Are You a Modern-Day Renaissance Woman?

Have you ever struggled with the thought that you may be a Jack of all trades, even though you’ve developed  a certain level of mastery over several things?

Are you so excited by life and all it has to offer, that the idea of having to give up any of your interests would feel like you’d just been handed a prison sentence?

Do you mourn the parts of you that have been squelched, oppressed, and pushed aside because your inner film critic told you that you couldn’t possibly pursue so many things and still be successful?

If you answered yes to any or all of these questions, your concerns can stop right here, right now, because I’m about to hand you your get-out-of-jail-free card.  

Not only is there nothing wrong with you, but you may just be one of the extremely fortunate, multi-talented,  modern-day renaissance women who’s simply been sold a bill of goods by a society that’s lost sight of some pretty amazing qualities that have been shared by some pretty amazing people.  And directed in the right way, your renaissance personality could completely liberate you from a life you feel stuck in to live a life that you star in.  

As children we’re asked what we want to be when we grow up.  As adults, we’re asked what we do for a living.  We’re often seen as one-dimensional beings, put on this earth to do one thing. We’re living in a time that values the specialist, and it’s believed that in order to be that specialist, we have to focus on one subject, otherwise we’re dabblers, dilettantes, jacks-of-all trades and master’s of none.  These labels leave us feeling ashamed of ourselves for being… well… ourselves— our authentic, multi-demensional selves.

Suppressing this natural way of being causes a lot of suffering, squashes creativity, and can even prevent us from becoming an expert at anything.  

My Renaissance Personality
I am a writer, yoga instructor, career and life story coach, speaker, and consultant.  Do I “dabble” in any of these things?  No.  In fact I’ve done them all well enough to even pick up a few awards along the way.  And there’s no greater reward than the one you get from helping someone find inner peace.  I don’t just do these things for a living.  I do them for a life—a life that I love.

But I wasn’t always comfortable having such an array of professions.  I often felt like there must be something wrong with me, because I didn’t know what my thing was—you know, that thing you tell people at cocktail parties when they ask you what you do.  I envied those who knew (or at least seemed to).  My inner film critic would tell me I wasn’t a “real” yoga instructor, a “real” trainer, a “real” coach, or a “real” writer, even though I was doing all of these things and doing them well.  That’s when one of my own coaches pointed out that I wasn’t a jack-of-all trades, master of none (an expression I’ve come to dislike immensely), but rather, I was eclectic—a renaissance woman.  I’ve come to accept and appreciate that I’ve always been a seeker.  Seeking is my thing, and it’s served me quite well.  Over the years, whenever I focused on things outside of my primary job, I landed several promotions.  In fact, having interests outside of work is one of eight ways to advance in your career.   

One of my favorite Steve Jobs’ quotes is this:  “You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”

I believe there is a reason why we are drawn to certain things.  If you are a seeker—seek.  It’s in the search for your one thing that you will discover your purpose and craft a life that you love.  

Learning from History
We all know the shape our country and our planet is in, and it didn’t get here by accident.  We are living in the land of should, where subtle and not-so-subtle messages tell us what we should be doing, how we should behave, and what we should believe.  We need to get back to living in the space of possibility and invention.  It’s time for modern-day renaissance men and women to honor their passions and thirst for knowledge, because in doing so, we can transform our world.  

Think of some of the people who contributed great things to humanity back when people were admired for their multi-faceted personalities.  Ben Franklin was a politician, writer, musician, scientist and inventor.  Leonardo DaVinci was an inventor, painter, philosopher, poet, architect, engineer, physician, writer, stage designer, theologist, astronomer, actor, singer, court jester and more. These men were known for being a masters of all the fields they were part of.  
By honoring their thirst for knowledge and passion for life, they were able to see things from different, more holistic perspectives.  By doing everything that interested them, they were able to do all of them well.  They were renaissance men, or Polymaths.

