How do I become a Renaissance Man (or woman)?

My previous post on "Becoming a Jack of all Trades, Master of Some" was written to highlight the foundation and legitimacy of the Renaissance Man. I began by explaining where the term originated...

During the 14th-17th centuries, beginning in Italy, a period of learning and cultural advancement called the Renaissance began. This period was marked by an enriching of general life from the arts, to athletics, to social graces. We often hear of the product of such an age referred to as a “Renaissance man” or someone who is adept and knowledgeable across many spheres of life. It began as an idea birthed by Leon Battista Alberti (1404–1472) who was an Italian humanist author, artist, architect, poet, priest, linguist, philosopher and cryptographer — embodying this cultural movement.

But what does it truly mean to be a Renaissance Man?

Some might consider it to be an adeptness at many different skills. I, however, believe that it encompasses more than just mechanical talent. Many brilliant people become skilled in multiple disciplines throughout their lifetime. Embracing Alberti's philosophy means showing a general adeptness across the different spheres of life. A gentleman (or woman) should be well-rounded in the various facets of their life, not letting one go in pursuit of another. Balance, in this instance, is key. Let's take, for example, social graces. Though expertly skilled at web design and animation, a computer nerd might not find themselves at ease in the midst of a large benefit banquet or even at a friend's birthday party. With practice and training, however, the can acquire or refine the necessary "protocol" and graduate from "Nerd-Alert" to "Computer-Savvy & Suave".

 

Let's take a look at the various spheres of life and their relevance to the Renaissance Man.

Image by khrawlings

Image by khrawlings

Social

Social graces are an area of life that goes largely untouched these days. Simple practices such as removing your hat while indoors or bringing your host a gift are relics of the past that should be revived. I will admit, I find myself forgetting such simple manners on a regular basis and am working toward developing those habits. A gentlemen should understand these practices and put them into action, understanding that they're rooted in respect not in superfluous rules.

It is often said that women enjoy a man with humor. Of course, humor takes many different forms, so the appreciation of it in general is an acquired taste so to speak. If one can develop such a general appreciate for it and and even find a propensity for voicing a subtle quip here and there, he is farther along than most.

Conversation is a topic of intriguing discussion. While some are quite at home talking for hours on end with total strangers, others find that a certain level of comfort is required before the real ebb and flow of conversation becomes natural. This, however, can also be developed; while it may not fully fabricate a comfortable situation with a total stranger, it will at least give you confidence in your engagement.

Part of the art of conversation is awareness. Put a few of your senses to work - sight, sound, smell. Being able to sense when it is time to wrap up a conversation, move on to another topic, lighten the mood with a witty remark or simply nod can be a valuable skill.

If you're interested, here is a wonderful class on "Mastering your People Skills" by Venessa Van Edwards, founder of Science of People. 

Image by andronicusmax

Image by andronicusmax

Physical

Gents and ladies, this one goes out to everyone. Your body is the shell in which you live every day of your life - take care of it! Just because you're not Michael Phelps, Lebron James or Drew Brees doesn't mean you aren't tasked with the responsibility (if not to yourself, to your spouse and children) to retain a healthy lifestyle. I'm not advocating a four-times-a-week, iron-pumping, marathon training workout. It can be simple, just keep it active. Sadly, we live in an age where most people do not find "physical exercise" as part of their job description. This means you have to supplement your work days with some sort of activity.

Here's some good goals to start with:

+Touch your toes with your knees locked out
+30 (man) push-ups, 10 pull-ups and 50 sit-ups
+Run 1 mile in: Men: 8 minutes / Women: 12 minutes
+Keep your weight within your weight class based on your age, hight and body type

Image by Keoni Cabral

Image by Keoni Cabral

Emotional

Speaking strictly to the men here, women want an emotionally stable man. This doesn't mean you never cry. Shed a few man-tears when Ol' Yeller dies, that's cool. But emotional stable means you are aware and understand your emotions and you don't let them dictate your life through impulsive decisions. Learn how to manage your emotional wellbeing so that you can engage life with steadfastness.

Being aware of your emotional state also means that you can empathize. This is important for developing relationships both with your spouse and others. Can you understand the pain of others? If you are able to tap into that emotional reserve and understand their struggles, you can council, encourage, excite and mourn with those you care about.

Image by Rincewind42

Image by Rincewind42

Mental

The most obvious pillar of mental adeptness is diversity of knowledge. Throughout history, the Renaissance Men were known for their ability to converse intelligently across a wide range of academic and cultural topics. Not only understanding the basics of such topics but being able to discuss them is key. Though a difficult task, indeed, this purposeful expansion of knowledge will actually have a great impact on the other spheres of life as well. They key here is to consume knowledge that isn't necessarily what you already believe. This will force your hand and help you understand exactly what you believe and if you have a basis for that belief. I would caution you here, however, to be careful in the genre of spiritual material. It would be wise to have someone mentor you in this area to better understand what you believe.

If you're having trouble determining where to begin:

+Read this list of classics books
+Subscribe to great email newsletters (like this onethis one and this one) that will send you valuable, weekly content
+Research the great men/women of history and read their biographies

Another pillar of mental adeptness is mental toughness. Are you in control of your mind? There should be such surety and firm grounding that when trouble comes, a man or woman is not easily shaken. Though an extreme case, men and women who come home from war often have developed a mental toughness that gives them a rigor to face life.

Finally, a Renaissance Man should be quick and practiced at thinking with logic and reason. Knowing how to think is of the utmost importance. When faced with thousands of decisions each day (small or large), you must be able to make decisions and understand why you made them. Making the right decision though it may be the unfavorable one is the result of reason coupled with mental toughness.

Image by Jesse Acosta

Image by Jesse Acosta

Cultural

Men and women, though perhaps creatively challenged, should nonetheless be versed in art and art appreciation. Theater, music, paintings, dance... these mediums of expression have defined cultures since the beginning of time. Understanding the theory and the technique opens doors of insight into the creation of masterpieces throughout history.

It is said that men during the Renaissance period were often expected to speak several languages if they were to be taken seriously as a well-to-do member of society. Even if you are uncertain about learning a new language or think that you are bad at it, I would urge you to give it another go, but this time do it for the fun of it! Formal classes seem to put learning in a grim light; learn a language because You want to. If you aren't sure where to go, I would highly suggest DuoLingo which is a free, online software that I am currently using to learn French! Il est bon!


It is not often that a man can make opportunities for himself. But he can put himself in such shape that when or if the opportunities come he is ready.
— Theodore Roosevelt

Other Resources:

Start on your way to becoming a Renaissance man with The Anti-Mediocrity Toolkit.
De-clutter, re-prioritize and take action in your life with the free, 24-page Story Arc Guide.