by Dylan Dohner
Learning beyond the limits of high school, of college. Learning through the day and filling the static of the night with knowledge and subjects that aren’t chained to the agendas of a class curriculum. These habits are what a self-teacher, an Autodidact, have chosen to pursue.
To be an autodidact is to teach yourself on subjects of your own interests and in your own time, and then to apply the knowledge of those subjects to yourself and to others in order to foster a deeper conceptual understanding of the world.
Isn’t it strange to think that society puts us in school to learn for a fourth of our lives, and then shuts that part down entirely when we graduate? Learning is among the greatest traits we as humans possess, so why stop after college? The benefits of self-teaching—of the clarity, empowerment and autonomy of autodidacticism—will trail you far beyond what a college education will invariably stop doing.
Some of the world’s most influential and pivotal leaders and figures are autodidacts: George Washington, novelist Virginia Woolf, both of the Wright Brothers, and inventor Leonardo DaVinci to name a few. Twenty-sixth President Theodore Roosevelt astounded acquaintances with his knowledge of a huge breadth of topics, hobbies, skills, and interests that he learned and sharpened throughout his life. He could talk with anyone about nearly anything.
How, then, does one pursue the lifestyle of an autodidact? Schedules these days are muddled with work, family time and resting, and it feels like there’s hardly a single expendable second one would contribute to what appears to be the time-consuming habits of a self-teacher.
But it is the fluidity of an autodidact’s schedule which trounces all other chores. You can learn on your own time, on any subject you want, and for as long as you want. The truth is that an autodidact’s greatest asset is the freedom from agenda. Take five minutes to read an article online, to inch your way through a book, to exercise your body, every day for as long as you feel you need to. Those seemingly-disparate chunks of autodidactic habit will, over time, coalesce.
And in this age, with the kinds of technologies available to us, there is absolutely no better time to take up the mantel of the autodidactic routine. Watch fascinating documentaries on Documentaryheaven.com. Learn the basics of HTML and CSS coding at Codecademy.com. Read web articles and blogs on a vast selection of any topic of your choosing, each and every one easily accessible through a single Google search. I myself end up chaining article after article on Wikipedia some days (and effectively losing track of time!) simply because it’s fun for me to do.
It is, too. Learning liberally, pursuing topics out of curiosity and passion, actually ends up being fun. Applying what you learn to real situations is also vital. Recently learned more on gardening? On car engine upkeep? Well, head on out and try it yourself. Testing oneself in the tangible is a great form of self-assessment and of further exploration into bits and pieces that initial readings might not have elucidated.
Not only that, but people will enjoy being around you. You’ll be more specific in discussions, contribute ideas and solutions with greater ease, and spark the interests of others with whom you may share a certain hobby. A hobby, mind you, that the act of autodidacticism helped bring to your playing field. You’ll even end up enjoying your own life with much more depth, empathy, and understanding of the world you live in and the people you interact with every day.
So figure up a personalized and amiable schedule for yourself, decide what you’d like to learn today, within a month, or over the course of this year, and learn it. Persistence, persistence, persistence. Freedom, freedom, freedom. This habit and this virtue will aid you in becoming the next Leonardo DaVinci.