It was probably in the sixth or seventh grade that I first can recall being referred to as a “renaissance man.” Like many of the appelations which have been applied to me throughout the years, I adopted this one and made it my own, proud to describe myself as the proverbial man of the renaissance, that peculiar and increasingly rare entity that is the polymath. I espouse its benefits, advocate for its advantages, and strive to embody it in truth as well as name.
Yet I have long had a secret fear regarding my polymath tendencies, which I have more or less avoided thinking about until recently. As much as I laud the habits of the polymath, the unification in one individual of a wide variety of different disciplines, capabilities, and fields of knowledge, I have always feared that the real result of all of this diversification is the flipside of the renaissance man descriptor: jack of all trades, master of none. My secret fear, if you can call it that, is that I am not so much following in the footsteps of giants like Da Vinci, Aristotle, or Brunelleschi, but instead the much smaller footsteps of those who tried to do too many things, and in spreading themselves too thin failed to accomplish anything at all.
It has recently become a concern that I am having a harder and harder time ignoring, and not just because I never did get around to building that fusion reactor in my parents’ or anyone else’s garage. There are so many things that I would like to attempt to accomplish in my lifetime, and only a limited amount of years in which to do them. Before you go thinking that this is overly melodramatic (and it is, a little bit), know that these goals of mine are not the sort of bucket list items that most people seek to fulfil. My goals are audacious, some would probably say arrogantly so, the kind of goals that any one of them could be the work of one or more lifetimes of dedication.
I am not so arrogant as to believe that I will accomplish all of these goals, much less succeed at all of them. Some of them are of such massive scope that just writing them down or telling them to other people seems inadvisable if I want to maintain the slightest degree of credibility. Yet that does not make them any less goals that I would like to strive towards, knowing full well that I may not finish all of them. My concern increasingly becomes that having too many such audacious aspirations will result in my not finishing any of them.
How many novels do I have in drafting stages that I would like to finish? Fo’Fonas is roughly outlined at four books, plus a novella or two, so let’s call that five. I have three science fiction novels, a post-apocalypse novel, and a historical fantasy novel in development. I have a series of short stories tentatively titled Impressions that I would like to turn into a four book series. Then there’s the world Hiarathala, which should get at least a trilogy, and same for my Djinn magic system. Not including any short stories or novellas that I’d like to write, or additional ideas that I have in the future for novels, that gives me at least twenty novels to write. At the somewhat aggressive pace of a novel per year, that’s twenty years of writing.
That’s just for writing. I have scientific and engineering goals I would like to accomplish, as well, and those are far more complicated than writing a novel, even a sprawling, complex, alternative world, epic fantasy series. Some of my goals relating to space travel would be easily a whole career and more. Von Braun spent his whole life dedicated to advancing space travel, and though he did live to see men walk on the moon, he never went to space himself, as he had long dreamt.
The point is that I worry I might spread myself too thin, that like this post I may be too scattered to accomplish all that I would like to do. I wonder at times if it wouldn’t be better if I took a good look at all of my aspirations, and chose one or two to dedicate myself to, forgoing the others. Rather than trying to be a prolific author, perhaps I should devote myself more fully to pursuing engineering projects. Or perhaps I should admit that I am not as skilled of an engineer as I could be, and dedicate myself instead of literature.
In truth, I am likely to do neither, and instead continue to follow the twisting, winding, treacherous, hectic path of the polymath. I simply find too many things fascinating to constrain myself to a single mode. So I will continue to write, and to balance my writing with my engineering and science, and to balance both of these with my other hobbies, and of course my real job. I don’t know whether that means I will end up a renaissance man or a master of nothing, but I do think it will keep life interesting. And also busy. Which is just the way I like it.