Self education can mean the difference between you landing your dream job or going home to nosedive into the ice cream. It is also the thin little line that is saving you from having regrets or giving yourself a high five for a life well lived.

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Don’t believe us? Rebekah Lambert shares three reasons why you should make self education a part of your arsenal:

The quick or the dead

Penguin, Panda and Hummingbird – these terms mean something to copywriters, online marketers and businesses beyond their animal friendly personas. Keeping up with changes to Google and other search engines means hanging off Matt Cutts videos, scoping out tasty word nerd blogs, and learning through trial and error. Soaking in this kind of information has to come from chasing down the answers and making sure you can keep up with what is changing around you. If you don’t put on your clever clogs and bootstrap your way through, you will feel the sting of being behind the times.

Things are changing pretty quickly

People who make it their business to understand the latest Google change, who will happily play with the latest social media platform or gadget before anyone else, get the edge on the less nimble competition. Why? Because it shows you can adapt with the times, that you are open to change in a world currently driven by it, and may know stuff that the boss doesn’t have time to explore. And it shows you’re willing to do more than simply is asked.

Your tenacious curiosity coupled with a desire to explore, play and take in information makes you so much easier to choose to work with than the person who’s still mumbling about yesterday’s news.

Re-segmentation and reinvention

New ideas and startups are popping up like mushrooms in a well-serviced cow paddock. Each time one does, those ideas (well, the good ones at least) are re-segmenting or completely redesigning the market. They have to in order to have space to prosper by having a niche and speaking to that group. So each time a new problem is solved, a new market is created, and perhaps other ones are introduced. But it’s not simply a ‘yay for business’ moment.

From startups, we’ve gained new ways to communicate through social media and massive changes to how the market operates through things like the creation of collaborative consumption and the sharing economy. As people change their personal focuses in life, we’ve ended up with robust organic, 100 mile, and localized industries. As we solve problems to do with community, the environment and/or daily life, how we spend, operate and work changes, too.

With every new invention of product or audience is made, there has to be a new way to speak to them. And doing that can only be done by educating yourself on that new audience and their particular make up.

Here’s where self education comes in…

You have to teach yourself if you are building something no one has heard about before because there is no manual or training course to refer to. There’s no history, case study or reference point.

If you’re going to straddle two, three or thirteen concepts to define one group of people as your target audience, you have to spend time understanding them on a much deeper level than referring to your old college lecture notes or a Wikipedia page will allow.

So if you aren’t spending some quality time with the books, podcasts and blogs, and coupling that with conversations with your audience so you can learn by doing and tailor the experience, be prepared to have your ass handed to you by the guys who are.

Sticking to what you know doesn’t encourage innovation

If you stick to what you’ve always known, you better be damn brilliant at what you do, or only cater to laggards, who resist change. Good luck trying to encourage them to let the moths out of their wallet.

Would you want the surgeon who knows the latest techniques operating on you, or the guy who graduated as a doctor in 1950 and hasn’t been to a seminar since? We respect, trust and value the people who make it their business to study their craft.

Humans like feeling useful

While everyone appears to be glorifying the idea of being busy, let’s understand the fundamental reason behind why it seems so appealing.

You are a human. Humans like feeling useful. It tickles our nifty bits to feel like we have value.

When we have a purpose in life or feel like we’re really putting who we are to the best possible use. As a result, when we’re feeling like we’re valuable and useful. When we feel useful and as though we’re contributing, we feel happier.

Learning stuff, sharing that knowledge, and applying it to anything (whether that’s work, your side projects, by contributing to the community and so on) makes you feel better about yourself because you feel more useful. As your knowledge and experience grows, so does the likelihood of others acknowledging this usefulness, which in turn creates more motivation and more of a sense of usefulness.

It becomes a pretty sweet little circle to spin in. You learn more, you feel better, more people appreciate that knowledge, and you feel even better still. So acquiring that knowledge through experience, keen interest and soaking yourself in content can help you feel inspired, confident and could translate into a career or side project that gives tremendous joy.

