Notes on Secrets of a Buccaneer Scholar by James Bach

School is temporary, Education is not

black framed eyeglasses on top of white printing paper
  • Don’t wait for someone to teach you; your enthusiasm will attract teachers to you.
  • To learn something valuable, you may have to work at it. It may be hard work.
  • For me, it has to be fun, too. Or else forget it.
  • The secret to my success is this: I found something that was fun for me, I learned all about it, and now I get paid for fun things I do with my mind.

Truths, School want you to accept, a.k.a. Schoolism

  • You must study what we tell you. What we say is the only thing that matters.”
  • You must pass our tests. Our tests measure the only important things about you.
  • You must attend school. Only through schooling can you hope to enjoy a good life.

Education is the “you” that emerges from the learning you do.

A buccaneer-scholar is anyone whose love of learning is not muzzled, yoked, or shackled by any institution or authority; whose mind is driven to wander and find its own voice and place in the world.

Why James succeeded without any formal education:

  • I invested time and passion in my own self-education.
  • I developed a method of self-education that fits my temperament and the rhythms of my mind.
  • I work in a field that values competence and good ideas more than paper credentials.
  • I found mentors and colleagues who helped me gain the confidence to present my ideas in a compelling way.

The first buccaneers were French and English hunters and farmers in the Caribbean who settled on the island of St. Kitts in 1625. They got their name from the way they preserved meat—a process called “boucanning.”

  • They were a skilled, self-reliant community
  • They were an inclusive transnational and polyglot community: English, French, Portuguese, Basque, Dutch, West Indian, and African.
  • They were amphibious—equally at home on land and sea—and multi-skilled.

Advantages to buccaneering:

  • A buccaneer’s education is not limited by the boundaries of traditional disciplines. We sail right through those boundaries. This gives us access to a richer set of ideas, helps us be successful in multiple fields, and makes us hard to intimidate.
  • Buccaneers rethink the labels, forms, and rituals of life. We remix them and make them our own. For us, the wonder of life is continually being refreshed.
  • We feel at home in our own minds. Our philosophy is self-affirming rather than self-loathing. We don’t use slogans like “be disciplined and follow the plan” or “don’t procrastinate.” Kicking ourselves is not our idea of motivation.


Pitting contrasting ideas against each other is called ‘‘dialectical” learning.

  • As every good scientist knows, we improve ideas more by challenging them, not coddling them.
  • I learn not only by reading, watching, or doing. I also learn by teaching. The need to explain and demonstrate is a powerful exercise. It works my mind so differently that I am routinely led to discover new depths in familiar subjects.
  • New knowledge sticks better when it connects with what I already know.
  • The Principle of Peripheral Wisdom says that most of what we learn is a side effect of something else we were trying to do. This principle works because the experience of living doesn’t just teach lessons, it teaches many lessons simultaneously.
  • The Principle of Alternation states that any one activity may lose its value the more you do it, while increasing the value of a complementary activity.
  • By alternating what we do, we can make better progress.
  • Alternation is part of the Contrasting Ideas element of my buccaneering method.
  • The key to success in cyclic learning is to suspend self-judgment and tolerate confusion.
  • My public status allows me to make a living. My personal sense of worth makes me want to live.
  • I know that criticism of me isn’t necessarily my problem. All criticism is relative to the worldview and values of the critic. The critic may have a personal grudge he’s exercising. It might not even be a grudge with me, but someone who looks like me. Or maybe the guy is having a bad day. I don’t know. When I’m at my best, I look at my critics and try to think how I could accept their criticism in a way that will make them feel good.
  • My advice to new buccaneers is to exhibit as much of your work as possible.
  • Participate in online forums and networking sites. Write a blog. For everything you post, remember that your enemies as well as your friends will read it. Just keep improving and expanding your portfolio. If it’s good work, your reputation will quickly grow.
  • My motivation to learn is grounded mostly in being of service to my friends, family, coworkers, and all my clients (including anyone who may read what I write).
  • Most people have put themselves on intellectual autopilot. Most don’t study on their own initiative, but only when they are forced to do so. Even when they study, they choose to study the obvious and conventional subjects. This has the effect of making them more alike instead of more unique. It’s an educational herd mentality.

My competitive advantages were:

  • A habit of self-education (due to the need to survive)
  • Eagerness to question traditional ideas (due to my distrust of authority, lack of discipline, and desire to live authentically)
  • The diversity of my studies (due to my restless attention span)
  • Ambition (flaring up, now, because I felt needed)
  • Memorizing a fact, or a million facts, doesn’t change me and does little to help me unless I digest what I learn.
  • A herd sees itself as surrounded by danger. A pack sees itself as surrounded by opportunities: prey.
  • Most learning is a side effect
  • If you try to understand but fail, that’s progress
  • Procrastination is not a problem; it’s how we solve problems
  • Anything we learn is a gateway to everything else we will ever know
  • Success is not about what or who you know, it’s about what you can discover and create

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