The Birth of Self-Guided Education (the only real option left)

Written by Scott December 7, 2011

self guided education

“There is no graduation from education.”

~Rachel Denning, a loyal LYL reader

Warning: From time to time I go on a small rant about the importance of taking control of your education, what you learn and how you use it. Today is one of those posts. This is one of the most crucial topics I have on my mind right now and I would really like your thoughts on it. Share in the comments below your ideas for creating your own eduction, what tools you use (online and off) and your experience so far. Now more than ever, it’s on us. If you’re reading this in email, click here to contribute your ideas. Your responses will have a lot to do with the next big thing I build.

Simply put, this post is a call to arms. And I need all your help.

*Update: The week after writing this post, I put together to Unofficial Self-Guided Education Manifesto (aka: the 27 principles to teach yourself anything) complete with a free PDF download and info-graphic to keep us inspired. You can access the manifesto here.

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The widening theory gap

Lately I’ve been wondering if it makes sense to drop out of school. Whether one should really stick it through four years of college or another couple years for an MBA or other advanced degree.

I went to college at UC Santa Barbara. I loved it. I studied Business Economics, Accounting and Spanish. I worked my ass off and actually did pretty well. I even graduated with high honors in the top 5% of my peers.

I tell you this to better set the scene for what happened next.

Fast forward 8 years later and now a large portion of my business time is spent running an investment fund, Cumbre Capital (that and Live Your Legend are my two babies), with a good friend of mine. You might think that was the logical step after studying accounting, economics and finance.

The thing is, by the time we launched our fund, I had remembered precisely zero applicable skills from my studies.

Everything I apply in my investing work today, I had to relearn from scratch.

This makes we wonder, did I really ever learn practical tools or did it all stop at theory? When you have many professors who studied to be professors, it’s tough to get past the theory part…

Granted I did have a few lights-out entrepreneurs for teachers (you know, the ones who had gone out and actually had experiences and built things), who dramtically impacted my experience and life. They are still very close friends. But sadly they were the rare exceptions.

Rethinking higher education

Last week I attended an inspiring TEDx event in San Francisco on Rethinking Higher Eduction.

The core message was simple: if we want a useful and valuable real-life education, we have to take it upon ourselves to build it.

It took me about a decade to figure out what these brilliant speakers all hit over my head in a matter of hours. That’s why I’ve read What Color is Your Parachute half a dozen times. It’s why I attend a few focused seminars each year. It’s why I hang out with passionate people. It’s why I took the GMAT and never attended business school (nor applied). It’s why I started Live Your Legend and it’s why I created Live Off Your Passion.

The TED speakers included Bror Saxberg (Chief Learning Officer of Kaplan), Michael Ellsberg (author of The Education of Millionaires- mentioned in last week’s post) and Dale Stephens (one of the 20 Under 20 Peter Thiel Fellowship winners. He also founded Uncollege.org)

At times it seemed like it was an all out bash on formal college and post-college education. Pretty entertaining given the level of sophistication of most of the audience and how many formal credentials there likely were in the room. Yet not only were the 200 or so folks in the room listening, we were on the edge of our seats. People roared in acceptance and agreement as each speaker left the stage. Regardless of everyone’s background, they knew something was broken and it desperately needed fixing.

The exciting thing is all of us are going to be the ones to do it.

The end of credentials

The topic begs the question:

What skills, education and experiences do we really need in order achieve and build things that will have the impact on the world we know we can have?

In many cases the answer is a lot different than we’ve been brainwashed. If you’re looking for a job the traditional (and wildly ineffective) way, you are going to need credentials. No question. And as many as one can have. But by most studies, less than 20% of jobs get filled via this traditional route. That means that as many as 80% or more of the jobs are filled before their listing ever hits craigslist, Monster, Career Building or whatever other mindless keyword searching robot job site you decide to use.

Those other 80% are filled by people you know and by people who know the people you know. That’s why your network of passionate people trumps everything. I guarantee that when I decide to hire someone to work with me to build the bigger vision at Live Your Legend (which I’ll likely do next year), I won’t give so much as a thought to what their formal credentials are. I also won’t post an ad on a job site.

Why would I?

Instead, I’ll ask a couple dozen of my entrepreneurial buddies and then I’ll hone down candidates based on referral source, what they’ve built in the past and my ability to personally connect with them and our beliefs about the world.

This is exactly why I wrote The Hacker’s Guide to Finding a Job: 9 Tactics No One’s Using for Jonathan Fields a while back. If we want results, we have to focus our time in the right place.

birth of self learning

Becoming your own expert

The night after the TED event I spent the evening with two good friends of mine, Corbett and Leo, having dinner and beers at Raddish, an impressive new spot in the Mission in SF. The topics covered business, charity, marketing, fitness (Leo had just completed the insane Goruck Challenge) and more than anything, education.

In a way, all three of us, through our blogs, businesses and online courses, are trying to offer a form of much more practical education based on very specific topics – all revolving around our practical experiments and experiences with the world (you notice you don’t find much theory on any of our sites).

