The title of this blog post should not be something controversial. It should not be something I even need to bother admitting. I am not an autodidact. Frankly, neither are you.
Two things have happened here. One is that the word has had some pretty extensive semantic creep, and poor defining. We think about those long nights at home by ourselves and we think “yea, I taught myself.” Ok, maybe. But if you read the textbook and went to the class, where did the learning happen? If you first encountered the idea in the textbook, how do you know you weren’t primed for it by the teacher in some previous lesson? I don’t think that is learning by yourself. Not like Sir Isaac Newton did it.
The other things that I think has happened is that autodidact has become one of those meaningless Curiculum Vitae that we use to build ourselves up with. Just like anyone who has thought about a business calls themselves an entrepreneur, or the fact that your boss once gave you twenty bucks to get a newspaper warrants you writing “monetary responsibilities” on your resume. These are the quotidian lies of modern society. Of course you put autodidact on your resume. You are still talking about all those things you learned from that one book you read. But I get it. It looks good on your resume. And these are the times of patting each other on the back excesively. In 2022, we are all a little bit of Elizabeth Holmes.
I have spent a really good portion of the pandemic engaged in pursuits of learning. It wasn’t easy it wasn’t fun, and it wasn’t fruitful. But I did it. What I came away with is an understanding that I am not an autodidact. I am a social learner. I learn best in classrooms, surrounded by peers. I don’t think I have ever been. Studying at home by myself is miserable. Absolutley so. I not only no longer want to do it, I am not sure I know why anyone would want to do it. But this isn’t just about my not liking it, I also think it doesn’t work. One of the things I did over the pandemic was a Project Management course, hoping to get a better job out of it. The course (via Coursera and Google) is meant to be pretty practical. A lot of what you are learning is pretty much just common sense, and jumping through certain organizational hopes. And yet, without the social side of learning I don’t think what I am getting here is going to stick. The course won’t work because there is no practical place to hang my hat and be able to try or discuss the things I am learning.
(Oddly enough, this isn’t the case for things that are abstract enough. I do abstract things really well – specifically things like modelling systems (go figure with a degree in semiotics ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ ), but that is a weird exception. We all needs a talent, amiright?)
And I doubt that you are an autodidact too. It’s probably something of a rarity. But I am going to pride myself in being honest, and come right out and say it.