How to Get a Real Education | Russell H. Conwell

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Today’s reading was edited and adapted from Every Man His Own University by Russell H. Conwell, published in 1917.

A distinct university walks about under each person’s hat. The only men and women who achieve success in the other universities of the world, and in the larger university of life, are those who have first taken graduate courses and post-graduate courses in the university under their hat. It is in this traveling university that observation furnishes a daily change in the curriculum. Books are not the original sources of power. It is observation (which may bring to us wide experiences, deep thinking, fine feeling, and the ability to act for oneself) that is the true dynamo of power.

Without observation, literature and meditation are shower and sunshine upon unbroken soil. The only true schools and colleges are those which persuade the students under their charge to see more perfectly what they are looking at, to find what they should have been unable to observe had it not been for their school instruction.

You can’t make a good arrow from a pig’s tail, and you can seldom get a worthwhile man or woman out of one who has gone through the early part of their life without having learned to be alert when listening and seeing. How to observe should be the motto, not only in the beginning of our life, but throughout our career.

Why do the majority of us go through life seeing nothing of the millions of marvelous truths and facts, while only a few keep their eyes and ears wide open, and every day are busy in piling up what they have observed! The loss of our instincts seems to be the price we pay today for the few minor acquisitions we get from school and college. We set aside our brains to make room for our learning.

The individual who assiduously cultivates their powers of observation (and thus gains daily from their experiences the ability to see farther and clearer everything in life that is worth seeing) has given themselves a skill that is much more important than the skills of all the schools and colleges without it. The greatest textbooks of the greatest universities are only the records of the observations of some close observer whose better powers of seeing things were acquired mainly while they were taking courses in that university under their hat.

The intellect is both telescope and microscope. If it is rightly used, it shall observe thousands of things which are too minute and too distant for those who with eyes and ears neither see nor hear. The intellect can be made to look far beyond the range of what people ordinarily see; but colleges cannot alone confer this power — it is the reward of self-culture; each must acquire it for themselves; and perhaps this is why the power of observing deeply and widely is so much oftener found in those men and women who have never crossed the threshold of any college but the University of Hard Knocks.

When we look back over our life and reflect on how many things we might have seen and heard had we trained our powers of observation, we seem to have climbed little and spent most of our time on plateaus, while our achievements seem little better than scratches upon black marble.

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