The self-taught expert is like a sip of honey wine for my American-made heart, brought up as it was on movies about self-made men, lone rangers, and the whole variety of rugged individualists who rolled up their sleeves and did things their own way.
And so I ask, is it only in the movies, or are autodidacts out there and thriving?
Technically, autodidacts are not rare in 2024. Access to books, college syllabi, online courses, and other learning materials makes self-directed study easier than it has ever been. And, just like 1,000 years ago, there are still people curious and driven enough to learn stuff on their own.
Most people have participated in autodidactism in form at some point in their life, whether it was figuring out on their own how to use a new piece of software for work or becoming a WW2 history buff to show up their cocky know-it-all uncle Rick.
Let’s Alter the Question Slightly
If you alter the question to “are pure and highly successful autodidacts rare?” the answer shifts more into yes territory.
By “pure” I mean they used only self-education to learn the skill or subject in question. And by “highly successful” I mean an expert in their chosen field or skill.
This is, and always has been, rare, for a couple reasons:
- Most people who want to learn something to the point of expertise go into formal programs to learn it, thus depleting the pool of potential autodidacts.
- Autodidactism poses challenges that cause many to give up — lack of structure, lack of peer support, lack of encouragement, self-doubt, confusion about what to learn next.
- Even if someone spends a lot of time in self-learning, they may still end up doing some formal schooling, which thus technically disqualifies them from “pure” autodidact in the field.
Most people do not have the strange mix of personality traits and temperament for an autodidact approach to learning something to the point of expertise.
That doesn’t mean they’re less intelligent or less disciplined than autodidacts. It just means they learn better in a group setting, with the guidance of teachers and the support of peers. It means going it alone may feel lonely for them.
Different Industries Have Different Rates of Autodidactism
It’s true also that some industries like tech, startups, coding, creators, and entrepreneurship tend to have more autodidacts than say the professions like law or medicine, where it’s almost impossible to become a top performer or even enter the profession without formal training.
In entrepreneurship, for example, you have a lot of scrappy people teaching themselves skills in order to do what needs to be done to build their business or solve the problems that pop up.
If the solopreneur needs to set up email marketing to increase sales, for instance, and doesn’t want to hire someone to do it, they have to learn it on their own.
Can You Become a Successful Autodidact?
When I hear “are autodidacts rare?”, I immediately wonder if there’s another question beneath.
I know when I first asked it long ago I was asking it to see if it was a possible path for me to take to learn whatever I was trying to learn.
I was really asking “can I be an autodidact?”
I’d say that the best way to figure out whether autodidactism works for you is to try it out.
Read How to Become an Autodidact. Then create a self-education plan in whatever you want to teach yourself, and go out and try it out.
If it works, amazing!
If, during your self-education, you find that the hurdles that arise between you and your learning goals are too steep and slippery to get over without a rope, then go to school, find a teacher, or join a formal program.
Autodidactism has many benefits, but it’s not for everyone. And most of us, even the best self-learners around, would probably be better off involving others in our learning somehow or another.
Sure, that disqualifies us from being a sexy pure autodidact.
But we’re still autodidacts when it comes down to it.
Before that program begins, and once that program ends, we still have to chart our own course of studies and engage in self-directed learning if we want to become true masters of the craft or experts of the topic.
Formal schooling is never the end in education. It’s often just one of many stepping stones towards mastery.
Being able to teach yourself new things is an invaluable skill. We’ve got you covered on that front.
Grab out free checklist for self-learning new subjects effectively: