“May your house be a meeting house for Sages, become dirty in the dust of their feet and drink their words thirstily.” — Yose Ben Yoezer, Ethics of the Fathers 1:4
You shouldn’t rely on your schooling or on others to tell you what to think. You have to go out of your way to educate yourself, and take charge of your own ongoing learning. That is of course, if you want to have a successful and mindful life in which you are in control. In previous generations it was possible to just run along a pre-ordained track and get to a good place. Now with things changing so fast people need to be a lot more intentional and agile about the way we live.
So what does that look like? What are some of the tools you can use to take control of your ongoing education? Fortunately the internet is here to help.
The most important step to getting a top tier education is the mindset shift. Move away from a model where education is something you receive, and towards a model where it is something you build, brick by brick, your entire life. That means thinking about what you want to learn and always be taking steps in that direction.
One of the major reasons behind the success of certain cultures and groups is this emphasis on lifelong learning and education as a personal discipline. By taking on the practice of learning something new every day, making fixed times for study every day, you put yourself in a position of continual intellectual growth.
Practical steps towards that mindset shift:
- Having a reading list and working your way through it.
- Having set times for reading every day or at least every week.
- Making a habit of fact checking things every time a question comes up in conversation For example: what is the closest African country to America. I just Googled it while writing this article and the answer is Morocco. I just learned something. Doing this several times a day, every day, over a period of years, makes a big difference.
- Using dead time (eg at the bus stop) to learn.
The second part of the mindset shift is how you approach factual claims, evidence, and arguments. Don’t just accept things you read and learn at face value. Ask yourself why they are telling you this. Ask where they got that information from, and whether or not the evidence is solid. Assess the strength of their logical reasoning. Above all, do not become down-heartened or defensive when you find out you are wrong or when someone corrects you. When that happens you should rejoice – you just learned something! Now you have an opportunity to be less wrong! Getting egotistical about your intellectual status is the quickest way to mental stagnation.
This mindset is practiced by individuals and groups who are committed to intellectual progress. Ask anyone who is truly successful if they do these things and they will almost certainly tell you yes.
Vocational Learning and Intellectual Learning
Those who favor vocational learning have often disparaged what they see as effete and useless education for its own sake. Those who favor intellectual learning have traditionally looked down on vocational training as being somehow lesser, a viewpoint rooted in the prejudiced snobbery of Europe’s landed class.
The distinction is something of a misnomer. Some forms of education, like learning Sanskrit, may lack immediate practical value. But they sharpen the mind, increase discipline and enable the kind of holistic thinking necessary to strategize effectively. To that extent it can have financial benefit.
We of course believe that kind of learning is valuable anyway, even if it has no economic utility.
Nevertheless, it is necessary to have some kind of vocational training. Much of that can only be taught by another professional – you can’t really learn it on your own. That training will either come through on the job training, a short course, internship or even a full degree. If you know which one of those you want to do to get the career you desire, good for you, go for it, we believe in you.
Other things can be learned online.
Right now is the golden age of free online courses. Hundreds of universities have uploaded thousands of online courses to the internet for free. You can start taking them right now, using just your laptop. If you set aside just an hour a day, you can get almost the same quality of education you would in a classroom at a university, without a crippling debt.
Some of the courses are simply interesting. Others are deeply practical.
Open Culture has an incredible directory of the best free online courses on the web.
One of the most beneficial things to learn is another language. This can be done for free online, from the comfort of your own home. If you download the right app, you can use flashcards to advance your learning while waiting at bus stops, while at the dentist’s office or in any number of other locations. Learning another language is an incredibly high return on investment that really puts you into the next category of education. If you want a solid way to gain more respect, broaden your mind and have access to an entire other culture and worldview (not to mention business partnerships and markets), then learning another language is it.
Download an app like Duolingo today and get started.
Over decades you will gradually become erudite, and start to have a real breadth and depth of understanding about the world. This will be empowering and magical in so many ways.
There has never been a better time to teach yourself anything you want to know. Get after it!