If only "self-improvement" had been as popular as "home improvement" in the last ten years, our economy would likely be in better shape.
You can make the case for a college being the place where people go to improve themselves, but at the price tag universities charge these days, where's the ROI? How does $60K in debt make sense for the Sociology student who will make $25K per year?
In getting ready for my Internet radio show (The Growth Accelerator, Mondays, 2 PM to 3 PM on Des Moines Local Live), I re-discovered Frederick Douglass. He gave a speech in 1859 - before the Civil War - entitled "Self-Made Men." I'd like to quote some of it here (I'm amazed that it's not transcribed for the Internet anywhere, except in parts.)
"Self-made men are the men who, under peculiar difficulties and without the ordinary helps of favoring circumstances, have attained knowledge, usefulness, power, and position, and have learned from themselves the best uses to which life can be put in this world, and in the exercises of these uses to build up worthy character."
"[Self-made men] are in a peculiar sense, indebted to themselves. If they have traveled far, they have made the road on which they traveled. If they have ascended high, they have built their own ladder."
"Though a man of this class need not claim to be a hero or to be worshipped as such, there is genuine heroism in his struggle and something of sublimity and glory in his triumph. Every instance of such success is an example and a help to humanity."
"I do not think much of the 'accident' or 'good luck' theory of self-made men. It is worth but little attention and has no practical value. An apple carelessly flung into a crowd may hit one person, or it may hit another, or it may hit nobody. The probabilities are precisely the same in this accident the same in this accident theory of self-made men. It divorces a man from his own achievement, contemplates him as a being of chance and leaves him without will, motive, ambition, and aspiration. Yet the accident theory is among the most popular theories of individual success. It has about it the air of mystery which the multitude so well like, and withal, it does something to mar the complacency of the successful."
"Fortune may crowd a man's life with favorable circumstances and happy opportunities, but they will, as all know, avail him nothing unless he makes a wise and vigorous use of them."
"A wise man has little use for altars or oracle. He knows that the laws of God are perfect and unchangeable. He knows that health is maintained by right living that bread is produced by tilling the soil that knowledge is obtained by study that wealth is secured by saving and that battles are won by fighting. To him the lazy man is the unlucky man and the man of luck is the man of work."
"We may explain success mainly by one word and that word is WORK! WORK!! WORK!!! WORK!!!! Not transient and fitful effort, but patient, enduring, honest, unremitting, and indefatigable work, into which the whole heart is put, and which, in both temporal and spiritual affairs, is the true miracle worker. Everyone may avail himself of this marvelous power, if he will."
"He who does not think himself worth saving from poverty and ignorance, by his own efforts, will hardly be thought worth the efforts of anybody else."
"The lesson taught at this point by human experience is simply this, that the man who will get up will be helped and that the man who not get up will be allowed to stay down. This rule may appear somewhat harsh, but in its general application and operation it is wise, just, and benevolent. I know of no other rule which can be substituted for it without bringing social chaos. Personal independence is a virtue and it is the soul out of which comes the sturdiest manhood. But there can be no independence without a large share of self-dependence, and this virtue cannot be bestowed. It must be developed from within."
"I have by implication admitted that work alone is not the only explanation of self-made men, or the secret of success. Industry, to be sure, is the superficial and visible cause of success, but what is the cause of industry? In the answer to this question one element is easily pointed out, and that element is necessity. Thackeray very wisely remarks that 'All men are about as lazy as they can afford to be.' Men cannot be depended upon to work when they are asked to work for nothing. All men, however industrious, are either lured or lashed through the world, and we would be a lazy, good-for-nothing set, if we were not so lured and lashed."
"If you wish to make your son helpless, you need not cripple him with bullet or bludgeon, but simply place him beyond the reach of necessity and surround him with ease and luxury."
"Thus the law of labor is self-acting, beneficent, and perfect increasing skill and ability according to exertion. Faithful, earnest, and protracted industry gives strength to the mind and facility to the hand. Within certain limits, the more that a man does, the more he can do."