I’ve always tried to be great at everything I’ve put my mind to. School, athletics, even writing this blog – I’ve always tried to reach my best, in every facet of my life.
Why? I believe in becoming a complete human being. One that has strengths in every area, and weaknesses in as few as possible.
Becoming a complete human is the end of all self-improvement. It is the goal that we are always striving for – to become a balanced, good person across every aspect of our lives. A true jack-of-all-trades or the archetypal Renaissance man is what I’ve tried to become – and I think everyone in the self-improvement game will trend towards becoming one themselves. It’s part of the natural process.
Becoming a complete human being requires being very good in every ‘sphere’ of life – it requires having integrity and being an honest person; having diverse knowledge of a wide range of subjects; being in excellent shape; having solid relationships with yourself, family, and friends; having a career that you enjoy; having hobbies and skills that you practice regularly and are competent at; and being able to maintain a life of balance.
I don’t think that there can be anything more rewarding than becoming a complete human being. Being the total package allows you to have the broadest experience of life possible – something I think is very valuable. Being complete also makes you a very strong, competent individual – being so good in every part of your life will prevent a total breakdown should something go wrong in one part of your life. In essence, your mental well-being is not predicated upon just one ‘sphere’ of your life – rather, it is broken up into every part of your life, leading to flexibility and mental fortitude.
Let’s break all the different spheres of living down, one by one.
Having integrity, as I’ve said before, is the foundation of living a good life.
Building integrity is like building trust: it takes a long time to make, and a very short time to lose.
It requires total honesty in action – doing what you truly want to do – and a belief in yourself that transcends the opinions of any other person.
How to build integrity, you ask? Just act on what you believe in, over and over again, every day. Give yourself credit for your effort, rather than the results of your effort. Your effort is under your control, the results are not.
Be gentle with yourself, but give yourself a kick in the pants when you know you’re not following your values. Be a kind master over yourself – how you talk to (and perceive) yourself will ultimately be reflected in your actions.
If you do the right thing, over and over again – being true to yourself, not caring what people think, not being torn by emotion – you will see your self-trust and personal integrity rise. It takes the cumulative effect of days’ and days’ worth of effort, but the kind of internal satisfaction you get from being a person of integrity and honesty is simply unparalleled.
Cultivating a Knowledge Base
It’s not my intention for people to read this post and say to themselves, “Alright, I have to have diverse knowledge of a wide range of subjects. So… Uh… I guess I’m gonna go read like 10 random articles from Wikipedia per day, so I know lots of stuff! Yeah!”
A true Renaissance Man would not acquire knowledge just for the sake of it – they would be propelled by their own curiosity and interest in the subjects that they’d study.
Let’s face it: you’re never going to know everything. So stick to the subjects that you’re genuinely interested in – something that you’re naturally curious about.
For me, I’m a history, psychology, business, tech and sports geek, so I read a lot on those subjects. I love all of them for different reasons – for example, I love finding out why people do what they do, so psychology is a natural fit for me. But I also like seeing how different courses of action can, over the course of years and decades, change society, so I like history (and especially biographies of historical figures). The list goes on and on.
So, what’s the best route to develop a wide base of knowledge? Ask yourself – what would I like to know more about? Write down the various subjects on a piece of paper. After that, go on Amazon and buy some of the top-rated books on that subject. You don’t have to buy academic texts or anything like that – something that’s popular will usually give you a good enough introduction of the subject, and you can decide from there whether you’d like to learn even more about it.
That’s when you can check out blogs (there are blogs on everything out there), forums, other books, and so on, continually learning more and more.
This is organic, natural learning, driven by curiosity rather than external compulsion.
Don’t learn more because I told you to. Learn more because you want to.
Health is way too complex for me to break down, so I’ll give you a few tips to get you started:
1. Buy organic. I’m not going to tell you to eat raw, but eating organic food more often has definitely improved my health, and others’ as well. The less preservatives and pesticides that you ingest, the better. Trust me.
