like Voltaire, you, “think for yourselves and let others enjoy the privilege to do so, too.” You don’t begrudge others for thinking inside the academic box, but you’re not about to let their thinking prevent you from gaining knowledge in nontraditional and non-academic ways.
Even as you’re receiving a bachelors, masters, or doctorate, you’re capable of remaining openminded about your educational goals. You can easily navigate the academic pitfalls because you are able to remain flexible with your thinking; in no way allowing traditional learning to become the be-all-end-all to your scope of education. You’re in it for the long haul. All forms of education imply self-education. You’re just allowing self-education to be primary. “Education for life” is your motto. As such, your able to navigate the academic box, use it to your advantage, flatten it, expand it, or even discard it if need be. There are other boxes just waiting to be thought outside of, after all.
4. You’ve Developed a Personalized Learning System
“Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishment.” ~Jim Rohn
On your passionate journey for more knowledge, you have gained strategies for further learning. You’ve developed a disciplined system of learning that helps you adapt to new knowledge and overcome old knowledge in ways that synthesize them into a tenable whole. This personalized system tends to be flexible and non-dogmatic, built for knowledge that continually recycles itself, otherwise, Curiosity (an autodidacts lifeblood) dies a horrible death on Dogma’s executioner’s block.
Your process is self-dynamic and self-overcoming. Whether it’s a form of brainstorm writing or meditative writing, artistic or musical expression, video blogging, or just plain journal writing, blog writing or note-taking, college-classroom-crashing or legit attendance, you have personalized your process to fit your unique way of seeing the world, and thus your unique way of learning about the world. No matter your chosen method, self-discipline is paramount.
5. You Bridge the Gap Between Different Domains of Knowledge
“Our mind is capable of passing beyond the dividing line we have drawn for it. Beyond the pairs of opposites of which the world consists, other, new insights begin.” ~Hermann Hesse
You are willing to unlearn what you have learned in order to connect what doesn’t appear to be connectable. It begins with curiosity, asking yourself, “what do I like doing?” and then unabashedly learning about that thing. Eventually, you get to a point where that thing is connected to another thing. And so, you learn about that thing -no holds barred, unapologetically. You keep doing this, again and again. Before you know it, you’ve spanned a myriad of different but related domains of knowledge. This is the essence of autodidactisism.
Ultimately, there will come a point where you feel as though you’ve hit a dead-end. You become stuck in a cul-de-sac of thought. Your journey of self-knowledge has seemingly reached a dead-end. You’re at an intellectual impasse that needs a cognitive crossroads. That’s where bridging gaps between different domains of knowledge comes into play. You are now free to reimagine Imagination itself, to recondition your conditioning, to shatter the current mental paradigm, to flatten the current box, to stretch the once elastic comfort zone, to transcend the typical. In short: you’re free to relearn Beginner’s Mind in order to keep the wave of autodidacticism and self-mastery flowing, ever-progressively, forward. But, here’s the thing, renewing the cycle will take one of the most difficult actions a human being can take: a leap of courage.