I was inspired to write this after reading an article about self-taught ‘whitehat’ hackers from small Indian villages being employed by Facebook and other major tech companies to find bugs in their software, and earning millions (of rupees) in the process.
It’s a well-known fact that many successful people – including some of the world’s most successful – got where they are through a canny combination of determination and self-education. I can’t include myself in their number, but like them I’ve acquired much of the knowledge I use in my day job off my own back.
I should probably make it clear at the outset that I’m not saying that school is a waste of time – it’s a crucial foundation – but just that in today’s world of easy access to information online and over-inflated university tuition fees, finding your own way is not only a viable but often necessary option.
My Self-Taught Story
Having knowledge forced down your throat at school can really suck the joy out of learning.
As a kid I did nothing but draw, paint and write illustrated books and comics to the extent that my mum would proudly tell her friends that I would [probably] grow up to be an artist.
I guess I did in a way, but it took me a good few years to get here. After ploughing through years of Fine Art A-Level and GCSE, which were enjoyable in many ways except for the gruelling pace with which you were expected to churn out artwork, I became pretty disillusioned and packed the paintbrushes away.
It was only after several years in marketing, where I frequently worked with graphic designers on projects to the point where I ended up teaching myself Adobe Creative Suite and doing some of the work myself, that I found I’d come full circle.
This time it was a mouse (or Wacom tablet) that was my instrument.
Graphic design was initially a way of getting my ideas down rather than having to attempt to describe them in an email to whoever was working for me. However I soon realised it was just an extension of what I’d enjoyed all along. My creative output had simply evolved, and was now a useful part of my marketing ‘toolkit’. It’s now a core part of what I do.
I keep reading about Imposter’s syndrome which is apparently quite a common disease plaguing many young people and women in particular.
Otherwise intelligent, successful people will panic that at any moment the world will discover they are a fraud with no real talent. It sounds like a very modern disease, and one that’s not surprising given that the internet serves up a constant stream of ‘Other People Doing Awesome Stuff, All The Time’.
I’ve suffered from it quite a bit myself, particularly since going freelance. Many people I’ve met who are starting out on their own have experienced the same. I’ve found that getting stuck in and learning new things has definitely helped to negate those feelings.
There’s something about learning at your own pace, and in a format that suits you, that is quite addictive.
This time last year I did an evening course in web development, which was exhausting after a full day in the office and I would be dreaming about code for days afterwards. Honestly, I can’t remember a time when I got as much of a kick out of learning as I did from those lessons.
I’ve become borderline obsessed with graphic design blogs and tutorials as a way of doing a little something each day to better myself and improve my skill set. I’m currently particularly interested in typography and I’m researching how to create my own font.
My 7 Tips to Teach Yourself Something New (And Enjoy It)
It wouldn’t be a proper blog post without a list of tips. Here’s a few of my own on how to get a kick out of learning and add some more strings to your bow:
- Challenge yourself to learn one new thing a day, or to get to grips with a subject in, say, 6 months. Break it down and tackle one area at a time or you’ll soon get overwhelmed. Learn the boring bits first and then you’ll have the fun stuff to look forward to.
- Enrol in an online course. You can guarantee there is one for pretty much any subject that tickles your fancy. You’d be amazed how many are free, or for a small cost, and there are even courses which will assign you a remote ‘tutor’ to assess and critique your progress. You can do most of them in your own time to fit around your day job too, so there are no excuses.
- If you prefer a bit more structure and human interaction, there’s always adult education and evening/weekend courses. These are often run by universities and colleges.
- Read, read, read. Consume everything you can find, from blogs to online guides to specialist magazines to forums. Set 15 minutes aside every day, jump on Google, make a cup of coffee and CONSUME (the knowledge). Use the time you’d otherwise spend scrolling through your Twitter feed for the tenth time that day – time is precious, put it to good use!
- Go to conferences and industry events, meet like-minded people and pick their brains. Many will have started out in exactly the same boat as you are in. Nothing organised for your area? Create one!
- On a similar note, use social networking and industry forums to reach out to peers for advice, feedback and guidance. Linkedin is great for this, or you could try Quora to reach out to a wider audience who aren’t your connections.
- And last of all, just bloody enjoy it. Your main is an amazing thing, don’t let it go to waste.