I’m always hesitant when I hear someone claiming that there is one skill that is the key to all future success. I know there is no such thing. A matrix of skills will lead to success in the future, just as a matrix of skills has always led to success in the past. Any other claim is just overheated advertising.

Still, if I was held at gunpoint and forced to name only one skill that will most likely lead to the best chance of success in the years to come, I would name this one: the skill of self-education.

We tend to associate this skill with the great men and women of the past. We started hearing the great self-education stories of history during our earliest days in school. We were told of Frederick Douglass teaching himself to read or Abraham Lincoln walking miles to borrow a book or perhaps Winston Churchill, nearly always a failure in school, devouring books on the frontier of British India. There are hundreds of tales like these and they were usually offered in an attempt to inspire us to learn.

We are not quick, though, to associate this skill with the challenges of our modern world. Yet I assure you that the ability to teach yourself is more urgently needed than ever.

I’ve related before in these Leading Thoughts how rapidly knowledge is increasing in our time and how formal education, as valuable as it is, often can’t keep pace. In some fields, what students have been taught in the classroom is obsolete by the day they graduate. Is their degree worthless? Not at all. Instead, all degrees and all programs of formal study should be launching pads for lives of aggressive self-education.

One of the men who inspires me most has founded an alternative energy company. Years ago he earned a Bachelor’s degree in business, became a CPA, and devoted himself to learning about the fields his accounting firm served. He learned. He invested. He prospered. At the time most men retire, he began realizing the benefits of alternative energies. He decided to learn all he could. He started with Google searches. Yes, Google. Then he read more and asked friends to teach him and went everywhere he could to learn what he needed to know.

Why am I telling you this? Before he dies, this man will probably own one of the top alternative energy firms in the world. He will change entire continents with his work. He will help to preserve our planet. He will likely provide electricity to millions who don’t otherwise have it. He will be even more fabulously wealthy than he already is.

Never has he sat in a classroom to learn about what his firm now does. Never did he earn a degree beyond his degree in business from years ago. Instead, he read. He researched. He asked questions. He mastered the field. He prospered. He rose on the wings of self-education.

This must become part of your skill set if you are to rise as you dream. New knowledge will enter the world. You will need to master it and there won’t be time for a formal degree—if one even exists for the knowledge you’ll need. You will also likely change roles a half a dozen times in your life. Each time will require that you master some new field.

The good news is that you have most of the skills you need. You just have to make self-education a way of life.

I’ll be talking about this more in the future. In the meantime, look around. What field do you need to master to take yourself to the next level? Dive in. Read. Research. Ask questions. Enlist mentors. Master a field essential to your success. This is the art of self-education.