The 27 Principles to Teaching Yourself Anything (aka The Self-Guided Education Manifesto + PDF download)

Written by Scott December 14, 2011

Self guided education manifesto

“I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.” —Mark Twain

Note: This post is intentionally long. It’s meant to be our compass for learning the skills that matter in the world and throwing theory out the window. Read it. Save it. Bookmark it. Come back to it. Print it and post it on your wall for you and the world to see and experience.

At the end of this post I’ve even provided two free PDF downloads to further guide you towards learning what matters (one is a list of over 30 of the best online resources for creating your own passion-filled curriculum). Check them out below. If you’re in email, be sure to click here to read this online to get the free content.

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Enter the Unofficial Self-Guided Education Manifesto…

Last week’s article on The Birth of Self-Guided Education caught like wildfire. This topic has always been a passion of mine but I had no idea how much it would resonate with the rest of the Live Your Legend community. Over 4,500 of you read it, shared it or commented on it in a matter of a few days.

When that happens, I know a topic deserves some respect.

Many of last week’s comments blew my mind. As it turns out (and this should not surprise me much), many of you have already made amazing progress constructing your own experiences and success stories with Self-Guided Education. I was inspired to say the least. My realization was simple:

Living Legends create their own education.

The truth of the matter is every Living Legend (whether they dropped out of high school or got a couple PhD’s) took their education and their learning into their own hands. I don’t care what profession you’re in or aspire to, it’s on all of us to start learning the skills, tools and practical knowledge that matters.

For years I’ve been wanting to create a separate business on this topic but given the awesome momentum we’ve drummed up here, I say we run with it…

If we are going to really take this personalized education thing seriously, we must have a guide to help us on our way. Just as every great company has operating principles and every great person has values they believe in, we need our own lighthouse.

So I spent the last few days compiling the most fundamental lessons and principles I could find on Self-Guided Education. They are by no means inclusive and I know we will add to them over time, but they are indeed a start. For now, these are the sum of both my experiences and that of the Living Legends I’ve spent time with over the years. Many of your comments from last week and beyond helped make this manifesto what it is. Thank you.

So without further ado…

The 27 Principles to Teach Yourself Anything  (aka The Self-Guided Education Manifesto)

1. Theory is optional. Practical application is mandatory. Constantly ask yourself whether or not this new knowledge will make you more useful – both for helping others and for pursing your own dreams. Practical application rules the world. That’s what’s going to get you a job. It’s what will get you a promotion. It’s what will get your idea off the ground. What will get you funded. It’s what will make you money. It’s what will actually help people. Feel free to learn the theory too if that’s your thing (at times it can be fun), but never at the expense of learning what’s actually usable.

2. Showing up is just the beginning. It’s no longer enough to show up to class, do the homework and take the the tests. That’s table stakes. This is as true for formal education as it is for life. You must be willing to take what you learn and test, experiment and apply it to things that matter to you so you can see what actually works, what’s worthwhile and what’s a waste. No one else can do that for you.

3. Put yourself in situations where learning is required to survive and thrive. If your job, hobby or passion doesn’t require you to constantly learn then something’s wrong. Make it a must and you can’t help but grow. Sitting around pounding a keyboard and taking orders doesn’t require many new ideas. Changing the world does. Take the right risks and create the proper environment. *Thanks to Anne Samoilov for inspiring this one.

4. Learn who you are. Know your strengths, passions, weaknesses, talents, gifts, values, experiences, successes, failures. Dig inside yourself and test it all. I’ve spent the last ten years going to school on myself and I’m only just beginning. This is a constant. It’s exactly why I created the Live Off Your Passion eCourse. Becoming a self-expert should be a required minor (if not major) for every university student.

5. Learn what you love. This is the next step in knowing yourself. Constantly pay attention to the things that excite you. Notice which people who inspire and motivate you to be a better person. Catch yourself dreaming about the business you wish you would have started. Find the tasks and jobs that you get absolutely lost in. Watch closely.

6. Learn what you hate. The “I hate to do” list can be just as powerful as the “I love to do” list. Notice the things that make your hair stand up on end. Know which activities and personalities make you want to vomit. Avoid these like the plague. Society does not benefit from you spending more time doing things you hate or getting better at things you suck at. That is not what improvement is about. It’s about taking the best of you and making it better. The world will be better for it.

