Someone named Nick sent me an e-mail the other day that I think poses a good enough question to answer it publicly:
I am a 21 year old university student and have realized in the past 2 years that self-education is the foundation personal growth. As such, I've started devouring books; 2 or 3 a week on a probably too broad range of subjects. But I know that I'm missing a lot.
What should I do to improve my education outside of just "read a lot?" Where should I start?
Here are some of my thoughts:
- School tends to restrict our definition of what education is. In particular, scholastic education is a one way street. Information is fed to you, absorbed, and only applied enough to prove that it was properly absorbed. There are a lot of exceptions to this, but they're still exceptions. Self education is almost always more interactive than that, because we naturally learn best by engaging ourselves. Reading is great, but as you suspect, is only part of the picture.
- With that in mind. Do something! I wrote about my phone system earlier. If I had read a book about Asterisk, PBX phone systems, or VOIP, I would have almost no real ability to set up a phone system. Instead I dove in head first and learned by doing it. The same thing goes for accounting. if you're interested enough to jump in head first, that's probably a good sign that you'll learn very quickly.
- Travel. Traveling is a good way to passively learn a lot. You learn languages, you learn about the culture and history of the place you're visiting, and you even learn some geography. The minutes in between actual activities becomes learning time. Beyond that, the level of self reliance will help you learn a lot about yourself. Sounds cheesy, but it's true. Nick is a student, so I'd suggest he spend a semester abroad or travel during the summer.
- Limit mindless activities. Be aware of how much time you're spending watching TV, movies, and playing video games. Consider cutting them out completely. Timesinks like these eat up your time and teach you next to nothing. If you make your lifestyle conducive to learning, it happens automatically.
- Before you read a (non-fiction) book, commit to making at least one concrete change before you read it. Then when you read it you will pay more attention to how you can apply your knowledge, which is the whole point of getting it in the first place.
- Start a business. If you have any interest in business, start one. It's a practical pursuit and involves so many different skills that you will be overwhelmed with new and useful things to learn.
- Do something different. The beaten path is pretty much all figured out. Blaze your own trail and learn as you discover new things.
- Write a blog. Writing helps you focus and clarify your thoughts. Even if no one reads it, it's worth doing.
I hope that helps, Nick. Half the reason I don't update as frequently as I used to is because I can't always think of something worth writing about. If you have questions or suggestions for me, I will take them very seriously. Get in touch.
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