Category Archives: Autodidact

Motivation, Prioritizing, and Time Management

“Change is the only constant.” — Heraclitus

Thoughts and concerns about motivation and time management can be applicable to everyone, as can many elements of my entries; but it is especially applicable to autodidacts who usually are having to structure the majority of their lives themselves. If you know what I am talking about, you probably know that, while you prefer the freedom, it can get quite overwhelming to have to handle your entire life yourself; sometimes you wonder if you are getting anything done!!

Since I’ve had nearly 20 years of this struggle, I have my own two cents (and a little more) to say on the matter. The following is just from my experience, and I am not saying everyone should Here are some initial things you can do:

First thing’s first: get away from stagnant distractions, like the phone, e-mail, Facebook, nagging or loud family members or friends, etc. It won’t be rude if it is for the sake of your sanity and productivity levels.

Focus on something else. Whatever you do, get your mind off of obligations, and things requiring concentration and attention which you are just not able to give the ideal amount to. What do you do instead? Doing something physical – going on a bike ride, a run, baking a cake, splitting wood: work with your hands. It frees your brain and gets toxins out.

Once you’ve done that, then get it out – take an indefinite amount of time and write or talk to someone (if that someone does not mind) about whatever is on your mind. Detox your brain. Maybe you met a guy the other day and he thought you guys hit it off (you didn’t) and keeps calling you; this could be hindering your ability to be productive. Get it out.

If there is too much on your mind, it really does crowd your ability to concentrate. I noticed this when I didn’t journal for three days after journaling every day for three and a half weeks. My mind needed to sort through the occurrences of those days, as well as all the thoughts which had accumulated more and more every moment of those three days.

After distracting yourself and doing some spring cleaning:

Prioritize. Make lists (which can be structured in any way you wish; “list” is just an easy, generic term for whatever form of physical sorting works for you)of everything you feel like you need to do. This could be gotten out in the journaling if you did that as your detox. Don’t worry about getting everything in order. Just write down everything you feel like you need to do, or want to do, in the next day, week, or month (a month is probably the largest amount of time for which you should make detailed, prioritized plans).

Once you’ve made the list or lists, decide what is really important to you on them. Depending on time frames, others’ dependence on you, the immediacy, and other such factors, pick between 3 and 5 top priorities (oftentimes, 5 could still be spreading yourself too thin; for your own sake, try to keep it minimal). An example:

1. Wedding planning with Emily
2. 30 hours/wk at Best Buy
3. Training for the 10k in 3 weeks
4. Cooking through all Mollie Katzen’s cookbooks

This is what mine looks like at the time of writing this entry:

1. My housecleaner work-trade at The Ashland Hostel
2. Daily customer service for Sudoku Professor
3. Blogging for Life Without College
4. Writing and finishing a novel in 30 days

It is a little tempting to look at these priorities and commit yourself to them and nothing more. By no means must this happen! Give yourself a break. That is where the other things on your general “to do” list come into play. In your spare time, read “The Thirteenth Tale.” (Really. It’s amazing, and I am not getting paid to say that.) Journal, paint, or dance. Spend time with loved ones. Just always remember your priorities. Write them down and tape them on your bathroom mirror; whatever it takes.

This process can be done as many times as you need to. It may need to be done only once a month, or once every two months; or every other week, every week… it really does not matter, as long as you stay productive and sane.

By “productive,” I mean your definition of productive. The process is to make sure, for your sake, you get done what you need and want to. If you need to, I find that writing the ultimate goal next to the priority, or even the penultimate goal, or any relevant goal at all helps. It keeps the bigger picture in mind, and reminds you WHY these are the priorities in the first place.

– Wedding planning with Emily = BECAUSE I want her wedding to go down like she wants it to
– 30 hours/wk at Best Buy = BECAUSE I need money so I can travel to Thailand and work with elephants
– Training for the 10k = BECAUSE I want to be in shape, run and finish a race, and be better at running in general; BECAUSE I want to work up to running marathons by the time I am 26
– Cooking through Mollie Katzen’s cookbooks = BECAUSE I want to know how to cook many different things and therefore have the capacity to go to culinary school if I decide I want to
– Housecleaner work-trade = BECAUSE I can help out the owner of the hostel in the summer season and so I can have somewhere to stay till I leave for NY
– Sudoku Professor = BECAUSE I need to support myself, and to help out the family business
– Life Without College = BECAUSE I am passionate about this subject, want to get the word out, and now I have a following to stay loyal to!
– Novel in 30 days = BECAUSE I love writing, would like to get better, and I am very inspired in Ashland, Oregon

Making these lists works for me because I have goals that need to be concrete, and in front of my face; if goals are just floating around aimlessly in my brain, I cannot possibly focus on them. I am also an extremely flexible person – if I don’t watch myself, I will simply float off in whatever direction the wind is blowing. Going through this process and making these lists every couple of weeks keeps me grounded, while at the same time still allowing for spontaneity and plans to change, because I didn’t schedule anything. I only prioritized, which works best for me.

