The Curse of Being a Renaissance Man
Back in his day, Leonardo Da Vinci was the epitome of what a Renaissance man should be. A polymath, he was skilled in everything from art to astronomy and made significant progress in various fields. In the year 1500, this would have been applauded as an ideal lifestyle. In the year 2020, not so much.
Many of us know modern-day Leonardo Da Vincis. In an effort to be well-rounded, they sacrifice countless hours pursuing ballroom dancing and competitive chess, participating in seven clubs and volunteering at a turtle conservatory, fighting tooth and nail to become president of the Spanish club. It’s a useless effort: a jack of all trades is a master of none.
Nowadays, there is too much information out there, and attempting to become proficient in a subject is a much greater challenge than it was in the Renaissance period. Although commended for being beyond his times, Leonardo Da Vinci had significantly less knowledge at his disposal. Becoming an expert in art, architecture and several other fields was something possible at that time. The world has changed, and we are far past the days when one could feasibly become a “Renaissance man.” Anyone would be spread too thin trying to involve him or herself in as many subjects as Da Vinci did.
So, what should you do? Dive deep. In other words, it’s all about the quality, not the quantity. Colleges and employers don’t look for chemists who are part-time hairdressers! Instead, spend your time developing a subject you truly enjoy. Having the time to richly cultivate one of your interests will benefit you far more than running around in circles trying to build your resume with random and unrelated activities. How many times do we hear about the doctor and lawyer who is also an artist and writer? Never! Think about some of the most famous and successful people you know. I’m sure you’ll find that most have distinguished themselves in one specific area.
However, that is not to say you shouldn’t be curious. The world is your oyster and with the internet, learning about everything from neuroscience to Beyonce’s favorite type of midnight snack is a simple click away. Learning is a good thing and to keep things fresh, you should pursue subjects that pique your interest and complement your goals. That being said, you should also try to develop your passions. Real growth comes from going deeper, searching for things that can’t be uncovered through articles and internet posts, and making your own impact on what you find interesting. There’s no reason to limit yourself, but it doesn’t hurt to make time for what’s truly important.
Well, why does this even matter? Throughout our lives we’ve been told, “Be well-rounded; that’s what colleges and employers look for.” How many hours have we wasted chasing this dream of being a “master of all”? In the end, many of us are left without a single talent. It’s time to abandon this myth, this idealistic vision of being Renaissance men. It’s time to forget about becoming Swiss army knives and to finally chase our passions.