Are You a Renaissance Soul?

Leonardo da Vinci, the original Renaissance Soul (Image: Public Domain)

Leonardo da Vinci, the original Renaissance Soul (Image: Public Domain)

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I have always been frustrated by the fact that I can’t stick with most things long enough to get good at them. I find a new project or hobby, do it for a little while and then get bored very quickly. Once I become familiar enough with the interesting points, I drop it and move on to the next new thing. I end up leaving a lot of projects unfinished.

I also had this problem in college. I had a hard time figuring out what I wanted to study since my interests were so varied. I knew that if I picked just one major that I would be ignoring most of my other interests, and in time I would get bored with the one I picked. That’s exactly what happened. I started out in Computer Science because it was something I could do and it continued my studies from high school. I took all the math and science required for the degree, but the more I moved up in the CS classes, the more I felt out of my element. It just wasn’t my passion. So halfway through, I changed my major to American Studies, an interdisciplinary degree including things like history, women’s studies, sociology and literature. That’s what I ended up finishing with, allowing my education to become very well rounded.

There are few subjects that I really love delving deeply into, becoming an expert in them. More often, I prefer to learn about as many different things as I can. When something is new to me, it is more interesting and exciting. Over time, a few interests have become recurring themes in my life, however, but I’ve only discovered them in retrospect. As a child, I didn’t know what I really liked to do, because I liked most things equally. I got bored all the time. I needed constant new stimulation. For example, some people can pick one hobby and stick with it. Even in the hobbies I do stick with, such as crafts, I don’t focus on one thing. Some people are knitters and knit their whole lives. I machine sew, hand sew, crochet, embroider and knit, and I’m always learning new crafts. I want to know how to do everything.

Along those same lines, I have also wondered how some people always go to the same place for a vacation. Why have a vacation home in just one location, and go there year after year? Doesn’t it get boring? Don’t you want to see something new? Aren’t you curious to see what other locations have to offer? No, most people really do enjoy going to the same place over and over. They are looking for a relaxing time that they can count on, not more mental stimulation and new interests. They know what they like and nothing will sway them. Well, that doesn’t work for me. Sure, there are plenty of places that I’d like to revisit a few more times, but I always seem to choose somewhere new. Partly, the excitement of visiting somewhere new is almost never matched by a visit to somewhere I’ve already been. The discovery component is gone. It becomes routine.

The negatives for this trait of mine are pretty obvious: You constantly require variety and learning new things. I get proficient at something, or learn enough about something to answer my initial questions, and then I’m on to something else. So I am an expert in nothing. I always have several books going at once, so it takes me longer to finish reading any of them, if I finish them at all. Also, I have a lot of unfinished projects around the house and in storage.

There are plenty of positives for this trait, too, though: By the time I die, I’ll know a little about just about everything. Since I’m constantly excited to learn new things, this often wears off on other people which encourages and motivates them. My varied interests are perfect for parenting and homeschooling, since we tackle such a wide variety of issues and subjects. It also means I’m buying a lot of new books, which is always a positive, except for the cost. And reading so many books at once means that I can read the one that I’m in the mood for at the time.

I recently learned that I am not alone in these kinds of behaviors. There are many of us out there. I discovered this when I found the Facebook group Scanners & Renaissance Souls. I got two valuable bits of information from that group. One, I finally have words to put to my issues. Two, there are a couple of books to help me. Realize, though, that I’m not the type to dive into the nearest self-help book at any sign of difficulty. I think that they’re often just filled with common sense (or common nonsense, depending on the subject). Decent introspection can often give you the information you need. But sometimes when you learn something new about yourself, it really helps to be able to put words to it, so I thought these books would help. I was right.

The first book I read is called The Renaissance Soul: Life Design for People With Too Many Passions to Pick Just One by Margaret Lobenstine. It has some great exercises for figuring out what you are really interested in, what keeps percolating to the top in your life. Focusing on a few interests at a time has helped me focus my energy. Spread yourself too thin and you don’t make any progress in anything. But focus on a few at a time and it works pretty well. Then when a certain amount of time has passed, or when the time feels right, rearrange your priorities and give some of your other interests a chance to shine. The book also addresses how to arrange your professional life to suit your interests.

The second book uses the term Scanner, instead of Renaissance Soul. It delves more deeply into what to do in your life and career and is called Refuse to Choose! Use All of Your Interests, Passions, and Hobbies to Create the Life and Career of Your Dreams by Barbara Sher. It’s funny how these books require long and descriptive subtitles! There are indeed careers out there that let you use many of your interests at once, such as being an elementary school teacher, writing about a variety of subjects (like what I do at GeekDad!) or having multiple jobs at once. This book is broken into two sections. The first describes what a scanner is, and helps you figure out if you are one. The second section is longer, and describes 11 different kinds of scanners. You can read the chapters, figure out which one(s) you are, and then use the tools and suggestions at the end of those chapters to help you find your way.

Both of these books are incredibly helpful to someone like me. One reason why I find them helpful is that they finally tell me that there is nothing wrong with me! Some people are just wired this way. Just knowing that there are other people out there who have had the same experiences is bolstering. This is why like-minded people tend to flock together to do things like play games, knit, watch football or talk about books. It’s nice to know you have things in common with other people. But mostly the books have given me guidance, to help me focus on my true interests and help me to not feel overwhelmed by their quantity.

If you are a Renaissance Soul, how do you cope? What subjects keep rising to the top for you? If you’re not a Renaissance Soul, what few things do you spend your time doing? Where are your favorite vacation spots?

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Jenny Bristol is an Editor at GeekDad and a founding Director at GeekMom. She is a lifelong geek who spends her time learning, writing, homeschooling her two wickedly smart kids, losing herself in history, and mastering the art of traveling on a shoestring.