Why and How to Rely on Yourself to Become the Best Learner

“Your best teacher is your last mistake.” — Ralph Nader

Mathias Barra
Jan 19 · 5 min read
Teacher pointing a board in front of students
Teacher pointing a board in front of students
Photo by fauxels from Pexels

Teachers are great. They’re useful and can point you towards the right path, teaching you what you need to know. There’s no denying that.

The first reaction we all have when we decide to learn something is to look for someone who could teach us. A person with the answers to the questions we’re asking ourselves. A person who has mastered his field and who can guide us to avoid pitfalls.

Sure, teachers are useful. But they also too often turn into excuses. Sometimes even without knowing our existence! Who hasn’t heard or said one of the following?

“I could do it if someone showed me how.”
“I don’t know where to start.”
“I gave up only because I didn’t have someone pushing me.”
“It’s easier said than done when you’re alone!”
“It’s because I had a bad teacher.”

I know I have used those excuses countless times throughout my life. For once, when I started going to a gym in 2016 and gave up 2 months in. I also gave up on learning Thai for this same reason in 2013.

But here’s the truth:

You need those mistakes

Teachers help you learn and keep on testing your skills as time passes by. If you want to pass the test, then you’re going to have to avoid mistakes as much as possible.

You’ll practice at home over and over the same specific aspect. You may even learn by heart certain parts you feel will be on the test. Who knows? You might even cheat during the exam.

And there you go, you get a good grade. You’re happy! You’re proud of yourself. But for what? Will that grade change your life? Do you feel you’ve really mastered the topic? Does this test count as proof you did?

When in school, exams are unavoidable. And yet, as adults, we sometimes turn to classes once more. Returning to the obligatory tests and rules to follow. And we go back to avoiding mistakes.

As you get tested, you end up avoiding your best teacher. You avoid mistakes. Ever learned of “learning from your mistakes”? It’s not just a saying we use. It is the most efficient way to learn.

Making a mistake and getting feedback on it will push you to figure out what was wrong. Why you thought it was right. How you can correct it. In which other situations this could apply.

So many questions arise from mistakes. So many opportunities to dig deeper and internalize knowledge. For this reason, the lack of a physical teacher is actually a blessing. You can turn to self-study and make your mistakes without anybody judging you for them.

You don’t always have to be pushed

Yes, I know. Teachers force you to be consistent and to learn regularly to meet the level needed to pass those tests. It’s indispensable during school years because you have to learn topics that don’t interest you at all. But when you’re learning a topic you’re interested in, relying on a teacher pushing you is not all that great.

For one, you’re going to have holidays. The teacher will take some time off. And what will you do in such situations? You rest! You see this as an opportunity not to do the work.

But, hey, didn’t you start learning this because you wanted it? How did this become an opportunity for you?

The constant pressure you get from having someone behind you is counterproductive. Because you push yourself during the rest of the year, the moment your teacher is off, you feel you need to take time off too.

When learning on your own, you don’t have anybody pushing you. Yes, that may be hard at first since you’re not used to it. But if you find your true “Why”, if you dig deep in the reasons you started this journey, you will be able to stay consistent.

Every day, you’ll have the subject on your mind. Wondering about the topic of the day. About the future that comes with this journey. About what you learned from that mistake yesterday. Take your time and rely on yourself. Not on anybody else.

There’s an infinite amount of questions to ask

Teachers have the answers to many questions you’ll ask yourself during this journey. After all, they’ve already spent a lot of time on it. But they will never have all the answers.

You’re not the same person as the teacher. Your experiences, your mindset, and your future are all different. And because of this, you’ll always have questions that a single teacher cannot provide answers to.

As a self-learner, the world is your teacher. You’re your teacher. If one person cannot provide all the answers, one thing is sure: you’ll find someone who has it online.

Make use of this opportunity to learn from the best in the world. From people you wouldn’t even get the chance to meet in real life. From people who already passed away decades or centuries ago.

How to start as a self-learner

That’s it? You’re in? Alright! Then, it’s time to set the basics for becoming a self-learner. Here’s what you have to prepare and work on:

  • Know your “Why”— The deep reason why you wanted to start in the first place
  • Know the skills and knowledge needed — Research the prerequisites to learn in order to master your subject
  • Know the resources available — Find what you’ll have available and have it all in one place.
  • Start and make tons of mistakes

Seems overly simplified? Well, it’s because it’s that easy! If you find the right reason, you’ll keep at it no matter what. If you know what you need to learn, you can find resources. If you make mistakes, you can find feedback thanks to the research done prior.

Oh, and you can also have a teacher or a tutor, of course. But make sure to have one only as a backup. The path needs to be traced by no other than yourself. Where do you want it to take you?


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Mathias Barra is a French polyglot living in Japan and who has learned 6 languages and dabbled in numerous others. Being a curious child full of wonders is how he keeps on learning and can’t stop sharing about every tiny idea, even non-language-related.

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Mathias Barra

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Writer and Polyglot by passion | A child at heart, in love with learning and trying to make the world a better place one article at a time

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