2. Exercise often – or, better yet, play a sport. You don’t want to be worrying about hypertension, blood clots, and heart disease when you get older, do you? Staying in good cardiovascular shape will make your heart stronger, keep your arteries free of plaques, and lower your blood pressure. Oh, and exercise releases endorphins, which make you feel happy.
3. Drink nothing but water. Feel free to indulge in something else from time to time, but the main liquid that you should be putting in your body is water. I routinely drink upwards of 6 liters per day – your mileage may vary. You weren’t made to be drinking fruit juice, soda, and all that other junk. Your body needs water.
4. Get enough sleep. You can play around with polyphasic sleeping if you want (I am doing a bi-phasic schedule right now), but the bottom line is this: get enough so you can feel your best from the time you wake up ’til the time you go to bed.
5. Eat “good” fats. Avoid fast food and overly fatty foods (but meat’s fine). Incorporating good fats from things like olive oil and nuts (especially from almonds and walnuts) help stabilize blood sugar levels, allowing you to have a more consistent energy level throughout the day. Also, nuts make for a great healthy snack that keep hunger away for hours. As a caveat: make sure you eat them raw – you don’t want all the salt from the salted nuts. You can buy raw nuts in bulk at your grocery store for much lower prices, so everyone wins there.
6. Supplement intelligently. Avoid destructive supplements (I’m looking at you, creatine – and yes, I’m aware it’s safe when done right) while supplementing with things that help you. I’m a big proponent of vitamin B complexes for increasing focus and improving brain function, as well as a good antioxidant supplement that includes vitamins A, C, and E, as well as selenium. However – don’t buy these based on my recommendation. Check with your doctor first.
This barely scratches the surface, but I recommend picking up Tim Ferriss’s book The Four Hour Body for other quick tips that can change your health – and your life. There’s something in there for everyone.
Creating Good Relationships
As far as treating yourself goes – never say anything to yourself that you would never tolerate from someone else. Be kind to yourself, as I stated in the section on integrity. This simple rule will make your relationship with yourself much, much better.
When it comes to building relationships with others, here are a few simple rules:
1. Your input = your output: If you put little to no effort or energy into developing the relationship, you won’t be able to develop a strong relationship. If you talk with people often, do things with them, and just have fun in their presence, the relationship will grow in strength over time. Don’t expect to talk to someone once or twice and expect them to think of you as a great friend – great relationships take time to develop.
2. Be a great listener: If you’re good at listening to others, you’ll become much better at relating to them, which means that you’ll have a stronger relationship faster. Being a great listener also helps you build trust, which is my next point…
3. Be trustworthy: If you can be the type of person that’s like a Swiss Bank account (virtually impenetrable) for your friends’ secrets, then your friends will sense this and will trust you so much more as a result. I’ve been burned on this before over things I didn’t know were secrets, so if your friend is telling you anything sensitive, I urge you to ask them whether the things they’ve told you should considered confidential. It’ll save your relationships. Trust takes a long time to build up and a long time to lose.
4. Find the good in others – and put a spotlight on it: If you become good at finding out the best attributes of others’ personalities and making them show it, you will become a social dynamo. It’s difficult to do, but if you master the art of reading people and truly understanding their personalities, you will make them feel very good and at ease around you. Listening to your friends allows you to do this – if you know Jesse makes killer deadpan jokes, set him up for some by including threads he can use in your conversation. If you know Clara is quiet normally, but becomes really outspoken and excited whenever discussion revolves around music, make an effort to talk about music when you’re out with her. It’s all about listening to the emotions running under people’s words, and if you can make them feel good around you, they’ll love you for it. Of course – don’t do this in a manipulative way, but do it because you want to see them happy. However…
5. Make your needs clear: If you don’t make your needs clear in the relationship, then you’re bound to be let down. People will take whatever you’re giving them without giving much in return sometimes, and only you have the power to call them out on it and say that they need to invest some more effort into your relationship. If they refuse, then you’ll realize that they weren’t really a good friend to begin with.
