Mark Twain allegedly said, “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.” Secular homeschoolers love this quote. We wear it on tie-dye t-shirts, print it on mugs, and I don’t think any of us exist who didn’t love saying it to schoolers and basking in their baffled stares (homeschoolers get a lot of baffled stares so we learn early on to enjoy them).
I went to school for kindergarten, third grade, and freshman year of college so I’m not 100% but I still know a thing or two about teaching yourself, which means never waiting around for the stars to align (a class to be offered, a mentor to take an interest, a goal to be obvious) before pursuing something that interests you. That’s what Mark Twain was saying - to take action, take responsibility, and teach yourself.
Some time-tested techniques:
Do your research.
Look at the people who are already doing what you’re interested in doing. Thanks to the internet, it’s easy to find someone blogging about their process in almost any field you could possibly be interested in. You’ll probably find out how these people got into the field in the first place, what they did in their early career, and what about their work is important to them now.
If you CAN’T find someone who is doing what you want to do, you should ask yourself a couple of questions: are you sure that what you want to do is an actual thing, or are you inventing it? Is it a thing only extremely shy hermits do? Do people maybe call it something else? It’s also possible that the thing you want to do is something that people fall into, or do for a while and leave. That’s hard-mode. Be prepared for a tough time.
The beauty of the research stage is that so much information is available for you to consume without them ever knowing you exist. It lets you get to the next stage, which is:
Try it out.
You’ve probably got questions based on the research you’ve done, but you’ve also got enough information to try things out, to start practicing. Speaking from experience, a good 60%-80% of the questions you have at this stage are things that you can answer yourself by playing around and trying things out. You’ll start to put together a list of questions that you’re not able to answer yourself.
It’s tempting at this stage to skip to the next step early, but realize that it’s only for emotional reasons: you want someone to tell you you’re going about it the right way, that you’re on the right track. The thing is, though, that if you put in the work you’ll be able to tell when you’re stuck and you’ll get way more out of solving your own problems than was
Find someone who’s doing it, and ask them the questions you can’t answer.
Imagine you’ve only got three questions with this person. You don’t want to ask them a question where their answer is, “just do it.” That’s what the previous step is for – when you start out, you don’t know which of your questions you can answer yourself, but someone more experienced definitely does. Answering “Just do it” is totally unrewarding for the more experienced person, because you so obviously would have known the answer if you’d tried, and nobody feels like their help is actually helping if the person isn’t trying.
A real question is a delight to answer… but most likely the overall answer to your questions is going to be: “work really hard."
Work really hard.
There’s no way around it. People say it takes 10,000 hours to get good at something, and from my experience that’s true. Look for smarter ways to work, but be wary of secret shortcuts and cheats – those are crutches. Crutches in real life are for when you’re injured; crutches in your process are for when you’re on a completely insane deadline, not for everyday use.
Make friends at your level.
It’s tempting to get close to your heroes, but the people who can really help you, and who will be excited to hear what you figure out and share what they figure out, is the people who are at the same stage as you are. Yeah, you’ll be competing with each other, but you’ll also be there as support when something goes wrong. Go through it with a group, before you know it newbies will be asking YOU questions.
Never stop learning. You DON’T need a class to start. You can buy a set of watercolors and play around, or challenge yourself with math problems and google what steps to take to solve them, or just get out there and fail miserably at whatever it is.
You’ll never be worse at X than you are right now. How empowering is that?