Becoming a Renaissance Man

Plato and Aristotle surrounded by philosophers, detail from School of Athens, fresco by Raphael

Nowadays, specializations in various fields get more and more narrow. We, as employees and creative workers, are used to being labeled as something. We consider ourselves either as software developers, designers, artists, teachers, or whatever. Then we limit ourselves to only that field, even though we might have interests outside of that label that we are afraid to explore. And we think that’s pretty normal and that’s how things should be.

But let’s consider other alternatives.

Let’s go back to 15th century Italy, Florence in particular. There was a man known as Leonardo da Vinci, which is considered as one of the most influential people of all time and is labeled as a genius by most people in today’s world.

Leonardo was truly a remarkable person, but have you ever wondered about the character that he had? How is it possible for a single human being to be so effective in so many things, and become known as a universal genius?

If you don’t know, Leonardo was a painter, sculptor, humanist, scientist, architect, philosopher, engineer, and more. He was a prime example of what we call a Renaissance man. This idea comes from a time of history called the Renaissance which lasted from about 1400 to about 1600.

Just think about it, how strongly curious should a man be to become interested in so many things and excel in most of them. Can we cultivate the same curiosity in our lives as well?

Well, that’s a million-dollar question.

I think that the force of creativity should not be limited to a single bubble. By bubble, what I mean is your current label. What do you consider yourself to be right now? Have you ever thought of maybe changing your careers? Or getting involved in a field that you have zero experience but are very curious about?

I don’t know if you’ve noticed but your self-identity is a very dynamic thing. You think that it’s as stable as it gets. But you are not the same person you were 10 years ago. And after 10 years, you won’t be the same person you are today.

That process can be done consciously or unconsciously. What I mean is that you can consciously choose who and what you want to be and work towards it. Or you can go with the flow of your current experiences, don’t think much of what I’m saying here, and unconsciously morph your self-image and self-identity into something that you may not even like in the future, and then blame the world for not working in your way, even though everything was set up by your subconscious mind.

Becoming a Renaissance man is taking control over your creative inspirations and ways of expressing yourself. It is a process of self-discovery when you experiment and get curious about life.

And there are so many interesting fields that you can become interested in.

Apart from Leonardo, there were so many Renaissance men throughout history and still are today.

Michelangelo, contemporary of Leonardo da Vinci excelled as an architect, painter, sculptor, poet, and writer.

Galileo was most interested in astronomy but was also knowledgeable in the fields of mathematics, physics, philosophy, music, and art.

Thomas Jefferson is another great example, who was an architect, author, lawyer, musician, botanist, inventor, philosopher, political theorist, and naturalist.

Nicolaus Copernicus was interested in and excelled in the fields of astronomy, canon law, economics, mathematics, medicine, politics.

Aristotle was also a philosopher who studied and wrote about many subjects, including physics, metaphysics, poetry, theater, music, logic, rhetoric, politics, government, ethics, biology, and zoology.

Albert Einstein was a physicist, mathematician, cosmologist, professor, refrigeration engineer (patent), patent analyst, essayist, activist, pianist, and recital violinist.

Isaac Newton was a physicist, mathematician, astronomer, theologian, natural philosopher, and alchemist.

Sir Winston Churchill was a British prime minister, military leader, historian, novelist, painter, and sportsman.

And many others…

Today’s technological advancements and deepening of various academic or technical fields seem to force us to be specialized in one area. That’s what it seems to be culturally feasible and suitable for business. But if we look closely, those people I mentioned above were not dabblers in their areas of interest. They were masters. They were one of the most remarkable people in their fields. That should make us wonder. What if having many different interests gets combined into something very valuable and useful even for today’s society?

What if you become a better software developer if you at the same time devote your time to understanding psychology, philosophy, and history? What can you offer to your clients other than your technical skills? Maybe your communication will get much better if you spend your time in a less tech-oriented field and get out of your technological bubble for a while?

What if you become a better artist if you are naturally curious about understanding the world in general and not only your small little art bubble?

What if your success in any field can skyrocket if you go and study the lives of eastern monks and yogis and learn techniques and methods from them that are applicable in the modern world as well?

You see, it’s all about the integration of big picture understanding, curiosity, specialization, and mastery.

You have to be smart about this and choose a field through which you will be able to provide massive value to society. But you should also consider the fact that everything in the universe is interconnected. It might not seem that way but it is. Every field is somehow connected to all the others, and if you are naturally curious about the understanding of the reality around you, and you are afraid of that being a bad idea, just go with it.

If you want to learn how to draw, go grab a pencil and get to work.

If you want to learn how to meditate, and you don’t think of yourself as a monk, go ahead and do it. You don’t need to be a monk to become a masterful meditator.

If you want to learn how to code, and right now you are working as an artist, follow that instinct.

If you are interested in music but haven’t played any instrument in your entire life, go to a music store and buy the instrument of your choice and start practicing.

If you want to learn about anything, just go to Google and find books and articles. All the knowledge and how-to is one Google search away. Don’t forget that.

Follow your curiosities. The people I mentioned above did exactly that. That’s what made them great thinkers, artists, and inventors of all time. That’s why we know their names after hundreds and sometimes thousands of years.

You can be good at many things, but also consider tackling things and domains of life one by one. If you try and do everything at once, you might fail at everything, that’s why I emphasized the point of being smart about this.

If you want to know how to develop your skills in any field of your choice, you can go ahead and read one of my articles about Mastery and Skill Development.

I hope I inspired you a little bit to consider the possibility of becoming a Renaissance man for yourself. And if you do that, you’ll discover that life can be much more exciting and fun when your labels and self-identity expand to not only include the things that society or your upbringing made you believe but to whatever or however you want to be.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store