I have been self-educating since I finished school. I’ve tried all kinds of different ways to learn and to educate myself. Over time I became so good in my field that I not only got several jobs, but also surpassed people who only went to university. During the past three years, I’ve learned which five things you need to take care of in order to easily surpass regularly educated people and successfully hack your education. Here they are:
1. Develop a routine.
Since you don’t have a professor or teacher “harassing” you with deadlines and “forcing” you to study, you need to develop solid working habits. You have to experiment and try out different things. This is the first hard step and where most people fail because they are not able to maintain discipline and work on a proper routine. Unfortunately, there are no universal guidelines as to what works and what doesn’t, so you need to find out for yourself.
There are two books that are incredibly helpful in getting the necessary motivation and being inspired by what successful daily routines look like. Nick Winter’s Motivation Hacker will give you a dozen techniques on how you can ensure you’re motivated to work every day, get up early, and keep up with your schedule. In his book Daily Rituals, Mason Currey summarized the working habits of 200 famous artists, writers and scientists. You can get inspired by the habits of Goethe, Einstein, Hemingway and Andy Warhol.
2. Learn to learn.
Most of us who come straight from school or college have horrible learning routines. Often many students rely on the strategy of cramming the night before exams. If you want to educate yourself and learn something in order to apply it in real life, you need to develop good learning strategies. You should also experiment on these and not stick with the first one that works, since the better your strategies, the more effective you are.
Here are two books and blogs essential to learning how to learn and taking your learning techniques to the next level. Cal Newport, a straight-A student, analyzed the way America’s best students are able to learn and still have a lot of spare time. His book, How to Become a Straight-A Student, will help you learn more effectively and enable you to have tons of free time. He also has a blog.
Scott H. Young might be the role model of many self-educators. He studied four years of electrical engineering at MIT in only one year, without being enrolled at MIT. Scott has an incredible work routine and amazing discipline. Check out his blog, where you can find all kinds of information about learning techniques and developing a successful working routine.
3. Find the best resources.
Nowadays, you can learn from a lot of quality resources, completely for free. Most of these resources are either identical to a college education or far better. Find out which resources are the easiest to study for you. I am a huge fan of reading books and developing a relationship with the authors and asking them more detailed questions. Also, since I am becoming a therapist, workshops and seminars are essentials for me. Check out different things and track your learning progress to find out what suits you best.
Websites like Kahn Academy or MIT Open Courses often provide very good content and can also be a major resource.
4. Learn from the best.
The advice above will put you ahead in terms of knowledge compared to those people who follow a conventional education. But still, a college degree comes with a certain status. Therefore you need to put yourself ahead of the usual learners when it comes to status. Telling a potential employer or partner that you read a lot of books or studied online won’t necessarily impress him or her as much as a college degree. So, in order to keep up with applicants or competitors with a college degree, you need to find another way to display professionalism and status.
Since it is possible to connect with everybody world wide, start to connect with the leading figures in your field of interest. Outstanding figures in a certain field are often willing to answer your emails, as long as your questions are smart or interesting enough. Send out different emails to the stars of your field and evaluate which get the best responses. By asking the best in a field you will get unique insights, as well as valuable connections. In the first years of my career, I built almost all my reputation this way, and often knew things others didn’t because I talked to the people on the cutting edge on a regular basis. Having these connections will give you unique knowledge and will show a potential boss that you are not a scam.
5. Learning is more valuable than money (at the beginning).
Since you are not following a regular educational path, you need to hustle for internships or opportunities to gain hands-on experience and to show what you are capable of. Students often have this included in their course of studies, but you don’t.
At an early stage, you should take on any job and any offer and even work for free. You need to build a portfolio and display your skills. For me as a coach and speaker, I was hustling for any possible speaking gig or for any opportunity to coach people. This gave me experience, as well as a reputation. During the first year, I was giving talks at esoteric fairs next to fortune tellers and people who claimed to talk to ghosts. I did this because somebody offered me the opportunity to talk there. Obviously, this is not an area I want to be associated with, but it was my best chance to get hands-on experience and talk in front of over 200 people. Eventually, this helped me land my next speaking gig at a university, and later to organize my own workshops and seminars. I never wanted to speak at the esoteric fairs, and felt completely out of place, but it was necessary to do so simply to become a better speaker.
Whatever your field of expertize is, try to gain hands-on experience as fast as possible. In some areas it is easier than in others, so be creative and think outside of the box!
Over time I have met many outstanding self-educators, who have helped me to improve and develop my own strategies. A great platform to meet other self-educators is Extreme Learners, from Institute for the Future. I am super excited to hear about your strategies, please feel free to share them in the comments below.
Featured photo credit: UGL_UIUC via Flickr