What to do When You Fail Your Self-Education Plan (How to Bounce Back Stronger)

Not finishing your reading list? 

Not satisfied with your progress on your study plan? 

Feel like ditching the plan and studying something else? 


This has happened to me many times. 

At the beginning of this year I created a DIY curriculum for myself that would have me studying 5 self-made courses over the year. 

  • Nietzsche
  • Nature writing
  • Civil war history 
  • Modern poetry
  • Don Quixote 

As of writing this, I’ve completed half of 2 of them (Don Quixote, Nietzche), and, aside from nature writing, don’t really think I’ll get to the other two, at least not this year. 


Well, because when you read, as months pass by, you inevitably change. 

Your interests change. Your life changes. Your intellectual and practical needs change. 

For instance, I’m unsatisfied with my prose, and incredibly fascinated by classic literature. Over the past two years it’s become my favorite subject, especially since I want one day to write fiction for a living. 

So I think it’s high time I read the classics a bit more systematically — now a 60 book list of the classics is the backbone of my self-education. And it takes priority over these other DIY courses.

This has happened to me many times, and I’m positive even the most disciplined of scholars have felt the same about their ambitious reading plans. 

Take a young John Adams for example: he was notoriously hard on himself for falling behind on his studies.  

Angry with himself, here’s a commitment he made in his diary:  

“I am resolved to rise with the sun and to study Scriptureson Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday mornings, and to study some Latin author the other three mornings. Noons and nights I intend to read English authors… I will rouse my mind and fix my attention. I will stand collected  within myself and think upon what I read and what I see.” 

John Adams

The next morning he slept in, and the next week he wrote “dreamed the day away.” 

Even future presidents fall behind on your reading plans, so don’t feel bad about it. 

How you react to your struggle dictates the success of your future plans. 

Here’s how to make the most out of not completing a self-study plan. 

Use the Failure as a Chance to Learn About Yourself

Instead of beating yourself up for not completing your self-education challenge, use this as an opportunity to learn more about yourself and start anew. 

Do a bit of an analysis of why you didn’t finish. 

Here’s an illustration of what I mean. 

In reading Beyond Good and Evil, which was to be one of four books in a Nietzche curriculum, I discovered that when reading him, I like to go very slowly, and do a lot more re-reading than new reading. 

So reading three of his books in a quarter is no simple task, especially when I’m reading other books as well for pleasure or business. 

Second, I learned that I don’t like reading two books by him in a row. 

It’s too weighty. 

I needed a reprieve — some history, some contemporary social criticism. 

Because of this, I’ll probably get to On the Genealogy of Morals later this year, after a good break to digest the first book.

Third, I learned the power of using secondary sources like YouTube videos and articles to clarify my understanding of his main ideas. 

Using Incompletion to Inform Future Study Plans 

You see, it wasn’t only philosophy I learned, but self-education as well. 

Going forward, I will take all these lessons into account when creating any autodidactic pursuit.

And because of that, I’ll have a better chance next time completing a project. 

So, to sum it up, when you fail to finish your project, look back on how much you achieved, how many books you read, how much you learned about the subject. 

Then, ask yourself why you could not finish it, and create a new plan taking those insights into your study habits, interests, and needs into account. 

You’ll do better next time. 


After graduating college with an econ degree I realized I was still anything but well-educated. Over the last 4 years, I've been trying to fix that, autodidact-mode — by reading books and engaging in self-directed study across multiple subjects. On this blog, my goal is to share my learnings and help others get a well-rounded education outside of school. Education, after all, is a lifelong process, one well worth the investment.

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