I had never heard or read the word “autodidact” until a few years ago when researching a story on human intelligence.
I realised that I am an autodidact, and have been one most of my adult life. This realisation lifted a massive weight off my shoulders.
I was seeing some clients at the time who were referred to me by a school vice principal to help with possible ADHD in the parents.
I need to confess that in my other life I am an ADHD coach and a provider of tools to manage the condition effectively.
I wrote a proposal and sent it off to them with a document explaining how the coaching works within the family context. I had still not heard from them. This very seldom happens.
A week or so later I got a call from someone calling herself Fiona. She wanted to know what my history was. I asked who had referred her, she answered that she would rather not say.
A small prickle of caution rose on my neck. I have nothing to fear, but deviousness is usually the domain of undercover agents for some nefarious purpose.
I gave Fiona some of my history, that I was diagnosed with condition some 16 years ago, had developed a wide range of tools, more than 40 different modules and counting, that I had published a book, that we had trained nearly 5 000 teachers over the last 5 years or so, and so on.
She interrupted sharply and demanded what qualifications I had. I replied that I had none.
“So you mean you have absolutely no qualifications?” Her voice was sharp and incredulous. Before I could answer she put the phone down.
It took a few days before I started to recover from the humiliation of being reduced to a doofus by a fully qualified and anonymous harridan. It rankled for days after the event.
Here are some of the reasons why I felt aggrieved:
- I have a training course for medical professionals and have done a one-day workshop in Pretoria for a group including psychiatrists.
- I am regularly asked to speak to professional bodies such as psychologists, occupational therapists, and and physiotherapists (known affectionately as physio-terrorists!)
- I have recently completed an article on the pharmacological approaches to ADHD. This was at the request of the editor of a journal circulated to medical specialists.
- Living ADDventure® was listed as a supplier of services to PANDA, the Paediatric And Developmental Association of South Africa many years ago. The members of PANDA include paediatricians, paediatric psychiatrist and neurologists.
- The foreword to my book, “I Am Audacious, Original,And Innovative, I Have ADHD,” was written by Professor Colleen Adnams of University of Cape Town.
- I have delivered a series of talks to doctors in the major centres of South Africa a few years ago.
- Many of my clients are referred to me to by medical and health professionals of all disciplines.
- I am booked to speak at conferences years ahead, and have organised run our own ADHD conferences. I have spoken alongside some of the brightest minds in mental health.
But it still hurt. Despite all of the above.
That I was considered some sort of snake-oil salesman just because I didn’t have any recognised qualification was devastating.
Then I came across meaning of the “autodidact.” It was mentioned in the description of a man called Chris Langan, sometimes referred to as the cleverest man alive. His IQ was estimated to be between 195 and 210. Compare that to Albert Einstein’s score at a mere 150!
Here is the definition that Wikipedia gave: “Autodidacticism (also autodidactism) or self-education is the act of self-directed learning about a subject or subjects in which one has had little to no formal education.”
That caused a little frisson of excitement to flutter in my belly. I realised something significant was about to happen to my life.
There it was, a list of some notable autodidacts. There were famous names from all walks of life.
Architects, including one of the most famous and revered in the world, Frank Lloyd Wright.
Engineers and inventors such as Thomas Edison, and the Wright brothers.
Scientists, historians, and educators,like Benjamin Franklin, Karl Marx, and Alfred Russel Wallace.
Authors and artists of all kinds, Terry Pratchett, Herman Melville, Ernest Hemingway, Ray Bradbury, von Goethe, and of course, William Shakespeare.
I found this passage on Wikipedia about Shakespeare and it encouraged me no end:
By then, he was sufficiently known in London to be attacked in print by the playwright Robert Greene in his Groats-Worth of Wit:
... there is an upstart Crow, beautified with our feathers, that with his Tiger's heart wrapped in a Player's hide, supposes he is as well able to bombast out a blank verse as the best of you: and being an absolute Johannes factotum, is in his own conceit the only Shake-scene in a country.
