What is an Autodidact?

I am an autodidact. (Ancient Greek: αὐτός “self” and διδακτικός “teaching”, pronounced: au·to·di·dact).

An autodidact is someone who is self taught. This sometimes means that the person may be very knowledgeable on a subject but lack the formal qualifications that evidence this, but not always so. An autodidact will often utilise whichever learning platforms are available to him, which can include formal learning at school or university as well.
Either way, they are probably well read, Their name on their library card all but worn away from overuse, and they probably live in houses full of books. Of course the modern day autodidact, myself included, is just as likely to have a worn out keyboard from all that internet research they do as well.

Now, I suspect that some people consider it a desirable quality and aspire to be one and therefore chose to label themselves this way when perhaps it does not belong, but I am not such a one. I have been an autodidact as far back as I can remember, and it was only as an adult that I came across the term and there was an instant moment of gleeful recognition… Oh, there are others out there like me!

Why I think I became an autodidact is a topic for a future post, but I think people tend to romanticize it, much like the overused cliché of the protagonist in both fiction and non-fiction stories being impoverished orphans who rise above their limited existence by the strength of their intellect alone.

Leonardo Di Vinci was autodidactic, as was the late Ray Bradbury and the fictional character Will Hunting played by Matt Damon in the film “Good Will Hunting” alongside the very recently late Robin Williams, who deservedly won an Oscar for his performance.
Leonardo Di Vinci was also a polymath which to me seems a desirable quality (though I am not a polymath myself) but I’m sure it has its drawbacks as well and my view of being a polymath is somewhat skewed by my outside perspective. But in terms of autodidactism, I always knew I ticked differently to other around me; although I was not strictly academic, not gifted at mathematics for instances, and terrible at spelling and grammar, I possessed a keen interest in a very broad range of topics and had a strong tendency to take up new hobbies or get absorbed in new things, saturating myself in them until there was nothing more to absorb.
And later on, seeking out and engaging true experts in those topics, focusing obsessively on details, striving for perfection and new ground and even ignoring basic needs like water, food and sleep because I was busy learning something new.

As a teenager I had great trouble deciding what to study at university. I looked at all the prospectuses and I thought they all sounded so fantastic I didn’t know which to choose. My parents and teachers mistook this for procrastination but it wasn’t. The model out there in society just didn’t fit me. Eventually I went to Art College at Falmouth University, but only because that was what I was thought gifted in at that time and I could start on a foundation course which covered all aspects of art from advertising and photography to ceramics, fine art and textiles – in other words, I could put off making a final decision for another year while still experiencing a lot of diversity.

Then I did the obvious thing: I left Art College after that foundation year was complete  and applied for a job in computer software, an industry I knew nothing about. Zilch. The agency gave me an exam and I failed all 50 questions. I was good looking (back then as a 19-year-old) and so I convinced the agency girl put me through anyway but I knew the real boss would reject me the next day at the second interview when he saw my test results. So what did I do? What any autodidact would do of course: I stayed up and studied!

Armed with a copy of the exam questions I learned the answers to all of them that night and the next day at the interview the first thing the boss said, with a perplexed expression on his face was, “why are you hear? You failed.” To which I said, “Ask me any question; today I’ll give you the correct answer.” He looked a little reticent at first, but he went along with it and ten minutes later after I had given perfect answers to all the questions he read to me, he gave me the job.
He even put my starting salary on more than I asked him for.

And so began my first career in software, though I went on to specialise in quality and efficiency management because of its wide remit and varied work. I am now a writer. I am finishing an epic fantasy series, a sci-fi thriller and an allegorical dystopian novel, all of which I plan to publish when able and which I will feature on my blog.

I sometimes absorb myself in a new topic for a day, or even a month or so, before dropping it when there isn’t much more to be sucked out of it, but the core fabric of my interest is writing. I also write occasionally for PhoenixRising and ProHealth on topics relating to myalgic encephalomyelitis, which I suffer from. I suffer as well from ulcerative colitis and may write something about that too.

You can expect a post or two about growing flowers and vegetables, an interest that has stayed with me, and the odd film review, but autodidactism seemed a fitting post to start with as I won’t be able to help writing about a few other things as they kidnap my thoughts along the way, such posts as “how to fix your laptop keyboard” when the S letter stops working unless you really whack it hard, for instance (I expect that post will come up in a week or two).

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3 thoughts on “What is an Autodidact?

  1. Pingback: Why I Review Books and Films (among other things) | The Self-Taught Author

  2. I am self-taught at writing – many of us are, and it isn’t considered so odd there. I love learning new things (such as all the tech aspects of self-publishing for my debut novel last fall), but it takes energy I don’t have, so I can’t indulge myself there very often.

    With the internet, libraries, and Youtube, it is a lot easier these days to learn – but there is a lot more complexity to learn about.

    Liked by 1 person

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