Fearless Friday: Embrace Your Multiple Potentials

The New Renaissance is Here, and WE NEED DaVINCIs!

Before we get into what I, a self-proclaimed “renaissance man” have to say, I’d really like to encourage you watch this TED Talk:

“You have too many irons in the fire…”

Yep. I do. Always. That’s me. I’m at my happiest when I’m trying to spin seventeen plates at once. I spoke in my article earlier this week on millennials about how, for some people – especially those who “get it” at a younger age than others – the idea of doing the same job day-in and day-out for thirty years is absolutely daunting.

I’ve worked factory jobs. Two of them in fact. I’ve seen the guys from my dad’s generation who have been eating lunch in the same goddamn break room since they were in their twenties.

I’ve worked office jobs. Jockeying a cubicle, listening to the same mindless-dribble-music coming from your neighbor’s mouth or radio (doesn’t matter which) and making small talk in the break room or the smoke pit Monday through Friday, 50 weeks a year.

The only job I’ve ever found I know I would be happy doing for the rest of my life is teaching… and writing… and music. Oh, wait. I’m only supposed to pick one. Whatever am I to do?

Jack of All Trades, Master of None?

Hogwash. Absolute and utter nincompoopery. I am a master guitar player. That was the first art I mastered. While I was mastering that, I came within two tests of earning my black belt in Tang Soo Do (and I would have gotten away with it, too, if it weren’t for those snooping kids silly knee injuries), A bit later, I earned a journeyman status as a wireless communications technician (not a master, but it certainly didn’t stop me from maintaining my mastery of guitar by pursuing that as a tertiary career) in the Washington Air National Guard.

During that time I was floundering miserably in the corporate world, trying to “master” things I had no interest in whatsoever – more on that later.

Then I moved to teaching. While I started my educational journey toward teacherhood, I was still playing the guitar, and dabbling in a re-kindled passion for writing.

After I started my teaching career, I decided to master writing (since I was teaching it, that seemed like a good idea). And I did. I earned an M.A., and along the way, I became a pretty damned good teacher, too, if the words of my students and my letters of recommendation are to be believed. So I’m a master guitarist, master writer, and not quite a master, but a really good teacher (I’m a pretty tough critic on teachers in general, most of all myself). Those are, functionally, three disciplines that people make entire careers out of. And because I kept up my interest and discipline in each one, I was able to master (or become an expert at) each one.

You Gotta’ Serve Someone…

Medieval black and white image of a man being drawn and quartered.
“It doesn’t have to be like this…” said the executioner.

I’m in a very Dylan-esque mood lately, I mean I started the millennials’ piece with a Dylan lyric, and now I’m using him here, and I’ve currently got the Rage Against The Machine version of “Maggie’s Farm” on pause because I can’t listen to it and get anything done. Bob Dylan is as much of a national treasure as Benjamin Franklin – and I’ll stand by that.

Okay, I’m rambling about Dylan in order to ease into a story that happened to me back in the dark days when I worked in the corporate world. I was sloggin’ it in my cube – bein’ promised a lot of extra money later if only I’d do just a little bit an ass-ton more at my current wage for “just a while longer.” They even gave me a fancy new title (a “Director” title, even…) but no employees or extra money to go with it. So it became the office joke that I was a “Director of One” (at the time “An Army of One” was the Army’s ad slogan).

Anyway, I hated this job, and I didn’t have the guts to admit that I needed to change the course of my life at that point, but that’s not an essential part of this story. This story is about a meeting with the Bobs.

A Meeting With The Bobs

Stock clip-art photo of two office workers talking to a third.
“I wouldn’t exactly say I’ve been missing it, Bob!”

Remember in Office Space when Peter gets called into a meeting with the “consultants” who are just there to make sure everyone is being as efficient as possible? Well, we had a session like this particular hellhole office, and I literally had a “meeting with the Bobs.” Okay, their names weren’t Bob – I don’t even remember their names, honestly, but purpose of the meeting was the same. Only this meeting was not lighthearted and funny. This meeting was mortifying.

It was probably not a secret around this time that I wasn’t happy at my job. I wasn’t happy with not being paid the commissions I was promised, or getting the employees I was promised, or any number of other grievances I could name about my time there. So when my meeting came, I was already tense.

I’d discussed things with my (then) wife, and we both agreed that I should look into teaching. We thought we’d start with me teaching private guitar lessons out of the house, which I did. I found that I loved it, and I’m sure that word got around the office that I was doing it and that I loved it. Now for the horrific bit.

Bob #1: [looks at me and says something to the effect of]Brandon, you seem like you’re distracted here at work lately, and we’ve heard from some other employees that you’ve been teaching guitar lessons after hours…

Me: Yeah, it’s my own time. I also play in two bands. It has nothing to do with my work here.

