How to teach yourself anything

How to teach yourself anything

The quickest way to kill a passion is to learn about it in school.

From a young age, I adored reading and writing stories. But when I received writing assignments in school, I dreaded doing them. There were so many rules. Do this, don’t do that, don’t offend your classmates, adhere to the vocabulary list from this week. Then the teacher wouldn’t grade me based on my ability, but rather how well I followed the rules.

A dear friend of mine went off to school with a love for film and cinematography. He wanted to be challenged, critiqued and surrounded by the greats.

What happened instead was he became boxed in. Instead of creating and making inspiring videos, he was reading a lot about making great videos. He would make something, and the professor would say, “yeah this is nice and all, but you didn’t follow the guidelines for this assignment”.

College can be great for studies in a multitude of areas. But when it comes to creatives, unless you’re attending a specialized school, the learning process often misses the point.

Not to mention, it’s kind of the ultimate form of disheartenment when you’re forking out more money than you’ve ever seen in your life, and some wizard with a beard is telling you he can’t give you a passing grade because you forgot that one detail of the final that was outlined in section 4F of the class syllabus.

If you want to learn something, then start by teaching yourself. If you can count on yourself to put out the time, responsibility, and commitment to learning a subject, then you can trust yourself to make heftier investments in that learning process down the line.

This is my general method for teaching myself a new skill and/or subject.



What’s nice about this is that most books found in a bookstore are 10x (if not more) less expensive than college textbooks. They’re also typically more enjoyable, easier to digest, and found at a local library. Use Amazon to look for the top 15 rated books in the niche/area you’re trying to study. Make a plan to start working your way through consuming each book. When you finish the first pile, start another. Hopefully, at some point, you start discovering a niche specialization within your interest. Then you can start narrowing down your studies even more.



Learn who the greatest in the industry are. Who are the names that everyone in that area knows? Become familiar with them, their work, their stories. What have they done, read, consumed, used, to get them where they are today? This is the part where you start to lose hope. You think, “how can I ever get to where they are?”. It’s ok. Take a step back and do a little more research. Find people who have found success at a smaller scale. They’re doing what you want to do but where they are isn’t so intimidating. These are the people that make you say “ok, I think I can do that”. Now copy everything they do and have done. Seriously. It’s time to steal like an artist.



The key is consistency. Make sure you end every day knowing you learned at least one new thing about your passion. This is what will separate you from school (asides from the price). One hour, and hopefully at the same time every day, you sit down and do your work. Do nothing else. This is your dedication, commitment, and dream, in action. If you can do more than an hour, then do it.



Everything you learn will be worthless if you never do anything with it. You don’t have to wait for clients, opportunities, or the like to start showing off what you can do. If you’re a photographer, create your own assignment and start taking photographs for your portfolio. If you’re a designer, create your own mockups and rebranding concepts for made-up clients. You can go further by creating videos and articles to teach what you have learned. If you find yourself struggling over a question and then finally get the answer to it, that’s a good clue that you should put that solution up somewhere online.



Once you’ve done A through D for a while you’ll start to feel more confident in your abilities. Not a ton, because imposter syndrome is a real thing that affects us all, but at least a little bit. Learning is a life-long process, and the greats of anything never stop doing it. But there comes a point where learning becomes a paralysis if it’s the only thing you’re doing. If you’ve made it this far, then this is the point where you know it’s time to begin the real education of a subject: experience. Jump on and apply to opportunities that make you scared. The ones that seem like they’re out of your reach. That’s where the growth will happen. You’ll win the opportunity and feel scared for your life. But then you’ll find yourself in there, doing it, learning a sh*t ton.


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