How I Learned to Learn

English: Method for learning and education.

A book, an open air market, and a serious discussion with my mother all held equally valid stances as “learning time” in my childhood. I remember hearing from very early on that I was “always learning,” and I believed it.

Nevertheless, after completing my undergrad degree, I felt that there was so much stuff I didn’t know, especially when it came to the practical side of life and pursuing my dreams.

When a friend told me that an author who I wildly respected was not just a stay-at-home mom who wrote a bestselling novel series, but an educated woman with her master’s degree, my throat tightened into ice.

Do I need more formal education to be successful? Am I trying to flail through life unprepared?

I was tossed by an inner storm. I have many friends who feel behind or inferior to than those in their field who formally studied their subject of choice. The truth is, formal study only gets you so far.

Passionate, self-directed study gets you a heck of a lot further.

I didn’t choose to attend grad school. Instead, I recognized that my education wasn’t complete, and then pursued mentors, resources, and people to admire. I approached the speakers at conferences who had particularly moved me, thanked them, started friendships via email, and read their books.

I’ve been adopted as an unofficial student by three writing masters because of this process. They love how carefully I listen and take notes. They tell me books to read and the exercises to try. I read the books and tell them what I think. They explain where I’m still naïve, and I blush and try again.

I’ll probably never view my education as complete. Life’s demands constantly call us to greater heights of experience and knowledge. But education via a sanctioned institution, while incredibly helpful and structured, isn’t our only option.

You can use this to get started:


  1. Decide one thing (and only one) that you want to excel at.
  2. Ask people you know for recommended resources (books, conferences, etc) on this subject.
  3. Read the books, attend the events, and meet others on your same path. Befriend some of them.
  4. Put into practice as much of your learning as you possibly can. Create a personal schedule for this.
  5. Find or create a community to share your results.

If you can manage anything close to this, you will find your mind and heart growing so quickly, you’ll never regret your past choices in education, because you’re making a brilliant foray into your future.

Have you created your own “grad school”? I want to hear your stories!

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This Post Has 8 Comments

  1. I love this, Elise!
    You have codified a process that I, too, deeply believe in: self-directed education, mentors, and I think your point about finding a community to practice in is incredibly helpful.
    Thanks for sharing!

    1. This resonates with you–good! I think it’s important that we all see how much control we can have over our own education, especially as adults figuring out the “what next” of our lives. It’s encouraging!

  2. Very well said, Niece! Yes, yes and yes to this. You will always have more to learn, but you don’t need a school to learn it. Good job.

    1. Thanks! I want to make sure we all know know that our education can continue for as long as we have passion to pursue greater knowledge.

  3. After nursing school, I never wanted to read a book again. Ever. I was so burnt out from school. It was when I started teaching my kids that my inquisitiveness returned; I have studied myself many different things since then. Not perhaps on a graduate level, but certainly I have been blessed to learn a lot about children, cooking, music, gardening, water coloring, and many homie types of things. Nor am I afraid to tackle study, as I return to nursing through a structured (though self paced and self policed) refresher course……

    1. I didn’t know you were doing a refresher course! That’s awesome! I also think it’s interesting that your curiosity returned when teaching your kids. It’s exciting to know it can resurface even when you think it’s gone forever.

  4. Thank you for this blueprint! It’s fun to see an outline of how you went about your own “grad program.” It definitely paid off! You have incredible discipline…like the ninja of writers. 🙂

    1. Aw, thank you. I like the idea of a disciplined ninja writer. It’s motivating. 😀

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