Every man should strive to reach his full potential. The competitive world in which we live stresses hyper-specialization as the way to get ahead. University graduate degrees narrow down a student’s area of expertise to enable them fill a specific niche. Young boys are encouraged to choose a single sporting event in which they excel if they are to have any hope for a collegiate or professional career down the road. Sadly, this trend is slowly eliminating the once-popular aspiration of becoming a well-rounded man.
A gentleman should have a firm handle on not just one or two, but every aspect of his humanity, working to strengthen himself in every way possible. If he is blessed with the gift of intelligence, his academic pursuits should not be chased to the expense of his physical health. Similarly, a creative personality should not lead a man to isolate himself and ignore the social aspect of his being. Excellence in one of these areas does not take attention away from the pursuit of the others but rather serves only to increase competence in complimentary areas, giving man a greater understanding of himself and the world around him.
The ideal of the Renaissance Man originated in Italy, and is based on the belief that a man’s capacity for personal development is without limits; competence in a broad range of abilities and areas of knowledge should be every man’s goal and is within every man’s grasp. What follows is a breakdown of the areas you need to master in order to become a true Renaissance Man.
The attainment of knowledge is central to a man’s development. A look at notable Renaissance Men throughout history makes it clear that this aspect is the most common and most extensive of all their aspirations. A man must have a diverse knowledge of all academic fields in order to assure his competence. The traditional Renaissance Man was seen to possess not only a general understanding of many topics, but rather a display of expertise in at least two or more of these areas. Science, literature, mathematics, grammar, cultural history and politics are a good place to start.
Subscribe to periodicals that will stretch your scope of knowledge rather than limit it. Do not only peruse blogs that confirm what you already believe. If you must watch television, view programs that will sharpen your intelligence and wit while increasing your awareness of historical events and the current political landscape. Purchase a map of the world or globe and study it. Most men would be embarrassed by what they don’t know when put to the test. Make a list of classic books, which you have not yet read, and schedule a time each day to start working your way down the list. Nothing exposes a man’s ignorance and lack of culture quicker than faulty geography or a lack of literary knowledge.
Subject yourself to material that is yet unknown to you, or opposes your current ideas. A lack of time is no excuse. Borrow from the library audiobooks on non-partisan politics, scientific developments, and religious practices of which you are somewhat or completely unaware and listen to them on your daily commute. Or tune into National Public Radio. This is essential to broadening your personal viewpoints, and will increase both your competence and confidence.
Not every man possesses superb athleticism, but that is hardly an excuse to neglect the maintenance of one’s physical self. Exercise of the body is every bit as important as that of the mind, and research shows that the two are actually quite complimentary. Leonardo da Vinci, whom many consider to be the ideal model of the Renaissance Man, was known to have been a brilliant scientist, inventor, painter, and musician. He was also said to have maintained an impeccable physique throughout his life.
Most men are not involved in physical activity as part of their livelihood, so it is an area that must be maintained by personal discipline. Develop a proper diet and moderate your intake of unhealthy food and drink. This is an essential part of every man’s health. You must set aside time every week for an exercise routine, be it running, cycling, or lifting weights. Find activities that you enjoy and that will not seem like drudgery.
Establish personal goals for distance or duration of your workout, and increase these goals as they are met. Work with others who have similar objectives and abilities to hold each other accountable for the routine. If you are not self-motivated at first, participate in community races or marathons in order to keep yourself responsible. The physical changes you will witness and the discipline you establish will surely have positive manifestations in all other areas of your life.
A well-adjusted social life is perhaps the most important factor for a man to maintain his personal sanity and mental health. Not to mention the fact that strong interpersonal skills make a man an appealing candidate for both friendship and relationship. It is also a man’s responsibility as a citizen to make a significant contribution to his community throughout the course of his life, whether it be through time or money or both.
A man’s social life begins with his own personality, an area that demands a great deal of attention and introspection. You must recognize what you have to offer to others and constantly work to increase your contribution. Hone your listening skills, for everyone wants to be heard. Become a strong conversationalist. This is a combination of taking interest in the lives of others while bringing something of interest to the table yourself. The former consists only of the realization of the intrinsic value of others. The latter is dependent on your knowledge of social issues and influences, as well as your ability to convey them in an appropriate manner by reading others’ reactions. You will find that this personal development of charismatic demeanor may benefit you more than any other pursuit in your life.
Contribution to your community is also a vital part of maintaining a healthy social life. Whether this is involvement in local government, enrollment in the military, or investment of time in social work, it is a responsibility that every man should take seriously. Make sure you are aware of the happenings in society, both locally and nationally. Assess your personal strengths and find a way to use them to benefit the greater good. Coach a Little League baseball team, become a Scoutmaster, lend a hand at a homeless shelter, or organize a community event. This contribution and interaction as part of a group is a great way of developing yourself as a multi-faceted individual.
In our society, some view artistic pursuits as effeminate or limited to the elite class who possess the free time to engage in such frivolity (or alternatively, to those who have opted out of mainstream society and do not work). The Renaissance ideal is in sharp contrast to this mentality. Galileo painted and played the lute alongside his mastery of science and philosophy. Thomas Jefferson was an accomplished architect and designed innovative furniture and fixtures for his personal home throughout his illustrious political career.
A modern man must recognize his creative self as an integral part of the whole. Knowledge of the Arts, as well as personal exercise of his own form of expression prove important in personal development. Many men overlook their personal talents in this area because they are seen as less valuable or profitable than other strengths. Find an area of the arts that you enjoy and give it a go. Having trouble getting started? Many community colleges offer inexpensive art classes for beginners.
Many of history’s greatest minds wrote poetry to express their visions that could not be conveyed in scientific findings or political theory. Pick up a pen and put it to paper, you may be surprised with the result. If you take particular interest in music or painting, use this as your means of expression. It will expand your mind and teach you more about yourself. The exercise of your creative side will likely prove an inspiration not only to yourself, but to others as well.
Jack of All Trades, Master of None OR True Renaissance Man?
As a result of the proliferation of knowledge and the creation of new fields and many subcategories within existing fields, it is impossible to have expert-level knowledge in all fields. And some may argue that those aspiring to extensive knowledge in a variety of fields do not ever master a field, and that only a few distinguished individuals can truly be polymathic Renaissance men. In truth, you may master that which you are passionate about, and yet aspire for competence in many areas. The true benefit comes in making the attempt, not in achieving perfection. By simply aspiring and seeking knowledge and wisdom in fields that impact all of our lives, you will become a better man, and certainly have a shot at being an indisputable Renaissance man.
Written by Ross Crooks and Jason Lankow
Last updated: August 22, 2015