I had always thought that my education ended with the formal "school system" process; information that someone else delivered, a curriculum leading to a diploma that someone would bestow upon me. Information that would prepare me for life.
Sure, I would eventually learn the skills required to succeed in my profession, and perhaps different skills from job to job. But I truly thought that the core of my education was over.
What I learned (pun intended) was that it had never ended. Instead, it was stronger than ever. I discovered that every day, often many times a day, I was learning from someone. Perhaps it was someone from the radio, television, or movies. Perhaps it was a co-worker, a buddy, or even a stranger. I was absorbing information. I was absorbing different ways of thinking. That information, repeated over time, formed my guiding principles and my life roadmap. Bottom line, it defined my worth.
My worth? Hold on, that one was a bit of a stretch. My diploma drove my worth, and my natural movement up the corporate ladder would drive my future worth. I'm not sure where along the way I learned that, but over time I found how untrue that would be.
What I instead learned was a critical guiding principle... that we are all compensated based on the size of the problems we are able to solve. Seriously? Yes. And by coincidence, I discovered it by reading new materials intended to develop such expertise.
The problem? The current information that represented my "education" was teaching me negative thinking, poor habits, lack of discipline. I was listening to complaints about the company and the inequities of the system. I was hearing that I was doing pretty good - certainly good enough. I had no time or concern for addressing the areas that were holding me back. That was lowering, not adding to, my value.
From the neck down, we are all minimum wage. That's a strong statement. The first time I heard it, it was a very convicting statement. While going about my work, I had never contemplated my value. I never contemplated my potential value. In my current position, I was being compensated based on the worth of the job I was performing. Indeed, for the size of the problems I was solving. It was my value in that role. But what was I doing to enhance that value, whether applied in that role or a future opportunity? What was I doing to exert value outside of my assigned role?
Added value comes from critical thinking, from knowledge put into action, and from the ability to influence. Even greater value comes from leverage and duplication. That added value produces profit and growth. Most often, it translates to the "soft skills." Leadership skills, if you would.
John Maxwell contends that "Leadership is influence - nothing more, nothing less."
One of my mentors shared a quote attributed to Charlie "Tremendous" Jones that, for me, made the ultimate connection: "Leaders are readers."
Critical leadership and personal skills, attributes that differentiate our value and drive our ability to influence, are rarely provided within our formal education. They are seldom delivered in a tidy seminar thereafter. More than anything, they are found through an investment of time, hard work, and perseverance.
Hard work, geared towards improvement, applied over time, leads to high achievement. An intentional self-directed education is where you learn the guiding principles that drive the greatest accomplishments.
Said another way, daily discipline, over time, produces change. Depending on the information, that can be a positive change or a negative one - the principle works the same in either direction.
Looking at the lives of successful people I studied - historical through the present day - I've found that anyone with high achievements was a voracious learner, constantly consuming positive information. In almost all cases, that learning was outside the formal education process.
What I learned was that, for me, my best chance for lasting growth and success was to constantly develop my skills in key areas - character, behavior, critical thinking, and positive attitude, just to name a few. I had to maximize my personal gifts, as well as develop and enhance a wealth of key skills, to truly compete, influence, and lead.
Almost a decade into this journey, with a lifetime of learning still ahead, I can honestly say that this pursuit has been the highest contributor to the successes I have enjoyed, the most significant source of the value, influence and impact that I provide, and the greatest reason for the hope and promise of my future.
"An investment in knowledge always pays the best interest." - Benjamin Franklin
A self-directed education is indeed the greatest investment you will ever make.