Monday, October 20, 2014

You can't have it all… but maybe you can have more than you think

Shame is such a persistent element of this modern life. Perhaps it is because we have so much constant input coming in from every angle, a million how-to books, a million blog articles offering advice, with think pieces on productivity, maturity, parenting, spirituality, career choices, nutrition, social justice, politics, and more.

They may be well-intentioned, but it can create a lingering suspicion that we're always doing it wrong. Even if we correct our behavior or opinions in response to a convincing argument, there's an opposing viewpoint one week later. It's good that we're listening, it's good that we're evaluating and challenging our own beliefs, I think it's a sign of positive change, but it's also an awful lot of noise. With time, it can become an awful lot of weight.

Or, maybe that's just me. Perhaps I'm uniquely influenced by guilt. I kept taking piano lessons for years because I thought not playing piano would make me a bad person. I feared I'd end up regretting my choices.

Many times I don't even realize guilt is influencing my behavior.

All of this leads into a book review…

I recently read "The Renaissance Soul: Life Design for People with Too Many Passions to Pick Just One". The title says it all. This is a book for people who are always finding themselves pulled in a million different directions, by a million different interests.

Our culture preaches the importance of choosing. This is especially pervasive in the dance industry. How often have dancers heard variations of the idea, "Dance requires everything"? There's a lot of talk of sacrifice and focus. Dedicating yourself completely. Not doing so makes you less of a dancer. It means you don't love it as much as the next guy.

It isn't only true for dancers. The further you get in any career or field of study, the more focused you're expected to get. I believe it discourages a lot of people. It's easy to get depressed looking at a future of doing one thing forever if that isn't ingrained into your personality.

I've learned that love doesn't always requires exclusivity. Each time I crack open a history book, sit down at the piano (yes, I eventually went back to piano), create a unique design element, or take time out to work on my novel, it isn't making me less of a dancer.

Maybe that sounds obvious and silly to you, but it was a major illumination for me. I needed permission to love a lot of things, even if permission only came from a book. I needed someone to tell me that my art wouldn't suffer if I widened my scope a little. I wanted to be set free of the guilt I didn't even know I was bearing.

The author, Lobenstine, uses the example of Leonardo da Vinci, who followed his curiosity down many different paths. The guy is credited as a painter, sculptor, architect, musician, mathematician, engineer, inventor, anatomist, geologist, cartographer, botanist, and writer. Would anyone dare to criticize him, telling him to focus his interests and dedicate himself to one field? No, because he's frickin' Leonardo da Vinci. For all the paths he took, his Mona Lisa is still one of the most celebrated paintings of all time. I'd argue his diverse interests made him a better artist than he would have been if he limited himself to one field.

That isn't to say I'm anywhere near the level of Leonardo da Vinci, but I do think I have some similar wiring in the way that I approach art. Lobenstine does a great job outlining practical strategies and plans for those with a Renaissance Soul personality type. Though I didn't fill out all the worksheets, they got me thinking in a more productive way and enabled me to create a few of my own plans.

If you think you might be a Renaissance Soul, I can't recommend this book enough. The career plans are great, but the best part is finding permission to embrace your own curiosity.


  1. Okay, this book sounds INCREDIBLE and exactly what I've needed to ease my own guilt and confusion about having multiple passions. Thank you so much for sharing it and best of luck with all of your amazing pursuits!!