I would think this would work for an extremely non-flexible person as well. If anyone reading this is a super-organized person, I would love to know your thoughts on my little process. Do you think it (or something similar) would work for you? To me, it seems like a middle ground – something that, perhaps, could balance both the exceptionally flexible and the exceptionally scheduled. It creates more structure in the spontaneous person’s life; likewise, I would assume it could create more spontaneity in a structured person’s life.

Let me know what you think! What are some of your own ways of being more structured, or more spontaneous? Have you found strategies for clearing your mind, prioritizing, and finding motivation, which work for you?



Organic Gen Ed

General education – may I ask what the point is?

In my short lifetime, I have taken gen ed classes. I enjoyed them, for the most part. But, if I were to go to college, would I particularly like to spend two of my four years studying requirements that 85% of the time have absolutely no relevancy to my chosen major? Not really.

However, colleges, and many people who attend them, seem to consider gen eds worthwhile, correct? Why is this, I wonder?

Some of the justifications I hear most often:

1. Gen eds prepare you for the upper-level courses in your chosen major
2. Gen eds help you figure out what you might like to major in
3. Gen eds give you a well-rounded education by exposing you to subjects you might not have had an opportunity to learn about otherwise

I would like to take this blog entry to question these beliefs which are strongly held by a great number of people. And if, at the end of this entry, you have any more thoughts on Gen eds, please let me know what they are; and I would love to do a second post addressing these things.

Gen eds prepare you for the upper-level courses in your chosen major.

I can see one big flaw in this argument – shouldn’t the skills for your chosen major be known already at the beginning of college? Why must essential things like writing a paper or doing math be re-learned or learned at this great and elite “college level”, when the average person already spent 12 years and the majority of every day in an institution where such “special skills” could and should have already been taught?

(And, if a person was homeschooled: I do believe , if college was in the agenda, that person is equally capable of learning the skills necessary for writing a college paper and/or doing college math on their own, or with the guidance of outside classes.)

Gen eds help you figure out what you might like to major in.

Surely there is nothing wrong with this, right? Well…

This goes back to something I’ve said a number of times: why would a person go to college if he or she does not know what you want to major in? What is the point? They are doing nobody a favor by spending tons of their money (well, except those who receive the money, of course) while aimlessly meandering about the schoolwork, head down, not having enough time to even think about what they want out of life.

Need anything else be said on that?

Gen eds give you a well-rounded education by exposing you to subjects you might not have had an opportunity to learn about otherwise.

And why not?

For one, the most obvious cause – being stuck in college for four years. I apologize if I offend anyone with my frankness.

I would just like to ask: how does anybody know that a person would not be exposed or be self-motivated to study new and different subjects in-depth? I simply feel like this is a weak argument for gen ed. Life is full of inspiration for new interests, and tools and opportunities to pursue those interests. That is what is the primary function of an autodidact, and (I hope) of adults as they go through their normal lives… “real life.”

Being inspired and pursuing inspiration made up my “schooling” as a homeschooler. I really needed no such general education in order to broaden my horizons; in fact, now I get a little frustrated occasionally, as I feel my horizons are a little too broad at this point in my life!

Here are a few examples:

1. I was inspired to write because of Laura Ingalls Wilder. She wrote the Little House books, incase anybody was a little clueless about that. 🙂 I wanted to be her – I wanted to write, and tell stories, and also have a record of my life that someone would find after I died and turn into a book series and a television show starring Melissa Gilbert. I’ve been writing ever since I was able to form words on the paper, and in my teenage years I have conducted numerous studies of writing and still continue to write (hence, largely, this blog).

2. I was inspired by coming across the television show “The Dog Whisperer” at one point, seeing how Cesar Millan formed a pack of dogs using his knowledge of the origins of canine behavior. At first I was just interested in dogs, but that branched off into a very large obsession with wolves. I have now read extensively about them, and have two internships planned for the near future at a couple of fantastic wolf refuges.

3. Probably the biggest jump I made from the point of being inspired till the peak of intense study is exercise science. It all started while watching the Winter Olympics in February 2006. Developing a slight crush on figure skater Johnny Weir, I watched all his events; and, after the Olympics, started to watch figure skating more. There were little blips on the skaters during these events, in which they often talked about the training and cross training they put into their sports. I had just started swimming a few months before, and I had a brainstorm that I could cross train myself to become a better swimmer. This grew into watching Fit TV very frequently, along with getting many exercise science, workout, nutrition, etc., books from the library. While I don’t study it as intensely as I did at that certain point of my life, the knowledge continues to carry over into whatever I am doing, and I have not completely ruled out becoming a personal trainer one of these days.

And those are just a few examples from my own short life so far.

Perhaps now I have you asking, “what IS the point of Gen eds?” along with me.

But, if I don’t, please tell me: why are Gen eds important? What purpose, in the long run, do they hold? Wouldn’t you rather have the extra time to “study” other interests on your own than be forced to take two years full of certain types of classes, taught in a certain kind of way? Why can’t I just go to college and concentrate on my major?



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.