As a teenager, I never excelled in any one area. I was a mediocre violinist, a undistinguished scholar, an agonizingly pathetic athlete. My indifferent attention span for any skill prevented my buckling down and achieving greatness. The “jack of all trades, master of none” maxim bothered me like an inescapable self-fulfilling prophecy. But then, on a boring Saturday, I happened to watch the Danny DeVito movie Renaissance Man. The only thing I remember from the film was when Danny DeVito explained what a renaissance man actually was, a person who excels in many areas. After years of a public school education, rampant with the notion that we must each be pigeonholed into only one field (brain, jock, band geek, etc.), watching that movie was the first time I realized that it was possible to shine in several disciplines.
I tucked the renaissance man notion away during college and did my best to get through. As graduation approached, I realized I had done myself a disservice by failing to go the extra mile in my studies, and started wishing I could redo my education. Having children only reaffirmed this wish, and I began developing as many new talents as I could in a lifelong pursuit of learning. I am still in the “jack of all trades” category, but I trust that with time, I will gain more skill in each area and eventually succeed in many things. I hope my children will follow my lead, and will pursue greatness in many things in their own lives.
I confess, though, that my dreams have been on the shelf and off again as we battle schedules and limited energy. Recently, though, as I was walking through the book store, I happened upon a title that caught my eye: How to Think Like Leonardo da Vinci: Seven Steps to Genius Every Day by Michael J. Gelb. This book is an instructional manual for everything I want to teach my kids and myself to become renaissance men and women. After years of study, Gelb uncovered seven basic principles used by Da Vinci, and he outlines them in the book. He gives the reader exercises to think more clearly and experience the world more fully, hoping to train them to unlock their own potential and genius. It is a perfect guide to keep me on track as I follow these goals for myself and my kids.