School ruins readers. By the time you make it through high school and college, you go from a curious explorer of stories and ideas to someone who associates books with boredom and stress. The association is so deep that years typically go by before a college graduate remembers that reading can be fun, and it’s just not something to do because you have to.
When you look around at very successful people, one of the most common traits is a love of reading. It’s pretty simple; reading is one of the best ways to learn and those that read a lot, tend to learn a lot.
Whether it’s cryptocurrency, frog anatomy, or ancient Slavic history, there are books on every topic imaginable. For a few dollars, you can get lost in millions of worlds. Imaginary, historical, biographical. You can become a fly on the wall and learn what life was like for some of history’s most impressive people.
We’ve talked a lot in this book about how university isn’t about education, but rather a stamp of approval and an exercise in memorization. Most of the real education in college is a side effect for students. But the connection between school and education is so strong in people’s minds that once they finish with university, a lot of people think they are also finished with education.
Just like school has trained students to associate reading with boredom, it has trained everyone to associate education itself as something tedious, stressful, and tiring. Being forced to write large papers on topics they don’t like and exams on subjects they don’t want to learn about has made people completely lose interest in learning. They forget that curiosity is natural in humans and learning is one of the most enjoyable activities you can pursue.
The education system poisons your ability to enjoy reading and travel is one of the best antidotes.
When you go traveling you enter into a reading culture. You finally have time to dig into books that you’ve been avoiding reading for whatever reason. You pack up your bag and make sure to include a few books. Or maybe you load up your Kindle with a full library of content.
You now have the time and space to read. Fewer responsibilities, less social events, and more travel days mean you have a better chance to get lost in a book.
For me, six months of traveling was enough to change the way I thought about reading. Instead of thinking about reading as something less fun than TV or video games, I was starting to appreciate the way I felt when I was spending time reading every day. I had more ideas and more entertaining conversations with others about the things I was learning. One of the biggest takeaways from traveling for me was how much I liked reading. At the end of a six-month trip, I wrote in my journal that I wanted to continue spending my free time reading when I got home.
It didn’t work out, though. About a month after returning and starting a job, I was no longer reading. I fell back into old habits, TV, and my laptop provided a better escape from reality for me, so that is what I did when I came home from work. I wanted to escape from the stress, anxiety, and depression that came along with not enjoying what I was doing. The habit of reading was replaced with the habit of watching TV shows.
The only books I read were ones that provided an escape. The Hunger Games, Game of Thrones, and others that helped me forget how unhappy I was with my current situation. For two years I didn’t learn very much. Then it was time to travel again.
Going to South America for six months got me back into the habit of reading, and I realized while traveling that if I was going to continue to read when I got home, I was going to need to set up my life differently. That meant no TV in our house and structure about not using my computer after 8 pm.
Building the habit of reading on the road and successfully transitioning that habit back into my home life has made my life significantly better. I’m learning about new things and new ideas, gaining knowledge and skills instead of watching something mindless on Youtube or Netflix. I still spend time on mindless stuff, but just significantly less than I used to. I can say without a doubt that I have learned more applicable skills from reading and self-education than I did in four years of university.
Whether it was with David Allen’s Getting Things Done Teaching me about productivity, Marshall Rosenberg’s Nonviolent Communication teaching me how to connect with others, Nathaniel Branden’s Six Pillars of Self-Esteem teaching me how to become confident in myself and so many others like Michael Lewis, Malcolm Gladwell, Ayn Rand, Tim Ferriss, and others. These authors, through their writing, impacted me more than any professors, or textbooks in university.
By traveling instead of going to university you have just as much opportunity to learn, and you are developing the skills to continue self-educating for the rest of your life. Instead of the authoritarian professor at the front of the lecture hall telling you what to learn and killing your ability to enjoy it, you will be learning what interests you and what you need to know for the things you want to do. The amount of learning you can do in years of traveling and working probably dwarfs what anyone will do in four years of university. Learning is all about motivation. With the internet and books, you have all the access to information you need to learn something, you just need the motivation for the learning.