“90% of my education was outside of the classroom.” -Paul Jun, LYL reader

7. Don’t take anything for granted. Go out and test it all. I’m talking everything. This especially goes for those lessons, suggestions and “social norms” that seem completely ridiculous. If something tells you there must be a better way, there likely is. Go out and find it. Just because it was done one way for 30 years, does not mean it has to be done the same way tomorrow. In fact, the longer something has been practiced, the more it should probably be questioned.

8. Record everything. What you love. What you hate. What you’re good at. What you suck at. What inspires you. What depresses you. Every emotion and lesson, positive and negative, write it down and understand how it’s forming your story and how you can use it to better learn and apply going forward.

9. Be careful who you learn from. My personal rule is: once three trusted and admired people recommend something, I do it. The only problem with our new world of self-guided education is that there is more absolute crap available to learn than ever before. There are tsunamis of books being published, blogs being created and courses being offered today. By default this means the sheer number of mediocre or downright bad content available is going through the roof. Your time and your mind are precious. Find a way to filter what you consume.

10. Analyze every investment. This and the above go hand in hand. Our time is priceless and our money comes in at a close second. For every dollar and every hour you’re investing, be sure you’re getting a return. That could be in the people you meet, the businesses you build, the skills you acquire, or anything that you attribute genuine value to. You decide.

If more people scrutinized their investment in education like they do the shiny, expensive trinkets they buy, I bet we’d have a lot fewer folks walking around looking for jobs with theory-filled diplomas and a mountain of debt. In order for something to be an investment, it must have a return. Keep your standards high.

11. Teach others. There is no better indication of true knowledge than when you can genuinely help and teach someone else the material. Give, give, give. The high is unreal. Yesterday morning I interviewed Simon Sinek (author of Start With Why) for Live Your Legend (it will be live in mid January!). He hammered home the fundamental truth that we are here to serve and help others. Nothing makes us feel better. Check out Simon’s recent talk If You Don’t Understand People, Your Don’t Understand Business, for an added kick in the ass.

You know things that others want to know. Identify that and find a way to offer it. Use a blog, the web, a community group, your family, anything. Trade knowledge. If you can teach something to someone else, chances are they can teach something to you too.

12. Build things. This starts from day one. If you are reading about how to write, then start writing. If you’re being taught how to interview, they go find some job openings. People dramatically overestimate how much time them must spend learning before they start doing. The answer is exactly ZERO. The moment you start learning is the moment you must start building and testing.

13. Break things. Don’t expect everything you build to work. In fact, most of it won’t. That’s where the best learning happens anyway in the screw-ups and the failures and in what you do as a result. The Wright Brothers were rumored to have brought five sets of parts to every attempted test flight because that’s how many times they’d fail before supper. James Dyson went through 5,127 prototypes before he invented the first vacuum that didn’t lose suction. The people who break the most things tend to experience the most success.

14. Make money. Most people don’t make money from things that are fun because they either think it should take much longer or they never ask in the first place. What if you put a price on your experiments from day one? I bet there’s someone who will pay you. And it’s not until you have a paying and satisfied (or unsatisfied) customer, that you really start to learn if your ideas are worth a dime. Does it help people and will they pay you for it? That’s the ultimate decider of whether your ideas and education have merit.

15. Efficient is not the same as Effective. Just because you can hand address 1,000 envelopes in an hour, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t just use a template and print them out in five minutes. And just because you can print 1,000 envelopes in five minutes doesn’t mean you shouldn’t scrap the snail mail altogether and take to YouTube, blogs or the web where you can get some real leverage (although I’m a huge fan of the thoughtful hand-written note on the right occasions).

For some reason we’ve become obsessed with efficiency. But that’s the very thing that might be killing us. Being Efficient is doing things right. Being Effective is doing the right things.There’s a massive difference.

16. Most education happens outside of the classroom. Useful products don’t get built inside your four walls. Learning doesn’t happen inside a 15-pound textbook. The rubber meets the road when we decide to step out of what’s comfortable and actually start interacting with the real world. That’s where the data, the improvement and the magic happens.

“If you want to write your own life, I suggest you start by Googling a course on something interesting to you.” -Eddy Azar, LYL reader

17. Explore. My best education to date was the years I spent studying at the London School of Economics (in a hands-on learning environment) and running a small business in Sevilla, Spain. That changed my understanding of the world in a way that I never could have dreamed of. It made all the difference. World travel ought to be a requirement for everyone. Drop a year of school if you have to to save money. It’s that important. Explore everything. Yourself. Others. Ideas. The world.

