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How to Be a Renaissance Man

“Learning never exhausts the mind.”

Leonardo da Vinci (1452 – 1519)

I’m not writing this post as an attempt to share my knowledge on how to be a renaissance man, this is coming from my fascination with people who manage to master multiple crafts.

By no means am I a renaissance man, but I do have a strange fear of being pigeon-holed into one spot which I believe has given me the drive to develop myself in multiple areas. I’ve always enjoyed being able to do many different things and when I see other people who have that same ability I can’t help but to want to know how they do it.

When I was younger, older folks would always call me a jack-of-all-trades. I’m not sure if they were insulting me or complimenting me, but I’ve always been interested in what turns the “jack-of-all-trades” into the “master-of-all-trades”. Perhaps it’s impossible, but one particular person who I believe got pretty close was a true genius, Leonardo da Vinci.

While he is most known for his paintings, da Vinci studied more than just painting. He was a student in sculpting, architecture, anatomy, zoology, physiology, astronomy, geography, naval warfare, philosophy, writing, music, and engineering. Most people just spend their lives doing one thing, but this guy dedicated himself to learning everything he could about everything he could.

Personally, DaVinci is a huge inspiration to me. I believe that human beings have immense potential and da Vinci is one of the few people in history who actually brought it out. He showed me that people are capable of being well versed in anything, we never have to commit to knowing just one thing. This gives me a feeling that’s like a perpetual renewing of life — knowing that tomorrow always contains something exciting and new.

I believe the foundation to unlocking our miraculous potential is outlined fantastically in Michael J. Gleb’s book How to Think like Leonardo da Vinci: Seven Steps to Genius Every Day. These steps are known as the Seven da Vincian Principles and these principles lay the foundation for da Vinci’s incredible ability to learn so deeply.

The 7 da Vincian Principles

Curiosita’

This is an insatiable curiosity. Not only will having an insatiable curiosity reveal to us the path of mastery, but it’ll always reveal new paths to explore. We can always keep discovering.

I attribute much of the success in my life to having an insatiable curiosity. It’s what birthed all of my passions as well as laid the foundation for most of my relationships.

Dimonstrazione

This is testing knowledge through experience. Learning is fantastic, but sometimes we’ll learn inaccurate information. The easiest and cleanest way to separate the wheat from the chaff is to put it to the test in a real-life scenario. Everything we learn has to be battle-tested. Sometimes ideas are great in theory, but true and good knowledge works through experience. We can use our curiosity to learn large amounts of knowledge and we can test our findings out in the field, so to speak.

Sensazione

This is a continued refinement of the senses. We must constantly be refining how we sense. Over time, our typical five senses (hearing, touching, smelling, seeing, and taste) become less sharp unless we intentionally stimulate and use them. This can extend far beyond our five senses, expanding into our senses of other non-tangible things. Focusing on refining our business, social, or artistic sense could also lead to unlocking human potential.

Thankfully now we know enough about people to know that refining our sense is as simple as “use it or lose it.” Continuously challenging our senses inherently refines them and in the struggle of that challenge, something beautiful is born.

Sfumato

This refers to a willingness to embrace ambiguity. The older I get, the more I see this to be necessary to grow in any capacity. Before we can be masters, we must be fools and to be a fool is to live with ambiguity. When we first start something, we have to accept that something is just unclear and that’s okay. We have to be okay with a certain level of the unknown in order to expand ourselves. Learning is converting the unknown into the known and that can only happen if we accept the unknown for what it is.

This is also true with art. When we start an artistic project, we don’t exactly know what it will become and we need to allow the project to grow through the ambiguous stage.

Arte/Scienza

This is to develop a balance between art and science. This is probably my favorite principle. I see art and science as the two forces that drive humanity forward. One makes life worth living and the other makes it better – you could make a compelling argument for either and that is what I love most about it.

Artsy types that shut out the world of science are closing themselves off to a world of infinite beauty and wonder and the same is true with ultra sciencey types who shun art. Great art is a science and great science is an art and to be apart of both worlds is one of the best parts of being human.

Corporalita’

This is cultivating fitness and poise, which comes with the acceptance we are a human animal and not a machine. We have physical needs that must be met and cultivating that within us is beneficial everywhere else in our lives.

A healthier body does more. In a day it can make more decisions, take in more information, learn more, share more, create more, and make more connections. With fitness comes poise and with poise comes more accurate and precise actions. Developing grace is developing awareness and intentionality, two crucial traits for mastery.

Connessione

This is recognizing and appreciating that all phenomena are connected. Let me just say that taking the time to see the interconnectedness of the universe is the definition of inner peace. But it’s much more than that too, it’s also a way for us to understand the world around us. To understand me is to understand others and to understand others is to understand me. Seeing the connections between subjects that may seem like polar opposites like philosophy and mathematics gives a richness to life that I’m not skilled enough to capture in words, but it’s something like being present to the miracle of existence.

When I’m present to the connection of existence, I have an appreciation for all that is and all that is not. We can see a pattern of the planets in a solar system that’s similar to structures at the atomic level and it’s amazing to observe. Each piece is in its place, doing what is it supposed to, like music or mitosis. Understanding that all things are connected also gives us frameworks to explore new crafts and subjects. Discovering that connection is invigorating.


Each of these principles makes up the larger foundation on which we can develop our skills and ourselves. Developing each of these principles strengthens the others, as well as evolve every other part of our lives.

Thank God, we have access to this kind of knowledge and that people before us took the time to write it down. But it’s not like da Vinci made these rules and lived his life by them. He was living a certain way and discovered the principles as he developed himself so that others may be able to get a glimpse into his mind.

I suggest living out just one day with these principles in mind and see how you like it. We can try anything for a day.