You don’t have to look much further than Christopher Nolan, Bill Gates, Haruki Murakami, or any other living and thriving autodidact to see that it’s possible to achieve greatness through self education.
Regular and purposeful self directed study, outside of a formal program, leads to more professional opportunities, improved confidence, greater self-knowledge, protection from automation, and so much more.
Today I’ll share ten reasons why I think self-education is so important to one’s career as well as to their intellectual, social, and spiritual wellbeing.
People Will Respect You & Follow Your Lead
People might not respect nerds in high school. It’s a different story when you’re grown up.
Well-read people who speak articulately about their subjects of expertise tend to receive respect from their peers, if also a tad bit of envy.
And when people respect you, they listen to you. Your voice has more power.
It’s easier to get what you want, to persuade people to side with you, and to enact your plans. “This girl knows her shit!” is often followed by “she should be the leader.”
Self-Education Opens up Professional Opportunities
Interested in switching careers or getting a promotion? Often, through self-education, you can learn the skills you need to make these changes happen.
When I switched from sales to B2B freelance writing, it wasn’t a program that taught me how to write and do SEO. I learned on my own through books, YouTube videos, blog posts, and a lot of practice.
You Discover Your Authentic Interests
In my article, how to use reading to discover your calling(s), I discuss how reading often teaches you about yourself — more specifically, your hidden interests.
You bump up against topics, lifestyles, professions, and fields of knowledge that beforehand were invisible to you. And a select few will drive you mad with wonder.
For example, when I was self-studying US history, I came across the field of political philosophy, and decided to read more about it because I found it so fascinating.
What happened was that I uncovered a secret about myself. Before that I had no idea that statecraft was interesting to me. I’m not sure I was even aware at the time that it existed as a field of study.
Self-education, unlike most formal education, allows you to follow these interests wherever they lead, allowing you to become more and more acquainted with what inspires and holds you.
You Become More Self-Confident
When you set a goal to learn a new skill or understand a difficult subject, then successfully accomplish it, your confidence goes up.
As a result, you’re willing to try an even more challenging goal the next time around.
Through self-directed learning, you’ll also develop a growth mindset. You’ll believe that even though you’re bad at something today you can through practice become great at it in three years.
Further, the knowledge that you have mastery over a skill and a sharp intellect gives you a cool confidence when around other people. Just be careful not to let it cross the line into arrogance.
Self-Education Helps You Become an Original Thinker
Creating and following your own learning path, as opposed to one created for you by an institution, will ensure that your knowledge base is unique.
This is especially true if you study widely, across different academic fields of knowledge.
You’ll be able to find connections between seemingly unrelated concepts, like flower pollination and the Russian revolution. And upon these radical connections will sprout original ideas.
To learn more about the power of developing wide-ranging knowledge, read the book Range: Why Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World — it convinced me to balance breadth and depth in self education.
It Improves Cognitive Abilities
Engaging in self-education outside of school usually involves a lot of intense reading and thinking. Like any muscle, when you work these cognitive functions, they grow.
As long as you push yourself each time you hit the books, you can expect consistent and considerable gains in your concentration, critical thinking, reading comprehension, and learning abilities.
Not to mention, when you read a quality books, you’re seeing an example of quality thinking. You see logical arguments created and lofty ideas eloquently expressed. The author operates as an intellectual role model.
Because, as humans, we have a tendency to imitate and emulate, over time your thinking will improve, striving to match that of the authors you love.
Self-Directed Learning is Deeply Satisfying
When I was in middle school, I detested reading. Teachers had extinguished my love for it. Like raking leaves, it had become a chore.
Ever since I graduated high school and regained control over what I learn and how I went about it, I’ve found learning to be one of the most satisfying ways to spend my time.
This is true both during and after a study session. While studying, I feel like a kid on an easter egg hunt, vacillating between curiosity, frustration, and the pleasure of discovery.
And, in the same way that rigorous physical exercise puts me in a good mood — a proud, self-satisfied state of mind — hard studying does the same.
When I go to watch some tv after a bout with the books, I feel I’ve earned it, and that nagging voice in my head telling me to do more, to be more productive, is for once silent.
Keep Up With New Tools & Techniques in Your Profession
“I don’t need that newfangled contraption – I doubt it works anyway” have been the final last words of too many good, serious workers.
Unfortunately for some, technological advancement exists. The world keeps us on our toes, forcing us to learn the newest advances in technique and technology in order to stay competitive in our field of work.
For example, when Grammarly came onto the scene, I had to learn it to make my spell checking and grammar editing process faster.
When a data analyst is given a new software intelligence platform, they have to learn how to use it effectively, or else they’ll work more slowly than their peers and draw fewer insights.
Ongoing self education is the antidote to falling behind. Taking 10 minutes every day to learn about some new skill or tool is often enough to ward off progress’ attempts to fossilize your skillset.
Life Becomes More Interesting
I’m a firm believer that the more you understand about the world or any given topic, the more interesting it becomes.
My friend, a dentist, knows a lot about teeth. For that reason, he can’t help but light up when I mention an issue with one of mine.
His eyes shine, his speech speeds up, and I can tell that diagnosing me is a fun game for him.
More relatable may be the person who learns about ecology then goes out into the woods, or meditation and into their mind, or art history and into an art museum.
Another way self-directed learning makes life more interesting is through skill acquisition. You can teach yourself skills like mountain biking or cooking that you can use to have fun in life.
Your Conversations Become Richer
Just a little bit of knowledge about someone’s profession or industry is enough to ask some pointed questions that get the other person talking.
For example, the one book I read about Wall Street supplied me with the minimum effective dose of information to hold an interesting conversation with an investment banker I met.
None of my questions were super interesting, but they did enough to convince him that I had some background knowledge in the subject and would understand his true answers.
And if you’re an expert in the topic of discussion, whether it’s international affairs or English literature, there will be millions of exciting roads you and your fellow converser can take.
If you’ve gained wide-ranging knowledge, you’ll also have plenty of information to draw from that can make the conversion more exciting.
When someone brings up the housing crisis in New York, and you’ve read an article about the affordable housing solution in Vienna, you’ll bump the conversation to new heights with the reference.
Through these rich and varied conversations you’ll learn a lot as well.
As Thoreau said:
“In my walks, every man I meet is my superior in some way, and in that I learn from him.”
Bottom Line: Self Education Benefits
Ongoing self education’s list of benefits includes richer conversations, better career prospects, a more interesting life, and so much more.
There are many types of self education. My favorite method has always been reading a good book.
Why not read a bunch of books in one or two subjects and become an authority in them?
That’s what I help you do in my article how to become well read. I highly encourage checking it out if you want to read more and take a deliberate approach to daily study.