self-directed learning…

Last Saturday, I was at a local used bookstore (that’s how I like to spend my free time) and found an interesting book: “Better Than College: How to Build a Successful Life Without a Four-Year Degree” by Blake Boles. It is rare that I devote a day to reading a book…but this was one that I just couldn’t seem to put down.  It’s a fairly quick read (144 pages), but very intriguing for an entrepreneurial mind like myself.  He describes his “Zero Tuition College” as a five step process (note: you’ll see a few On Course principles in his strategy):

  1. BUILD SELF-KNOWLEDGE. Figure out what deeply interests and drives you.
  2. GIVE YOURSELF ASSIGNMENTS. Undertake projects, read books, do internships, start businesses, practice extensively, and find other ways to increase your knowledge and skills.
  3. CREATE AND SHARE VALUE. Volunteer, get hired, or sell your work.  Organize groups, plan events, or start small movements. Write, blog, film, code, or photograph. Dedicate  your time to building and creating things that other people find valuable and then share them with the world.
  4. FIND SUPPORT. To intelligently navigate your self-directed life, seek the guidance, mentorship, and friendship of adults and peers. Ask them to keep you accountable to what you’ll say you’ll do.
  5. MARKET YOURSELF. Build an on-line portfolio that tells your story, displays your accomplishments, and makes you easy to find. Expand your network by being genuinely helpful  to those in need, and learn how to land jobs through referrals and other creative means.

So, I decided to share this strategy and some stories with my classes this week – and got some very interesting responses (including some crying).  I don’t want them to drop out of college; my goal is to have them think of their college education in a different way.  Many wanted to know why the institution isn’t helping them develop these skills; my response – take
initiative and responsibility and learn/apply the strategy yourself!  Stop relying on others (like “the system”) to teach you the things you need to learn to be successful.  So, their homework assignment this week is to answer three questions from the book to get them thinking in a “self-directed way”; the questions are:

  1. If you were going to die one year from today, what would you do differently? (Food for thought – If you were to die in a year, what plans would you make today? Would you visit an intriguing part of the world, write a book, or start a company? Would you build (or repair) a certain relationship? Who would you spend time with? Which long-deferred goals and dreams would you begin working on? What distractions would you cut from your life?)
  2. If you had three years to create something that would change YOUR world, how would you begin? (Food for thought – Define “YOUR world” as you wish. It may mean your neighborhood, a community of enthusiast, a group whose cause you believe in, or strangers across the globe. How could you positively impact these people within three years while also doing something you love? Dream on a grander scale then the first question. Perhaps you would film a documentary, build a business or non-profit, or organize a conference. What kind of training and knowledge would you need to make this dream happen? Whose membership could you seek?)
  3. 3. If you were forbidden from accumulating vast material wealth, how would you live differently? (Food for thought – Imagine that you took an irrevocable vow of frugality. You can have a basic car, rental house, a computer, and other basic assets, but nothing extravagant. You would no more than six months savings in a bank account. You’re barred from ever owning such luxuries, and you can’t sneak around this rule with clever tactics or asking friends to hold your money.  Imagine that you’ll never be materially rich.  Living under this ironclad law of frugality, what would you focus your energy on? How would your vision of success change? What would you do differently?)

For fun, I decided to answer the three questions myself; you can read my answers on my blog at  Might be fun for
you to answer them as well!  You can get more about the book, as well as instructions on how students can download the book as a pdf for free, at

These are my answers to the self-directed learning questions from Blake Boles book, “Better Then College: How to Build a Successful Life Without a Four-Year Degree.”

1. If you were going to die one year from today, what would you do differently?

If I knew that I was going to die one year from today, I would make sure to spend at least a long weekend a month with my daughters Amanda and Bethany.  There are several things on my Bucket List that I would make sure to do with them, such as take them on a $1,000 shopping spree and spend an afternoon on a picnic in the park.  I would also spend between two weeks and a month with my family in Florida – not having a pity party, but doing fun things.  Even though I don’t like fishing, I would want to spend at least a long weekend on a fishing trip with my dad.  And I would want to go on a week-long trip with my mom to an island in the Caribbean, a place I haven’t been, like Puerto Rico.  And even though I don’t get along with my sister, I would want to find a way to spend a few days doing something together, maybe take a trip someone or go shopping, but something where we’re actually doing something instead of sitting around.  And last, I would want to make sure that my dear wife Rebecca and I would take a long trip – two weeks to a month – traveling to places on our Bucket List, such as Hawaii (just to relax), Australia (to watch the Australian Open tennis tournament), to Paris (for the French Open tennis tournament), and to London (for Wimbledon tennis tournament).  I would also sign up for a class we could do together, like Ballroom Dance or Salsa lessons. I think I would also want to take a week alone, at a peaceful place like rent a cabin in the mountains on a lake, where I could really think about my life, think about how I made a difference, how I impacted others.  Would also devise a plan on how I could continue to do that throughout my in my last days on this earth…

2. If you had three years to create something that would change YOUR world, how would you begin?

My heart (and higher power) is telling me that I need to spread the messages of finding one’s purpose and fulfilling purpose-related dreams across the country.  The past year, I started doing two-day retreats for faculty and staff in higher education titled “Educating from the Heart: Creating Meaningful College Experiences for You and Your Students.”  Participants have found them extremely useful and meaningful in changing their work on a daily basis.  Unfortunately, I’ve only been able to attract a small few (20 and 10) for the retreats.  This year, I decided to host a small conference (150-200 participants) in September to spread the message to a larger audience.  What I’ve enjoyed the most about this conference so far is having the chance to work with five other exceptional, wonderful people who are also interested in spreading the message that finding one’s purpose is important for students – and for all of us!  This semester, I revised my course to not only focus on purpose, but also to find ways for students to get connected, not only with me (as the instructor and life coach), but with the other students in class as well.  It’s been such a revelation to go to class and hear the stories that students are willing to share.  Much more meaningful class than in the past, that’s for sure!  There are other things that I know I need to do over the next three years, but this is at least a start.

3. If you were forbidden from accumulating vast material wealth, how would you live differently?

I’ve been thinking a lot about this question for about 6 months now, as I slowly try to get rid of the heavy, burdensome stuff in my life.  I have somewhere between 1,000 and 2,000 books in my possession right now – and I have this desire to significantly reduce that number to my top 100 books – the 100 books that I cannot live without.  Besides, how much material stuff do I need when most of my time at home is spent either reading or working out?  As I’ve gotten older, I’ve noticed that I have more of a desire to have meaningful experiences and conversations instead of the nice computer, the nice phone, the gadgets, etc.   When I turned 50 in January, I realized that I want my life to take a new direction; instead of focusing on the awards and recognition, I would much rather leave a positive, impactful legacy behind, one where I’ve made a difference – even a small one – in the lives of others.  Success for me is now about impact, not about money.  So, my work now is really focused on helping students, faculty and staff in higher education find their path, a path that is interesting, a path that has meaning, a path they desire to learn more about and master.  That’s what I need to do!

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