I don’t remember which year it was, but I was about middle-school-age. My family and I were in Ocean City, New Jersey for our biannual reunion. I don’t even recall what triggered it, but I made a pledge to myself in the bathroom mirror.
I wanted to be a Renaissance Man.
I can’t remember where I first heard the term, or how accurate my understanding of it was at the time, but I knew I wanted to be good at as many things as possible. I wanted to draw, run, write, lift heavy weights, maintain a sharp mind which could bust out complex mathematical equations on a whim, and whatever else my pubescent mind conceived.
Perhaps part of my influence was the Doc Savage book series. His Wikipedia page describes him this way:
He is a physician, scientist, adventurer, detective, inventor, explorer, researcher, and, as revealed in The Polar Treasure, a musician. A team of scientists deliberately trained his mind and body to near-superhuman abilities almost from birth, giving him great strength and endurance, a photographic memory, a mastery of the martial arts, and vast knowledge of the sciences. Doc is also a master of disguise and an excellent imitator of voices.
If anyone ever was, this fictional character was a true Renaissance Man.
The term originated in the 20th century, and describes a polymath who is gifted in many areas. Leonardo da Vinci is considered the archetype of a Renaissance Man because of his diversity of expertise. He was not alone, however, as many such men (Dante, Michelangelo, and many more) emerged during the Renaissance as the European culture strove to push the boundaries of human achievement. This newfound humanism which characterized this epoch led to the creation of the term. A “Renaissance Man” is good at many things.
The motivation for my pledge was not quite humanistic as it was romantic. It’s cute to admit, but I wanted to be good at everything for my future wife. I looked at my reflection and vowed to give her everything I possibly could—everything I could master so she could have it all (Ironically, I became good at nearly everything except things that actually make money).
I remember this notion of being good at everything trailing me through high school and college and even appearing in trace remains today. It’s certainly not bad to strive to be good at things, but what needed to be adjusted was my motivation.
At some point, the belief morphed into less of a cute way to woo a woman and more of a formation of my identity: if I was bad at something, I was a failure and no woman would ever want me.
For instance, I don’t have a full-time job right now, so I constantly battle a voice that says, “No woman will ever want you if you can’t provide for her.”
It somehow became lodged in my brain that I needed to be good at a myriad of things in order to impress a woman. The natural inverse, then, is that if I am not succeeding at a certain thing, no woman will want me.
The point I’m getting to is, the more we let these ideas we have of ourselves shape us, the more we let performance determine our worth. Maybe you’re a competitive business woman and anything but the tippy-top means failure. It’s easy to think that, because of our status or accomplishments (or lack thereof), we are unworthy of love.
Maybe for you it’s less about your career and more about humor, looks, or intelligence. Each of us at some point made a pledge to do x, y, and z in order to win our people. Everyone has their methods. Nice cars or big biceps are standard go-to’s.
These hypothetical strategies are something I think about a lot. I am always trying to figure out the differences between people who get married younger and enter into good, healthy relationships with a great spouse, and people like me who can’t seem to make it stick. My very un-comprehensive answer is this:
People who can connect best with others are those who don’t mask themselves with impressive feats or disguises. They know themselves and are able to communicate this to others honestly and humbly.
Honestly: They don’t hide their shortcomings or quirks. So many of us try to live up to a certain expectation of wealth, success, or charisma, and when we think we fall short, we compensate in other ways. These people are instead honest about their flaws and accept them, presenting their full selves to the world.
Humbly: They also know the things they are good at but don’t exaggerate these. Humility isn’t just thinking lowly of yourself, but thinking honestly. These people don’t try to get you to like them by listing off accomplishments, flashing their Lambo, or 1-upping you.
If you think about these two traits, isn’t that someone you’d want to be with? It makes sense that they can connect quickly with others and connect at a deep level. Think about the alternative: people who don’t really know themselves, are self-deceptive, and just want to impress others with a false version of themselves.
Do you know how hard it is to fall in love with a false person? Nearly impossible.
So I’m working to undo the accidental damage done by my sophomoric pledge. It’s a great thing to strive to be great, and great at a lot of things. What needs to be monitored, though, is the motivation behind these aspirations.
Be great at things, but not as proof that you’re valuable.
Do a lot of things well, but not in order to earn love.
Be real with yourself; get to know yourself, and you will naturally attract a good amount of people (friends and beyond) by being honest and humble.