What is an Autodidact?
Autodidact originates from the two Greek words; autos meaning ‘self’ and didaskein adding ‘to teach’, so the Greek autodidaktos has given us a title for the self-taught, those with an exceptional passion and drive for learning that they choose the less traditional routes of college, university or typical education processes to pursue what drives them by utilising the resources they have available, combined with exceptional discipline and the drive to learn and constantly improve.
There’s a self-learner in all of us, there has to be, it’s human nature to want to learn something new, to be so interested in something we’re happy to look further into it to expand what we know; but the difference between a bit of natural inquisitiveness and a deep desire to educate ourselves as an autodidact are the levels of intention and intensity.
An autodidact will choose their topic and easily become obsessed with the desire of outcome or their intended goal. It could be to further a career path, or create a new one, alternately it could simply be a personal improvement to enrich their lifestyle, pride or self-confidence.
The second difference between being a little inquisitive or a hobbyist and being an autodidact is the intensity of their learning. It’s not just a hobby anymore, their learning becomes part of their life, it often becomes a huge part of who they are and fitting all of this enhanced self-learning into their daily routine becomes a matter of great importance to their advancement.
Why would you do this?
Psychologically the sense of achievement and personal accomplishment is a huge drive to better ourselves and where traditional methods may be seen to hold us back or create too slow a progression the self-learning option gives us an opportunity to forge forward and soak up as much expertise as we desire. Depending on the skill or talent that has consumed you then there’s not just the education involved but often constant practice, development, tweaking of skills and applying your own personal styles, touches or nuances — all of which mean more time, more involvement and more passion to keep that dream of perfecting your craft or knowledge alive.
There are other reasons to pursue this; entrepreneurs the world over have come from non-traditional educational backgrounds. Businessmen such as Richard Branson who couldn’t gel with traditional schooling due to dyslexia didn’t stop him from becoming one of the most successful tycoons on the planet. How many musicians, artists and sportsmen have risen to the top of their field simply by the love of what they do and never stopping the constant engagement via their own passions over studying at a college nine-to-five five days a week?
There is often a great financial reward to applying yourself to self-learning, but just as often that reward is one for your soul.
So how do you do it?
Love what you do
If you’re going to be driven to do anything for such an amount of time you aim to become an expert then you’re going to have to love doing it. Whether that means that it’s good fun or it’s so fascinating you can’t help but read the next chapter even though it is way past when you should have stopped and gone to sleep, then passion is going to play a huge part.
An autodidact is often highly intelligent; the thirst for knowledge is their driving force and they’re not put off by the hard work involved, nor are they hampered by the fear of not being able to succeed in their path. They will often apply a creative way of accessing and understanding this new knowledge, exploring every angle and eventuality with ingenuity and drive. These are the things that will often guarantee their successes over somebody who may choose a more traditional and dictated method of learning.
Learn learn learn
To implement higher levels of learning you need to access as many suitable resources and utilise them fully. Read everything you can. The Internet will give you just about every angle and idea about your passion and is a lot more accessible than previous methods of researching at libraries and seeking out specialist books.
But don’t stop there; go to seminars, find talks by specialists, observe and engage with those people who are already doing what you want to and find out from them the pitfalls and shortcuts of how they became so proficient.
Engage in online courses you can master at your own pace? Try Wikiversity or BBC Learning for great resources. Seek out as much information as you can. Do TED talks cover your topics? What about YouTube? Are there e-books available or apps, online quizzes or local groups or societies engaging in or practicing your new challenge?
Books are obviously an excellent resource material but don’t forget that people engaging in your field will probably have been where you have and soaked up a lot of that information already. Seek them out, ask them questions and hone your directions in efficient learning from someone who’s already been there.
Practice practice practice
If you’re dream is a practical or creative skill only by practicing will you get better; and if you’re going to practice make sure you practice doing it right. My old golf coach once told me “if there are flaws in your swing it doesn’t matter how much practice you do, you’re only practicing doing it wrong.” So make sure what you are practicing is correct; check your learning resources that they’re all factual. Misinterpretation or false facts won’t just hold you back, they’ll send you completely down the wrong avenues in your learning.
What’s so wrong with traditional learning methods?
There is a school of thought that traditional learning methods can stifle creativity; by being told what to do, by applying strict methods and at set times it dictates a watch and learn mentality instead of a more open mind-set of asking questions and finding out not only the answers for yourself but also the paths you choose to acquire them. It suggests having your curiosity curtailed by too rigid a method, but with self-learning you can really open your mind to anything you want. There will always be enough time and there will never be any restrictions to go off-piste and learn something off syllabus.
Traditional learning can also instil patterns of guilt and fear if you’re struggling to adhere to a time-scale and a pricey education you can’t afford not to complete successfully. This will create pressures you don’t need. You shouldn’t be spending any time worrying about exam marks and deadlines when what you could be concentrating on is how much you’re enjoying the process and how much better you’re becoming each day. Pressure and stress aren’t healthy ways to create desire. Passion and freedom to learn are.
So don’t let money, time, or narrow-mindedness get in your way — if you really have your heart set on becoming a smarter, better, more skilled and more enlightened version of yourself, take a leaf out of Benjamin Franklin, Frank Zappa, Julian Assange and Ernest Hemingway’s books; go get it yourself. Set your own deadlines, your own goals and paths, stick to them, and reap the benefits whether they be financial, spiritual, emotional or skilful. It’s up to you after all, there’s nothing holding you back but your desire to succeed.