So, here’s a chunky pile of ways to help light that self education fire:

  • Make use of bookmarking tools: No matter your subject of interest, you can use resources like Scoop.itStumbleUpon or Paper.li to extract the best of the web based on your particular areas of interest. Quick, painless and free, you can ask these sorts of tools to search the internet for you, and continually add to the quality of those searches by saving the articles that speak to you and discarding those that don’t. Let the tools find the cool stuff for you.
  • Make yourself a Pinterest board: Having a Pinterest board to refer to where all your favorite places for industry news, brain tickling information and articles really helps you remember the places for your more interesting and relevant information. I got started by pinning places where two or more articles made my brain giddy with nerdy love. I revisit them often for a top up, depending on what kinds of things I feel like learning. It’s so easy, my Labrador can do it.
  • Get out and about: Making time to network with people, check out an unconference, take in a talk, spend a day in a coworking space, join a meetup, check out The Fetch for events, or set up your own gathering so that you can see some fresh faces and gain new ideas. Don’t be afraid to tweet or take a pen and paper either to capture ideas and salient points. If you are an introvert (I am!), pick things that are on terms where it works for you. I started the Freelance Jungle and the Business of Wagtails because I wanted to meet other freelancers, and wanted to network with potential clients without booze or being too formal. Try little things and see what happens. It doesn’t have to be expensive or involved. And if it doesn’t work, move on to the next idea. The main aim is to try things and see what works best.
  • Make use of Twitter: Look for hashtags, take note at events, or ask the followers you like if they know of any great ones they could recommend. And all those articles you’ve collected that you like? Share them with other people. That process of thinking whether a piece of content is worthwhile and useful stimulates your brain, too! And follow people who both share your ideals and challenge them.
  • Join the content revolution: 1 in 6 people listen to podcasts on their favorite subjects. Thousands of people tune into TED talks on a daily basis. Ebooks give you downloadable and digital friendly things to ponder on the bus home. There’s blogs on every topic you can think of, and a few you never would existed. Snuffle out the places you trust, consume the content that you find, and you’ll find your appetite growing more and more.
  • Set time aside for making your brain sparkly: When I have the flu, or if we’re watching some rubbish TV on a Sunday night, I’ll also be sitting in a pile of ebooks, furiously making notes in an art journal from my latest marketing nerd book or I’ll be catching up with the information collected via bookmarking. It helps me refreshed (and stops me from being annoyed when I am fed up with staring at the ceiling when ill). Maybe it works for you to have a little free reading during your morning coffee, or perhaps you have the luxury to give yourself a day to graze. Whatever the case, make sure you set some regular time aside to sparkle up your brain, just like you would with exercise.
  • Forget about Facebook arguments: Don’t spend time railing against your friends or popping up on fan pages and groups to prove a point. Take a leaf out of Neil Gaiman’s book and “make good art” in the face of that anger, annoyance and desire to take them to task. Read about the issue at hand- read the ideas that oppose your view- and then think deeply about why it bothers you so much and use it to create something far longer lasting (and more useful) than a comment on Facebook. Use that fire not to burn up energy with writing comments, but as fuel for your ideas, creativity and self expression.

The bottom line – be proud to get your nerd on!

Be amazed by your ability to enjoy information. Choose the topics that are like a siren song to your brain and make it your niche. It doesn’t have to have anything to do with your job, your degree or the family business. Pull apart the information available to you, read and learn from it, but also make notes. Translate those notes into scribbles and blog pieces.

Make visuals that are inspired by them like mind maps or test out how universal the concept you’re grappling with may be by popping it up as a Picmonkey on Facebook. Carry a notebook wherever you go. Don’t just watch that TV show or film you love so much for the fifteenth time to turn off your head, arm yourself with a pen and capture why you do as you view it.

What kind of learning and unleashing your inner nerd appeals to you?

About our contributor // Rebekah Lambert counts content, copy and marketing as her personal crack. She freelances as Unashamedly Creative and explores what it is to hack happiness in her spare time.

Image credit: Jon Krause for Mother Jones