[probably some other banter took place in between but then it boiled down to this…]

Bob #2: Brandon, if you read the Bible, and if you believe in the Bible – and I do – then you know that it says in the Book of Matthew that “a man cannot serve two masters, either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other…”

Me: …

So That Didn’t End Well…

…At the time, anyway. I’m not going to go into the gory details but we decided to part ways, that employer and I. Then I was free to develop my passion for teaching. And I can honestly say it’s one of the only three things (music and writing being the others) that I envision myself doing the rest of my life. So thanks to that idiotic meeting with the Bob’s I got a life calling out of it, and they got rid of a miserable employee who was probably (consciously or not) turning their work environment toxic.

Embrace the Renaissance Artist Within Yourself

Okay, I mentioned DaVinci at the beginning of the post, but, I’ll be honest here I know surprisingly little about the Italian Renaissance, the German Renaissance, or the English Renaissance (hey, at least I know there were movements in all three countries, so that has to count for something, right?). My history forte is American, not European.

Anyway, there’s a lot of historical debate about that period, and one of the questions, believe it or not, was weather an actual “renaissance” ever really took place at all, or if it was just a natural progression. I don’t know nearly enough about that to comment on it, either.

Instead I’d like to focus on the connotation itself. The term “Renaissance Man” (Ladies, please insert your preferred feminine noun, and friends beyond the binary, please insert “person”) refers to the idea that someone is not focused on only one discipline. Leonardo was a painter, a designer, a mathematician, a scientist (such as it was in the 15th century), and an all around example of someone fully actualized – meaning he was allowed to pursue all of his intellectual passions, regardless of discipline. That’s what I want my life to be like.

Perks of the Renaissance Spirit

As a result of that curiosity, I have developed a lot of interesting skills. I know how to “MacGyver” a lot of things on cars, I know how to do a lot of outdoorsy survival things (starting fires, building shelters, etc.) I know how to pick locks (although I’m not great at it, I can still get it done if I’m locked out), and I know how to speak Spanish at a level of 8% so far (according to DuoLingo). Oh, did I mention I also speak a bit of Japanese, and that I earned and expert marksman ribbon in basic training?

Don’t get me wrong, I went through long bouts of time when pretty much all I did was sit on my ass and watch TV, but I’ve also done things that nobody else I know has done. I’ve experienced a lot in my 40 years, ladies and gents, and that, to me, is worth more than any pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

So What? Quit My Job? Get a Mohawk? What?

Full color photo of a rock band on stage.  Female vocalist featured prominently in silhouette while the crowd watches on.
It’s a long way to the top, if you wanna rock and roll.

No, no. I’m just saying don’t let people discourage you if you want to try your hand at something else for a while. It hurts my heart to think of how many people in the world only have their job and their world at home to look at. To think of those who never try new things; who never discover that they love to salsa dance, or that they’re exceptionally good at playing table tennis, or that they can act, or sing, or mountain bike faster than anyone else in their class.

Say you’ve been thinking My friends all say I’m funny, maybe I could be a stand-up comedian… Nah, I’m an electrician, and that’s what I’ll be for life. Then I dare you… No. I DOUBLE-DOG DARE YOU to take a couple of hours this weekend and write a five minute comedy set. Take it to the next open mic night at a comedy club and try it out. What’s the worst that could happen? Nobody laughs or you get booed off the stage? Okay. Well, that’ll suck for a few minutes, but I doubt very seriously that’ll happen. You probably won’t crush your first time out, but you might get some laughs, and that’ll encourage you to do it again next week with new jokes, or revised versions of the old jokes based off of how they went last time. Next thing you know, you’re an electrician AND a stand-up comedian.

So How Do I Embrace My “Renaissance Self” or Whatever Stupid Name You’re Going to Call It?

Okay, you’re right. “Renaissance Self” is a completely moronic turn of phrase. But to answer the question, all it takes is the decision to give something new a try, and to really put some interest and effort into it for a while. Oh, and you need to be okay with failure.

Failure is how you learn. When I first started playing guitar I would drive my family insane by playing the same songs and riffs over and over and screwing it up in different spots each time. I don’t think they ever heard a full song the whole time I was living at home. When I was learning to write, I wrote some terrible stories that I hope never see the light of day. When I was a first year teacher I failed at least twelve times a day in some way or another. But in each situation, I stuck with it, and I got better.

The Breakdown

  • I reject the premise that all or even most humans are meant to do one thing and one thing only for their whole adult lives.
  • Having multiple hobbies and interests is good for the brain because it keeps so many regions of the brain active (I have no evidence to back this up, but facts don’t matter in today’s world anyway, right?)
  • When you truly find something you can sink your teeth into and master (for me it was music, writing, and teaching) you can reach a sort of Zen place I like to call mini-Nirvana. Athletes call it “the zone” and it’s a real phenomenon. If you can get there, whatever you’re working on, it’s going to be your best work.

Have a great weekend everyone! See you on Mantra Monday!

Ps. This post was revised and edited for grammar, punctuation, and style errors. The originally published draft was written very late.

2 thoughts on “Fearless Friday: Embrace Your Multiple Potentials

  1. Good post, Brandon. I always like to point out that the pioneers who came across the wilderness often drew amazing scenes in their journals, learned how to hunt and skin game, make utensils and odds and ends as needed. You know, that self-reliance thing. And, they were good. How far we’ve fallen in our confidence-sapping disposable culture.

    Like

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