Have you ever wound up talking to someone, and asked them where they went to school, or where they are going to school? Have you ever heard the response, “Oh, I don’t go to school; I am an autodidact!”

If not, it’s not surprising. There are only a few of us out there. An autodidact is a self-directed learner. In other words, not your typical mainstream school-attendee, or even, oftentimes, your typical homeschooler.

Anybody can be an autodidact, and at any age. Not long ago some friends and I were staying in a hotel in South Carolina, and we rode up in an elevator with a man who asked us where we went to school. When we explained that we were autodidacts, and what it meant, he shrugged, saying it was great for “you young people… but I’m in my 40s. Yeah, I’m too old for that kind of thing.” And before we could say something to the contrary, we came to his floor and he walked off.

Any pursuit can be autodidactic in nature. Making money, whether through entrepreneurship, getting a job, or having a career, is a learning experience. Raising a family is a learning experience. Going to school, or college, is a learning experience. Volunteering or interning is a learning experience. Going downtown and asking passers-by questions is a learning experience.

You might be thinking, “These are all things that normal people can do every day! What makes you think that calling yourself an ‘autodidact’ makes you special somehow??”

First of all, I apologize if I am putting words into anybody’s mouth (I feel like I often do this, feel free to tell me so); you might not be asking anything close to this in your head. Nonetheless, I shall give you the answer, for it is the philosophy of my and many others’ definition of an autodidact, and is certainly in need of being addressed. As a matter-of-fact, it is the main point of this entry, if you couldn’t tell from the title.

The main difference between being an autodidact and just existing complacently in this world is all in the choice and the attitude, most specifically the attitude behind that choice.

What do you want out of life? Seriously, tell me. Tell me it all, too; because in life, there are the things we think we want out of life, that we tell ourselves so that wherever we are we are pretty content or satisfied; and then there are the things we really want out of life, but we 99% of the time deny ourselves the energy to entertain them as more than mere fantasy. Keep that in mind.

Now, think of one of those things that you really want out of life. I will pick an example, for those of you who are like me and think globally/abstractly, and learn best with illustrations: say you really, really want to be a yoga instructor. Perhaps you have been doing yoga on and off your whole life, but you have a unique perspective on it that you would like to share with others by way of leading classes yourself.

You will surely feel very unique when you find out that a LOT of people have this dream. However, only a few people have the right attitude to go out and actually do it.

So, you make the choice, and face the challenge of accomplishing what you set out to do with a go-get-it attitude. And what you choose to do revolves around this ultimate goal.

Do let me know if I am not making sense.

So, let me set a couple of things straight here: Autodidact does not mean “a person who never goes to school and never learns anything from anybody but themselves.” Similarly, Life Without College does not mean “you must hereby go through life and never set foot inside a higher education institution.”

Being autodidactic and having a life without college simply means:

a) Not accepting that you have to pick a particular mainstream field of interest simply because it’s more realistic, achievable, and guarantees success and a regular paycheck; you go for your dreams because you only live on this earth once – why not spend your life doing things you WANT to do?

b) Not accepting that, after highschool, college is the only way to educate yourself in your chosen field, and/or that without a degree you are nothing and will never make any money or achieve your dream; seeking out other non-standard forms of getting the knowledge and experience you need to achieve your dreams.

In my next entry I will talk more about what the definitions are of a successful person, career, and life. Stay tuned.



2 responses to “Autodidact

  1. Well said. And I wouldn’t limit it to a college education, either. If I think back, I probably would have done high school differently as well.

  2. Definitely, Matt! A lot of the things I have mentioned/will be mentioning on here are applicable to high schoolers too. The main reason I am focusing on college is other unschooling resources often focus on just the K-12 school years, with no regard to one’s life after highschool. Often it’s just assumed you go on to college like everyone else. 🙂

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