No, I’m not calling you a mean name. If “autodidact” is a new word to you, take heart. I didn’t learn it until just a few years ago and I learned it from a self-proclaimed autodidact’s professional profile!
An autodidact is someone who is self-taught. I have met
people who take pride in being self-made and self-taught. I have met people who
felt “less than” because they were self-taught instead of “formally taught” in
a school setting. I am here to tell you that BOTH formal education AND learning
on your own are strengths. Not every person learns the same way. I happen to be
both an autodidact AND formally educated.
I am addicted to learning – all kinds of learning. I love to
figure things out for myself. I love to dig, delve, research, play. I also love
to find an expert and have that person answer my questions and guide me through
a new process, procedure, or program (software and otherwise). My kids laugh
because whenever I see words, I read them; sometimes I wish I hadn’t. “There
were words. I couldn’t stop myself!”
I have worked with many autodidacts and have learned
IMMENSELY from them. Two in particular come to mind whenever I think of
consummate autodidacts, however. One worked at a nonprofit organization in
Yakima, WA as a case manager for job seekers changing career paths. She got
hired for the position because of how well she understood the work (she had
worked her way up the ladder), the organization, and the clientele (she also
had experienced a career change and had gone through the same program for which
she now provided case management).
This wonderful woman and I sat down one day and talked. She
never got a college degree. She was working in a position that preferred a
master’s degree level of education. She had worked in the trucking industry all
her professional life in various positions. “Suddenly,” she was counseling
people who had college degrees of various levels, had worked in diverse
professions, and whose background varied from hers. She approached case management
differently from others in her position on her team. She approached job hunting
and mock interviews differently. She felt “less than” because she lacked the
formal education. I’ll come back to her in a moment.
The other wonderful woman who comes to mind as the
consummate autodidact has been primarily self-employed since the 1980s and
lives in Indiana. She has done everything from typesetting on “old” printing
machines to formatting ebooks for Kindle and other formats. She has done
website creation, social media marketing, technical writing, editing,
technology back-end automation to make things easy on herself and her clients.
She also has done formal workshops, training, and professional speaking. She is
PHENOMENAL. She has a bachelor’s degree in marketing. Basically everything I
listed that she has done, she has learned on her own or on the job – primarily
due to her own researching mind, curiosity, and unquenchable thirst for
knowledge and new tricks of the trade. She felt “less than” because she does
not have the formal training that “certifies” her immense knowledge.
Returning to the case manager: I sat with her. I talked to
her about how she approaches her clients. I talked to her about how she builds
rapport and understanding. I talked to her about how she empathizes with her
clients. I asked her if her clients receive help from her. I asked her if her
clients have thanked her. I asked her if her clients have learned from her. I
asked her if her clients feel encouraged. All questions received an affirmative
answer. YES, all her clients were assigned to her because she was the case manager that could connect best with them. SHE
could show them that a career change is an opportunity for growth, NOT a brick
wall stopping their progress. She understood the despair that unemployment
brought AND the joy of learning new skills. She was able to teach effectively
because she had learned “the hard way” by learning things on her own.
Additionally, she was able to learn new things from others without questioning
or stumbling because, for her, it was always hands-on.
Returning to the self-employed powerhouse: she and I talked
about conversations she’s had with people who have the “paper certification”
that followed the formal education to teach some of the things she knows. SO
MANY people have been astonished by all that she knows and how things interact
with each other to improve a business’ function and the business owner’s life
as well as employees’ lives. She doesn’t have a graphic design degree, but one
of her associates with that degree has told her that she has a graphic
designer’s eye. She doesn’t have LEAN Six Sigma certification, but I would put
the way that she approaches processes and creates efficiency against anyone
with the certification. She amazes me every time I talk to her.
I have Doctor of Management in Organizational Development
and Change. I also have learned much by “playing” with computer software,
processes, and independent reading and application. I love combining my formal
education with my practical education. Most of all, I LOVE combining my formal
education and practical education with THESE TWO WONDERFUL autodidacts and
others like them. I occasionally sit back in awe of people who have “learned by
doing” or “learned by pulling up [their] bootstraps and jumping in.” That takes
a lot of courage.
These two wonderful women inspired me to write an
affirmation for autodidacts. They both identify with it. Maybe it will apply to
you. Maybe it will apply to others you know. I challenge you to find the
autodidacts in your life. If YOU are the autodidact, OWN it and all the
glorious strengths and glory it brings to who you are and what you add to the
world. Share with me in the comments experiences you have had with autodidacts
or as an autodidact. Let’s recognize the strengths autodidacts display in being
themselves! If you’re not an autodidact, you also have wonderful strengths that
have gotten you where you are. I’d love to hear about them.
Autodidact Affirmation by Dr. Catherine Wiberg:
I am proud to be an autodidact.
Autodidact: one who is self-taught
This means I:
• Learn new things from the inside out
• Incorporate previous knowledge into new lessons
• Automatically make connections between experiences
• Have creative approaches to daily tasks
• Use my “intuition” to learn, test, help people around me, and “trust my gut”
• Discover, develop, and then teach
• Can meet anyone “where you are right now” because I’ve probably been there
• My education is real-world application
• I ask questions
• I find answers
• I am NOT afraid
I am an autodidact.
Hear me Roar and watch me Soar!
Read another autodidact’s story: George Eastman, the creator of Kodak and the beginning of efficient and skilled photography as we know it.