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What did you learn today?

© December 2005 Tony Lawrence
December 2005

I'm an autodidact. I quit formal education as soon as I was legally old enough, and have never regretted that choice for even a moment.

Some people get angry about that, or ridicule it with quotes such as Mark Twain's "The self taught man seldom knows anything accurately, and he does not know a tenth as much as he could have known if he had worked under teachers, and besides, he brags, and is the means of fooling other thoughtless people into going and doing as he himself has done."

As much as I admire Samuel Clemens, I have to disagree. Some of us do better on our own. Self taught doesn't mean that we don't learn from others; it simply means that we don't do it in the usual way. In the quote above, a fear of the autodidact influencing others is quite plain, and perhaps that is the source of the anger I sometimes see: the fear that a young person might destroy their lives by following the example I set. They might: just as some of us can't learn in formal settings, others can't or won't learn any other way.

But all successful people have to be autodidacts.

I don't mean that they must have ignored formal education entirely, but I do mean that they can't depend upon institutions to teach them everything they need to know. Indeed, most of what they need to know will never be taught in schools; they'll need to seek it out on their own. If they don't, they'll never be successful.

Some people consider self employment because they lack traditional education and find it difficult to advance when working for others. Self employment allows them to bypass the need for degrees and diplomas. If that's you, remember that while you may not need the formal recognition of a diploma, you will need the knowledge. Your education may be self applied, but it needs to have the same results.

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