On Being a Renaissance Soul

Throughout my life, I’ve had trouble picking that one thing and sticking to it. For instance, I’ve never had a favorite book, movie, or song  – who can pick just one favorite? I’ve never had a “calling” like some people who just knew they were meant to be a teacher, doctor, or [fill in the blank here] since childhood…and then went on to be just that. I also had trouble choosing a major in college (no surprise there). While I definitely groove to certain subjects and endeavors, the world is far too interesting a place to choose just one anything.

Perhaps that’s why I like reading so much. I can experience an almost infinite variety of places, people, time periods, and events by jumping into the pages of a good book. I think that’s why I like writing so much as well. I’ve written copy on a range of topics as diverse as financial services, hybrid operating rooms, assisted living, life coaching, leadership, and social media. I’ve found that writing gives me a useful and legitimate outlet (and justification) for all of the random facts and bits of information that I find and store away on a daily basis. I also like to visit new places and meet new people (talk about infinite variety!).

So, Just What is a Renaissance Soul?

For starters, I have to admit that I didn’t coin this term myself, dangit. Margaret Lobenstine beat me to it with her book, The Renaissance Soul: Life Design for People with Too Many Passions to Pick Just One. When I picked up this little gem, my mental cheerleaders (doesn’t everyone have those?) started doing cartwheels. Finally, someone not only gets me, but tells me that there are tons of other people just like me. I think that the subtitle, People with Too Many Passions to Pick Just One, sums up what a Renaissance Soul is nicely, but here’s a more detailed definition taken directly from the book description as listed on Goodreads:

It is conventional wisdom that there is one true path in life for each of us. But what about those with a wide array of interests, a dynamic curiosity about the world, and an ever-renewing wellspring of passions? Margaret Lobenstine calls these people “Renaissance Souls.”

There have been many times in my life when I’ve fervently wished I could be one of those people who just knew what they were meant to do and I often regarded my varying interests as a weakness. However, there’s something about attaching a label that uses the word “Renaissance” that reframes this quality of mine in a positive light. After all, joining the ranks of people like Leonardo (DaVinci, not DiCaprio), Benjamin Franklin, and Oprah Winfrey is an honor.

Mozarts and Franklins: There’s Room for Both

Being a Renaissance man, or polymath, was the highest standard of being during the Renaissance and embodied the notion that “a man can do all things if he will” (Leon Battista Alberti, 1404-1472). Renaissance humanists considered humans to be unlimited in their capacity to learn and felt that knowledge was empowering. Therefore, they rejected the scholasticism of the day that focused on practical, pre-professional and scientific studies (sounds much like today’s typical college experience, no?) and advocated for people to embrace knowledge across many areas and develop their capacity as fully as possible.

Modern society has moved away from that ideal and now focuses on choosing a career field and pursuing it with single-minded dogged determination. Despite the many scientific, cultural, and philosophical contributions from the ranks of Renaissance Souls, society implies that we are somehow defective. Don’t buy into it. We’re not defective; we’re just different.

There’s something to be said for developing a deep level of expertise in something. After all, where would we be without the Mozarts of the world? But, I believe that being well-rounded and being able to speak intelligently across multiple disciplines has value too. After all, where would we be without the Ben Franklins of the world?

Are You a Renaissance Soul Too?

Is a trip to a bookstore or library like a trip to a candy store for you? Do you have trouble limiting your passions, hobbies, and other endeavors to “just one”? Do your friends, family, and co-workers treat you like their own personal encyclopedia, assuming that you have answers to everything? Do these same people tell you that you should be a Jeopardy! contestant? Do you find yourself simultaneously interested in learning to knit, speak a foreign language, play guitar, learn to code like a boss, and take stunning DSLR photos? [Here’s me, raising my hand.]

If you answered yes to most of the questions listed above, welcome to Camp Renaissance Soul. Still not sure? Take Margaret Lobestine’s quiz. Don’t forget to leave me a comment and let me know!

8 thoughts on “On Being a Renaissance Soul

  1. Wendy,

    You write very similar to myself. I have a blog called Renaissance Souls which I worked on a while ago and finally resurrecting to life again. Many of the points you wrote about are views and experiences I’ve had myself. Renaissance people, aka Polymaths – it seems to be about tying together the interests and skills we have learned – learning how to apply them and connecting the dots to see the big picture. Transferable skills can be marketable to the right people and especially in an entrepreneurial career.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for stopping by! I totally agree with your point about the career value of a broad skill set and knowledge base. For me, I’m still surprised at how often the dots connect, meaning how many times seemingly unrelated bits of information intersect in unexpected ways. Some of my best ideas happen that way. Good luck with your blog


  2. Hi Wendy, I found your blog post while doing a bit of research to update my own post on being a Renaissance Soul (http://www.jimintriglia.com/education-blog/2016/6/24/the-renaissance-soul-unleashed). Love your reference to your “mental cheerleaders started doing cartwheels”– I remember feeling excited after reading Margaret’s book and realizing that I was among good company that shared my passion for exploring many different paths that this life has to offer.


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