“Jack of all trades, master of none, but oft times better than the master of one.”
This phrase, written first in 1612, was regarded as a compliment during the Renaissance. Renaissance humanists believed humans to be limitless in their capabilities, and as such should pursue knowledge and mastery in every possible manner. Also known as polymaths, these individuals would learn multiple languages and musical instruments, developing not just intellectual skills, but also their physical prowess, social accomplishments, and artistic capabilities. They’re the reason we use the word university (universities were once places of universal education) and why the liberal arts are called the humanities.
Not everyone agrees with this ideal.
“He who embraces too much, has a weak grasp”
“You aim for everything, but you hit nothing”
“Who chases two jackrabbits catches none”
“Seven trades, the eighth one – poverty”
The problem with quotes is that it’s easy to mistake a catchy zinger for valid truth, so here’s something a little more personally relevant. An extended relative of mine – a concept artist for a custom car designer – gave me a framed piece when I was sixteen years old of this wonky car doing a burnout, and he signed it with this oddly prescient quip:
Pick your direction,
aim it & GO!”
My point, I hope, is illustrated. There’s an approach to life that says being well-rounded makes us better at life as a whole, and there’s another that says exclusive dedication is the path to success. The truth, I suspect, is a mixture of the two.
I bring all this up because I’ve found myself incapable of choosing and dedicating to one goal. I was never able to make my goal “get a degree” – I don’t want a piece of paper, I want an education that will enable me to do the things I value most. It’s hard, though, when everything seems so interconnected and as a result, becomes frustratingly interesting. The internet makes this cycle quite relentless.
I told someone recently that I’d love for people to be saying “Renaissance man” at my funeral. Maybe it’s morbidly narcissistic to dream up the speeches people will give about me when I’m dead, but it’s the only way I can come close to imagining what I want my entire life to look like – through the fantasized approval of others. Of course, there’s a less cynical perspective, too. Perhaps I just enjoy making people happy in a lasting way.
It occurs to me that my altruism was probably a misdiagnosis of a strong case of humanism, and suddenly it all seems a little clearer. Engaging with humanity is what gets me out of bed in the morning. Relationships are my vocation. They are what I find satisfaction and joy in. Building new connections, strengthening old ones, and navigating adversity and challenge together with my comrades in life – these are the things that make my life worth living.
Having reached this point, I think I can confidently give two answers to the initial question: what is my reason for living?
#1: Shark catapaults
#1: To enjoy my time with family and friends to the utmost possible degree
#2: To help other people do #1
Time and time again #2, for me, keeps coming back to a simple fact: to help other people, I have to understand them. I am a man of science, and the scientific approach to understanding human behavior is psychology. I’ve talked on occasion about marriage/family counseling – an especially interesting option when I consider that a significant portion of my father’s job as a preacher is doing just such counseling. In the end, the apple might not be falling far from the tree.
This isn’t a perfect answer, but I think part of beating the existential crisis means accepting that there are also just “pretty good” answers. As long as I’m keeping a watchful eye over how my answers are faring against reality and adapting as becomes necessary, I see no reason not to set sail by this compass – and I am long overdue to leave port.
College, round five. Let’s rock.