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I’ve gotta admit, I’m a sucker for a good “journey of self-discovery” story. One of my favorites is Elizabeth Gilbert’s memoir, Eat, Pray, Love, in which a newly divorced woman rejects social convention and travels through Italy, India, and Indonesia to rediscover herself. Closer to home, I was beside myself with excitement to hear that Beyond the Gray friend and dream chaser, Alexis Grant – who followed her passion on a solo voyage to Africa – recently landed a literary agent to represent her travel memoir (congrats, Lexi, can’t wait to read your book!). So it’s not surprising that this month’s Legends Book Club pick, Sean Aiken’s The One-Week Job Projectwhich is about a recent college graduate who worked 52 jobs in one year in order to discover a career he’s passionate about – strikes a chord with me.

I’m about half way through the book and I’m finding Sean’s journey to be relevant to people of all ages, not just recent college grads, because so many of us are floating along in the “gray”, wondering what our passion is. Sean, too, felt lost and unfulfilled in the years following graduation, which inspired him to launch this project and proactively figure it out.

I think this is where so many of us go wrong; we wait for this great “AHA!” moment to strike without actually putting forth the effort required for such a discovery. Scientists don’t discover new medicines without a great deal of trial and error. Inventors don’t create game-changing technologies without thousands of failed prototypes first. So why should discovering one’s passion be pursued any less vigorously?

If you’re not sure what your passion is, take a proactive approach and find out. This doesn’t mean that you have to travel half way around the world like Elizabeth Gilbert or Alexis Grant, you can step out of your comfort zone and experience new things right from the very comfort of your home. It can be as simple as signing up for a cake-baking class or taking piano lessons, joining a friend for yoga or a mountain biking trip.

Whatever it is, Gilbert’s, Grant’s, and Aiken’s journeys prove that when you open yourself to new experiences, you’re allowing an unknown aspect of yourself to emerge and thrive.

Tell me, what new things are you opening yourself up to?

Whenever I finish a book that I love, I scour the author’s bio trying to figure out what made him or her so amazing. I did this a few years ago when I finished Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat, Pray, Love and, believe it or not, there was one line from her bio that I found so insprirational, I never forgot it: Elizabeth went to college in New York City in the early 1990s, and spent the years after college traveling around the country and the world, working odd jobs, writing short stories and essentially creating what she has referred to as her own MFA program.

From the second I read it, I fell in love with the idea of creating your own MFA program based on your life’s experiences. It got me thinking about self-education and how important it can be as we pursue our dreams. Too often people let fears of inadequacy and education scare them into believing that they need to invest their time and money into one expensive degree after the next in order to achieve their dreams. But in many cases, this is just an avoidance tactic that people use to delay taking action.

The concept of self-directed learning, or autodidacticism, is by no means new. In fact, some of the most influential people of the ages – Socrates, Descartes, Benjamin Franklin, George Bernard Shaw, Abraham Lincoln, Ernest Hemingway, Thomas Edison, and Malcolm X – were autodidacts. Some were thrust into it because they couldn’t afford a formal education and others happened into it accidentally.

Business philosopher, Jim Rohn, says, “Formal education will make you a living; self-education will make you a fortune.”

Don’t believe him? Check out this list of some other self-taught legends:

  • Musician David Bowie
  • Magic duo Penn and Teller
  • Filmmakers James Cameron, Steven Spielberg, Quentin Tarantino, Stanley Kubrick, Woody Allen, and Steven Soderbergh
  • Musician Frank Zappa
  • Author Terry Pratchett
  • Poet William Blake

Even author Mark Twain is known to have said: “I have never let my schooling interfere with my education.”

Please understand that my purpose here is not downplay formal degree programs, just to remind you of the merits of self-education. As Elizabeth Gilbert and countless others have proven, self-directed learning can go a long way in helping you acquire the skills, knowledge and experience you need to follow your dreams.

So I ask you, what does your MFA program look like?

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