Scholars differ on the exact meaning of Greene's words, but most agree that Greene was accusing Shakespeare of reaching above his rank in trying to match such university-educated writers as Christopher Marlowe, Thomas Nashe, and Greene himself (the so-called "university wits"). The italicised phrase parodying the line "Oh, tiger's heart wrapped in a woman's hide" from Shakespeare's Henry VI, Part 3, along with the pun "Shake-scene", clearly identify Shakespeare as Greene's target.
The list of actors and musicians include Frank Zappa, David Bowie, Jimi Hendrix, Noel Gallagher, Noel Coward, Russel Crowe, Woody Allen, Orson Welles, Stanley Kubrick, Quentin Tarantino, Steven Spielberg, Roman Polanski, and many more.
There, in just 5 short paragraphs are some of the most influential names in the world.
In a list simply titled “others” there were yet more names that were as impressive.
Elon Musk, a young South African entrepreneur who is radically disrupting the transportation and space travel industries. Abraham Lincoln, Booker T Washington and Malcolm X, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, world renowned chef Heston Blumenthal, and Paul Keating, former Australian Prime Minister are there too.
I am self taught in everything I have done since I left school.
I was writing instructional precis’ at the tender age of 18 as a newly commissioned 2nd Lieutenant, and, they were written in Afrikaans and then translated back into English.
I the turned a new hobby into a career, getting myself a job as press photographer. Eight years later, I was picture editor of The Rand Daily Mail, leaving just a few months before it closed.
I then I went into commercial photography, eventually ending up in audio-visual productions. I was in on the ground floor of doing huge multi-media productions for conferences, with a number of innovations, like 3-D shows and sculpted screens.
My concepts for these shows were in demand, and it was a short trip from there into script writing.
I started to direct and produce shows with casts in the hundreds and utilising various creative elements.
In between all of these steps, there were sojourns into video photography, video editing, and even sound engineering.
I started to apply my skills into the corporate market, doing work especially in the field of change management.
I have done marketing for well known restaurants and software development companies.
The arrival of the end of institutionalised apartheid saw me purchasing 3 shipping containers, converting them into mobile stages, training about 30 unemployed people, putting them on trucks and sending them throughout the rural Western Cape doing voter education. This was just before South Africa reentered the real world again.
We did the same again just before the first post-apartheid elections.
When I was diagnosed by accident in my mid-forties as having ADHD, I immediately set out to see what I could do about it, quickly starting about 15 small support groups.
In 2002, South Africa’s first international conference was held in Pretoria. I made a comment during the second session in the doctors part of the conference, and was given a loud cheer. The visiting American experts couldn’t have been more supporting for the rest of the 5 day conference.
I have continued to develop new tools so that both those who have the condition and those who live alongside them can lead contented and productive lives.
An opportunity to do creative work again has appeared on the horizon - I am looking forward to exploring the promise that it holds.
If I am a autodidact I am happy. Happy of course is a relative term. I like to innovate and I love learning new things.
Although I would never put my self in the same class, or even in the same room, like my heroes John Lennon and Steve Jobs I am a also a maverick.
I loved the movie “Lorenzo’s Oil” starring Nick Nolte and Susan Sarandon. Augusto Odone and his wife Michaela were the parents of Lorenzo Odone who had an incurable disease. Augusto, an economist, spent hours in libraries and talking to people until he found an oil that would provide relief for his stricken son. The oil is now called Lorenzo’s Oil.
I realise of course that there is an urgent and powerful need for being taught. Are we teaching people how to learn though? I don’t think so.
I feel sorry for my anonymous caller Fiona. Even if I give her the benefit of the doubt that she was somehow looking after the best interests of her patients, she could have deprived them of something that may have been life-changing.
All because she made a judgement based on whether I was qualified or not.
At the end of the day, a qualification does not mean that you can do the job, it only means that have passed the tests to gain the qualification. The person with the qualification still has to prove that they can do the job.
Not everyone can be autodidactic either.