Being a renaissance man versus being a specialist

Ken Jeong, Kal Penn, Vladimir Putin, Theodore Roosevelt, Shigesato Itoi, Nick Cave, and Tim Ferriss: what do all these men have in common? They are renaissance men. In this age when people say to specialize, because being a jack of all trades means being a master of none, they proved them wrong by showing that they did specialize in something. That specialization was “making complete use of their potential to be everything they dream of being”.

A couple of months ago, an old friend of mine had a disagreement with me which ended in a somewhat disappointing closure to a friendship. His words were that I should specialize in one thing, and in the heat of the moment, said that there was no way I could ever be good at anything by having too many interests. I found it quite silly, because I’ve known quite a number of individuals who have made the effort to do as much as they possibly can and maximizing their potential.

This sentiment was again echoed by one of my colleagues in my graduate department who, upon hearing about my acting background, told me to pick a focus, and that it would be difficult to choose between international relations and acting. Then I told her about my attempts to create independent media about global issues, which is a focus in of itself, marrying the two interests and giving birth to something I feel very passionate about making a difference with.

Of course, I could sense in her eyes that she didn’t believe me and felt I was still a child, out there and exploring. It’s a bit pointless to explain or argue with people on the things I stand for, but it’s also great to know that with my interests and goals, I am now able to say I am now in the company of some amazing individuals.

Amongst them include:

Theodore Roosevelt: President of the United States and accomplished man, whose list of accomplishments is too long to post here, but can be found here on Art of Manliness.

Ken Jeong: Doctor and actor–two very busy professions, yet he manages to excel at both. Check out his movies to see his talent shine.

Kal Penn: White House employee and actor–sounds like it’s right up my alley, since I’m international relations and doing acting/documentary film making. Interestingly, like me, most people ignored him when he used his real name, but when he used Kal Penn (an abbreviation of his full name), people contacted him more–another reason I go by Johnny C everywhere.

Nick Cave: rock star, screen writer, author, actor–if you haven’t seen any of his work, start with his music and check out his writing. It all came from one man and distinctly carries his creative spark.

Vladimir Putin, former President of Russia (and possibly returning to office soon): some people might say that it’s all propaganda art, but actually, like Theodore Roosevelt, they were both clever enough to understand public image, while actually being genuinely passionate about their activities and interests. A recent article in The Atlantic shows some highlights of Putin, which is also available in a truncated form on the Art of Manliness. These interests include Judo, hunting, scuba diving, racing, and much, much more.

Shigesato Itoi: a video game designer, a professional critic, voice actor, script writer for film and video games, bass fisherman–he has a quirky set of hobbies, but maintains the character of a humble and kind, fun man.

Tim Ferriss: Author of the books The Four-Hour Work Week and The Four-Hour Body. He has done everything from becoming a champion in kung fu in China to setting a new world record for Argentine Tango, he makes his interests all completely possible to do. Why? Because most people aren’t willing to put in the work or time to it, when in actuality, everything is possible–just by going out and doing it, you are already a step toward accomplishing your goals. He takes it a step further: he makes the journey much shorter by creating a methodology to get to your goal with the minimal required work and effort–in other words, working smart, not hard, being efficient instead of effective.

In the field of international relations, it is difficult to be a “specialist” per se. I can specialize in politics, Southeast Asia, and Chinese language, but to be able to relate to people outside of politics is an art. In my program, we learn to socialize at parties (because diplomats party), how to negotiate, have hard technical skills in economics and quantitative analysis, and we all have a wide variety of hobbies. Some of the best business deals happen over a game of golf or because someone is impressed with your karaoke skills.

In my opinion, specializing too much is a failure of creativity and limitation of potential if you have other interests you choose not to pursue because you believe that you don’t think you could do as well since it’s an additional interest or goal.

A friend once told me how to focus all my interests: when I thought of acting, writing, outdoor activity, fighting, traveling, saving the world, adventures, getting the girl, and being financially successful and wealthy, I thought I had no focus. He said to pick a number. I chose the number five. He said “There you go: that’s your number. Now whenever you think of the number five, all of those things you think about are associated with the number five. There’s your focus. You can have it all if you have focus. But it doesn’t have to come one at a time either.”

I’m ready for action!


2 responses to “Being a renaissance man versus being a specialist

  1. Pingback: Cheating on Yoga

  2. Pingback: Cheating on Yoga | intheLoop | Yoga . Pilates . Health . Fitness | Singapore

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