During springtime, life returns to the world around us, and my thoughts turn towards the renewal of our skills. This thought process is influenced by the messages I am bombarded with regarding work. While this was happening, I was reminded of the so-called "Renaissance Man." (Despite this being the "politically correct age," I'll stick with Renaissance Man for a moment.)
The Renaissance Man is someone who becomes skilled, sometimes to greatness, in several areas. The Renaissance Man is someone who is constantly learning and mastering new skills. It's this quality that allowed fellows such as Leonardo Da Vinci to become skilled at both scientific and artistic endeavors. It's this quality you must possess to become truly valuable in your IT career today.
Don't learn to paint
Taken incorrectly, it might seem that I'm telling everyone in IT to become artistic and learn how to paint. If you had ever seen me paint, you would realize this is quite a laughable idea. I am not suggesting picking up a paintbrush or grabbing a chisel; rather I'm simply suggesting that you should be curious about everything that you do. Do your best with whatever you are working on at the moment.
Whether you know how to paint or sculpt should not substantially impact your ability to work on a computer. It's not the thing that you're interested in, it is developing skills in general that is important. It's that you're interested in developing skills whenever you confront a new opportunity.
I'm constantly reminded by people that my knowledge crosses over -- whether it's talking about Fresnel lights at the church (which I learned about through my curiosity of lighthouses), speaking with a client about wire gauge as it relates to current carrying capacity (which I learned through working with product engineers at a previous company), or describing an understanding of basic graphics guidelines through my work with the graphics department of another company. Although I frequently lose when playing trivial pursuit because my quests for knowledge are not trivial enough, they occasionally come in handy in my working career. There are, however, still things that I never seem to get asked about. I've yet to hear anyone ask about the formation of thunderstorms, or deciphering the clouds in the sky (which I learned through becoming a private pilot).
Although curiosity may have killed the cat, a healthy bit of curiosity about the world around you and what you're doing can be a real accelerator towards becoming a force in your career - and in your life. People who are curious about the world around them become engaging because they're constantly learning and trying to see how that new knowledge might apply to the old. A Renaissance person is someone who is a professional student of life.
When most people think of a professional student, they think of someone who's always going to college - often living off of mom and dad and avoiding the real world. This is not the true meaning of a professional student. Professional students are people whose curiosity and desire to try new things keep them continuously learning about the world around them. A professional student can be someone who never finished high school, but still picks up a book to learn about far off lands, or who apprentices with tradesmen just to learn how things are done.
Being a professional student means remaining open to new information and having an unquenchable thirst for learning. Learning is the very essence of the Renaissance Man.
Admitting when you're not good at something--and moving on
I'm certain that not everything a Renaissance person begins turns out perfectly. I'm sure a painting or blocks of marble have been destroyed because they didn't turn out right. I'm also sure that there are other things people tried, but did not continue, because it was clear early on that they wouldn't be good at those things.
Being a Renaissance person doesn't mean that you'll be good at everything you try, or that you should continue to try everything you come across. An important part of the Renaissance person experience is learning what you're not good at and not pursuing those interests. If you continue to waste your time on things that you're not good at, you'll never have time to learn a new skill in which you excel.
In our work careers, this means realizing our weaknesses, as well as our strengths. I'm not good at long projects. I get bored, frustrated, or anxious. I'm not good at artistic graphics. My designs tend to be very functional and not so artistic. As a result of these weaknesses, I avoid some projects and offer my artistic design vision only when I know it should emphasize function over form.
Renaissance people are not dead. They are not some concept for history books. If you incorporate the Renaissance model into your life, it will help you to become better at whatever you do. The next time you're confronted with a new opportunity, pour your curiosity into it. You never know. You might be the next Leonardo Da Vinci.