Corbett has gone so far as launching a whole new business and site dedicated to rapid practical learning. It’s called Expert Enough. His recent article, A Brief Guide to Becoming an Expert, is worth a quick read. I might even try to twist his arm to write a guest post on Live Your Legend sometime soon ;).

The topic of expertise is a huge passion of mine and something I cover a lot in the recent Live Off Your Passion course. Mainly because I wish I would have had tools like this when I was just starting out, totally lost and listening to the status quo much too often.

For most people, expertise is massively misunderstood.

There’s all this talk of 10,000 hours to become a world-class expert at something. But what if you don’t care about being the best in the world? What if the top 5, 10 or 15% is enough for you?

Well as it turns out, that takes dramatically fewer hours. It’s something that I believe anyone can achieve if they care enough about it. As I talked about in last week’s guest post on ZenHabits, 3 Simple Steps to Making Money from Any Passion, most of us are already experts at something and don’t even realize it. Since we’ve been, say, juggling flaming Coke bottles (or whatever you happen to love doing) for the past decade or two, we are already on a level where all kinds of people would happily line up to learn from us, pay us for the lesson and even say thank you as they leave.

Pretty powerful to realize, eh?

And if you decide there’s something else you want to be expert enough in, you can be. And often times it can be done in under six months if you really put your head down.

I have a feeling what Corbett is doing with Expert Enough is going light a whole new movement on fire. I plan to be a big part of it.

Showing up is not enough

I believe that with the right community, drive and passion, you can become anything. And you don’t need a diploma, acronyms or some arbitrary credentials to tell you you can. In fact, often times those credentials come with the belief that you have to walk a predefined societal line.

That’s something that’s very difficult to unlearn. Perhaps it’s best to not learn it in the first place…

I’m not saying you or your kids shouldn’t go to college, business school or some of the other options out there (that’s for you to decide). But what I am saying is that in a lot of cases it’s not necessary. And in fact can be a hinderance. Yes, I said it…

Try to give it some detached, unbiased thought and I think you might agree.

But if you do decide to get formal with your education, it is NOT enough to just show up and learn. That’s the easy part.

The challenging (and much more fun) part is to question things. Question everything. To take at least 25% of your time and energy and direct it towards building your own curriculum. To taking online or offline courses (not affiliated with formal schooling) and testing and building businesses and ideas to see what works. To see what you love. To see what you hate.

This is where the real learning happens. Don’t take anything for granted.

It’s time to drop out of ‘traditional school’

Before you get angry, let me clarify…

We have to drop out of expecting to learn what we need just by showing up. This goes for every school of life, not just formal university.

And you can never, absolutely never, drop out of learning. Learn everything of interest you can get your hands on. Become expert enough to reach goals, to help people, to make a living doing what you love.

No one is going to do this for you. No school system, no book, no teacher – It’s on you. You have more tools than you’ve ever had and the potential for putting them to use grows daily.

In ten or twenty years from now I see an education system (be it formal or informal) that teaches us our natural strengths and talents and caters to them. One that shows the tools we want and need to make the impact on the world only we can. One where theory is optional but practical application is mandatory.

This is what I call Self-Guided Eduction. And this is just the birth of it…

The good news is you don’t have to wait for it to happen. You can create yours tomorrow. Better yet, today.

And no one can stop you. No one. You’re free to learn, apply and build whatever you want. But you’ll only see progress if you depend on yourself to make it happen.

We get to create our own university. We have to…

I can’t wait to see what we all do with it.

How have you taken control of your eduction? 

This is the beginning of a very big theme on Live Your Legend and throughout the world. I want to hear your thoughts. What about the social skills and connections you make at traditional schools? I didn’t cover that on purpose because I want to hear your thoughts first (then I’ll chime in). If reading this in email, click here to comment.

How have you taken it upon yourself to learn the things that have allowed you to experience huge goals, do work you love or get the job that most only dream of? Share your process, specific online tools or resources. Share it all. We need it.

Together we can put a dent in a massively broken system!

Thank you.

*Update: Be sure to check out the Unofficial Self-Guided Education Manifesto (aka: the 27 principles to teach yourself anything) I put together the week after writing the above article. You can also download a free PDF and info-graphic to keep you inspired! You can access the manifesto here.

Here are a few other hand-picked articles I’ve written on self-guided education:

How Business School Killer the Entrepreneur (and some worthy alternatives) 

How Living Legends Ensure Success: The One No-Brainer Thing You Must Do Daily (it’s not what you think)

Rule #1: Surround Yourself with Passionate People

On Modeling the Impossible and How to Do Anything

From Lost to Legendary: The 6 Pillars of Hacking Human Potential

Follow this Process & I Guarantee You’ll Do Work That Lights You on Fire

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“It was 18 months ago when I came across Live Your Legend and it just completely blew my mind. I was living this life thinking I have to kind of just do this. Then it was like a kid on Christmas Day with my wife thinking ‘we don’t have to do this anymore.’ It was literally a life change. It opened so many doors. Thanks for everything you’re doing.”

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