Having a Career You Enjoy
I don’t have many tips here, as I don’t really have much of a career to speak of and it’d be wrong of me to suggest anything that has never worked for me.
However, there are a few things that I believe:
- Life is too short to have a job you hate;
- You should be doing work that you find personally fulfilling;
- You can “do” more than one thing and switch careers, no matter how old you are;
- “Job security” is a sham and risk is everywhere, no matter what industry you’re in;
- Entrepreneurship is a great route for those who are very independent, driven, and have a creative vision that they need to fulfill;
- There are plenty of ways to make money – even on the side.
Overall, I’m a little out of my depth here, but there are a few blogs I can recommend for finding your passion, making money, and keeping more of it: Ramit Sethi at I Will Teach You To Be Rich, Neil Patel at Quick Sprout, Pam Slim from Escape From Cubicle Nation, and Dave Garland of The Rise to the Top are all fantastic resources.
Hobbies and Skills
This is probably the easiest section for people to get handled.
I think that having a ‘craft’ from outside of your work that you can get better at over time and practice as a way to relax (and develop mastery) is necessary. Having at least one of those things on top of your other obligations as an aspiring Renaissance Man is incredibly useful – you get to track your progress over time, which is immensely rewarding, and it serves as a constructive break from the rest of the world.
Even picking up a new hobby from scratch, with no prior experience, is something that can transform your life for the better. Don’t be afraid of being bad when you start – everyone is. Instead, embrace the opportunity to learn and to make yourself into a master at whatever you decide you’re going to do.
Need a hobby? How about: martial arts, photography, painting, drawing, any sport, mountain biking, hiking, rock climbing, logic puzzles (Sudoku/Kakuro), watching movies, writing, any musical instrument, (break)dancing, skiing/snowboarding, gardening, cooking, building stuff (whatever you can think of!), woodworking, sailing, singing, knitting, sewing, and magic tricks? Pick one. Or you can always google something like ‘hobbies’ and find something that meets your desire.
The really difficult part about becoming a complete human is living a life of balance – making sure all the components of being that complete person can coexist in your life.
I’ll admit: I’m not a very balanced person by nature. I like diving into things headfirst and immersing myself in projects for long periods of time, then becoming more extroverted and being social while I ‘recharge’, then going back to work.
The key that I’m finding is creating habits that reinforce your Renaissance Man “training” is the easiest way to maintain a life of balance.
That is, you have to “schedule” your time to develop your relationships, the time that you’re going to develop your knowledge base, and so on.
If you make inviolable times during your week to do these things, over time, balance will become a habit.
Since this is a little abstract, here’s an example: let’s say that, every day, work effectively takes up my free time until 6 pm, and my “real” free time falls from 6:30 to 10:30 P.M.
Every Monday and Wednesday night, I’m going to devote 3 of those 4 hours to learning and one hour doing whatever I want to do.
Every Thursday night and Friday evening, I’m going to devote my time to my skills and hobbies.
Every Friday night and Saturday afternoon/evening, I’m going to go out with my friends, and I’ll chat with them as part of my free time during the week.
Every Sunday, I’m going to do whatever I want to do, for the entire day. The only rule is I can’t think about work, and I have to be doing something I enjoy.
All the while, I’m going to be eating well and getting my sleep.
To stay in shape, I’m going to go on runs every Monday and Friday morning, while I hit the gym on Tuesday and Thursday nights.
If you hold up this schedule for about a month, it’ll become a habit, and you’ll have no problem whatsoever maintaining your balance. The key is to let yourself break your own rules a little bit, but not so much that you throw your life out of balance for anything short of an emergency.
However – sometimes, balance isn’t necessary and can actually harm you. For reasons why imbalance might actually be the answer, check out this post from Jonathan Mead.
They’re everywhere in this post – close your eyes, scroll up, stop, and open your eyes. Look! Action steps!
What do you think about becoming a “complete human”? Is it a flight of fancy? Or something we all should aspire to be? Is becoming a jack-of-all-trades viable in an economy where specialists are becoming more and more important?