The first step on the road to self-education is accepting responsibility for your own learning. Unfortunately, too many people hide behind school in order to avoid actual education. Instead of being a writer, a programmer, or a carpenter, they define themselves as a “student.”
Being a student isn’t a bad thing by any means. However, real learners don’t define themselves by the schools they attend. They recognize their passions and pursue their own dreams. School can be a way to get started, but it isn’t an all encompassing way to see yourself.
One of the best explanations of this topic is Paul Graham’s essay What You’ll Wish You’d Known. Although his words are directed at high schoolers, they apply to college students and anyone who defines themselves by their alma mater:
“If you’d asked me in high school what the difference was between high school kids and adults, I’d have said it was that adults had to earn a living. Wrong. It’s that adults take responsibility for themselves. Making a living is only a small part of it. Far more important is to take intellectual responsibility for oneself.
If I had to go through high school again, I’d treat it like a day job. I don’t mean that I’d slack in school. Working at something as a day job doesn’t mean doing it badly. It means not being defined by it. I mean I wouldn’t think of myself as a high school student, just as a musician with a day job as a waiter doesn’t think of himself as a waiter. And when I wasn’t working at my day job I’d start trying to do real work.”
If you haven’t read Graham’s classic essay, take a look. Then start thinking about how you see yourself. When people ask what you do, do you say you’re a student / employee? Or do you start discussing your passions? Become an active learner instead of a member of an institution.