18. Connections are EVERYTHING. The people you meet influence what you learn, what you believe and who you are. Constantly evaluate what relationships best serve your goals professionally and personally. Keep the best and fire the rest. Everything magical in the world exists because of the people who came together to make it possible. The world begins and ends with your relationships. This is actually the next course and book I’ve already started working on for all you (tentatively titled How to Connect With Anyone – more on that soon).

19. Don’t assume anything. You may learn your most powerful lessons in the most peculiar of places. Expect this. Search them out. Have fun with it.

20. What if everyone had it backwards? Every so often, sit down and ask yourself: What if everything I’ve been told is completely backwards? What if the pundits are wrong? What would that look like? Invert everything. If you think you need a year of experience to do something, think about what would happen if you started attempting it with only a day under your belt. I’m not saying you do that, but at least think about it. See what comes up. Ok, then maybe give it a shot. ;)  After all, what’s the worst that could happen…

21. Try every medium. Read books and articles, listen to tapes and seminars, watch videos and presentations (TED Talks are a great place to start), write down ideas and stories. There are so many ways for us to learn. Find those mediums that resonate most. Focus your learning there, but then take in the others to turn things on their head from time to time.

22. Get in arguments. Perhaps “discussions” is a better word. With friends, with smart people, with experts, with everyone. Find people who will test your ideas. People who will question your beliefs and help you see things from angles you may have been blind to on your own. It’s amazing how certain we can be of things right up until someone provides a more compelling answer. Be confident enough to stand up for what you believe, but be open enough to know when you’re wrong.

23. Find people who think you’re crazy. Don’t just surround yourself with people who believe exactly what you believe. If you do, you’ll never know if your ideas are truly objective. Good friends, mentors and models are often good at serving the role of devil’s advocate. You want these people around. They make you better.

24. Seek out different ways of doing things. The online world makes this endless. There are a million ways to make a living, change the world and help people. Notice all the ways people have been successful. Find the tools that suit you best. Devour them. *See the end of this post for a free PDF download of over 30 of the best online learning tools I’ve found.

25. Everything is a lesson. Every person. Every experience. Every hardship. All of it is your teacher.

26. Nothing is certain. Beware of those who are overly sure of themselves. There’s often other ways. Don’t be naive.

And finally…

27. It never ends.

There is always more to learn. There’s always more to discover. The learning never ends. Never. I don’t care what your age or stage is. If you’re not learning, you’re dying, literally. The choice should be pretty clear.

Develop a passion for learning like you would for anything else you love. Learn the things that interest you and apply them in ways that make you and others happy and you’ll become addicted in no time. The only option is to make learning an obsession.

And there you have it – just a few principles to get us started.

*By the way… this list is not complete. Nor will it ever be. If I missed anything you think is core to our manifesto, please leave it in the comments below. Add anything you see fit.

We are entering a new world of education.

One where we decide what enters our brain. We decided what matters most. We get to build our curriculum. We get to take control and be responsible for learning the things that will make the biggest difference in our lives.

Why take the reins, you ask?

Because when we focus on learning the things that actually matter, we make the world better.

Welcome to the Self-Guided Education movement.

We’re just getting started and one thing’s for sure… It’s going to be a party.

I’m glad you’re with me.

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Need help building your own education? – Here are 2 free downloads

I created two free subscriber-only tools to help you create your own curriculum:

1. A PDF list of over 30 of the top online sites and resources for learning absolutely anything, on your own terms and for very cheap.

I put together a document with all the best websites and online tools I’ve found for learning just about anything under the sun. Let this be the starting point for creating our own passion-filled curricula.

2. A sharply-designed and formatted PDF version of the above manifesto.

A slightly sexier version of the above manifesto, for you to print out and put up somewhere where it will inspire you and those around you to take control of learning the things that matter.

These resources are free for people who have joined our community at Live Your Legend by subscribing to free email updates.To get the workbooks, just enter your email address in the form below. Don’t worry, if you’re already a subscriber you won’t be double-subscribed, you’ll just get immediate access to the free downloads:

 

*If you don’t see a form, click here to get the free tools.

Scenery images courtesy of a Duncan Fawkes Photography, a loyal and talented LYL reader.
Thanks to Corbett Barr of Expert Enough for the inspiration on the manifesto image. 

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