 Some famous modern-day renaissance men and women include:
•    Oprah Winfrey—Producer, Talk Show Host, Entrepreneur, Actor
•    Jane Fonda –actress, fitness instructor, entrepreneur, philanthropist, and activist
•    Angelina Jolie – actress, director, Goodwill Ambassador, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Mother
•    Robin Williams—comedian, actor, philanthropist
•    Ben Stein—author of several books on life and finance, quiz-show host, White House speechwriter, columnist, trial lawyer, law school professor, scriptwriter, and novelist
•    Ted Turner- environmentalist, entrepreneur, philanthropist, media mogul (received Renaissance Man of the Year award from the Fondazione Palazzo Strozzi and its U.S. chapter)

Does being a modern-day renaissance woman mean you have multiple professions and jobs?  Not necessarily.  The point is, you love variety and thrive on the freedom and diversity of your work.  As a renaissance woman, you love learning.  You’re flexible and tend to adapt to change more easily than others.  Barbara Sher called us scanners.  Scanners may be teachers, freelance writers, news reporters, talk-show hosts, librarians, filmmakers, salespeople, and managers.  All of these roles have something in common:  they are influential.  You may be able to channel all your loves into meaningful work that can be defined in one title, or maybe not.  But by indulging your natural urge to seek, learn, explore, scan, and honor your zest for life, a common theme may emerge.

How about you?  Do you think you may be a modern-day renaissance woman?  You don’t have to earn a living at all of your interests to qualify.  And they don’t have to be glamorous.  It’s whatever makes your heart sing that matters.  If you suspect you are a modern-day renaissance woman, you may be wondering how to squeeze it all in.  Afterall, we only have 24 hours in a day, just like everybody else.  Check out Five P’s to  Crafting an Eclectic Career for some ideas.

Some people grow up knowing exactly what they want to do.  They pursue it with a passion and their lives follow nicely along that path (with a few detours along the way).  Many of us are seekers.  It’s through our continual exploration and willingness to walk down different roads that we find ourselves.  Embracing our renaissance personalities can make us incredibly happy, and joy has a tendency to overshadow any notion that we should care what other people think about our eclectic approach to work, so embrace this incredibly powerful and creative part of yourself.  The world needs you!  

7 Signs You May be a Modern-Day Renaissance Woman

1.    You still don’t know what you want to be when you grow upnot because nothing interests you, but because so many things interest you.

2.    You can think of at least three ways to earn a living, and the idea of having to choose one feels suffocating to you.  You love the idea of having multiple streams of income.

3.    You’ve worried you may be a Jack-of-all-Trades, even though you’ve developed a level of mastery in many or even all of your areas of interest.  You sometimes feel like a fraud.

4.    You’ve felt ashamed about your inability to choose one thing, lest  you’d appear scattered or unfocused.

5.    You’re a natural multi-tasker.  You’d think nothing of doing one thing from nine to noon, another from one to three, and a third from four to six.  You love variety in your work.

6.    You want more freedom.  You gave up something you enjoyed because your full-time job and personal responsibilities left no room in your life to pursue it.  Yet, it’s always on your mind—a subtle, but ever-present reminder that makes you think it’s not meant to be forgotten.  

7.    You’ve often wondered if have ADD.  In fact you’d almost welcome the diagnosis because it would explain why you can’t pick something.  The trouble is, you really don’t have a problem with focus.  You generally finish what you set out to do.  

Amy Beth O'Brien About Amy Beth O'Brien

Amy Beth O’Brien is the author of Stuck with Mr. Wrong? Ten Steps to Starring in your own Life Story and Stitches. She is the founder of the Star in your own Life Story with Amy Beth O’Brien web site and blog. She is an author and speaker and holds an M.S. from the Lesley College School of Management. Amy and her two sons live in Wrentham, Massachusetts.

Find Amy at www.AmyBethObrien.com, on Twitter@amybethobrien, and by e‐mail at [email protected].

  • Eli3006

    Described by my coworkers as a renaissance woman I find that
    both a compliment and yet also perplexing.
    Why perplexing? I find the
    comment almost to be judgmental. We all
    have vast areas of interest in our lives, don’t we?

    I was raised to be a well-rounded individual, with curiosity
    and interest in life around me. I was taught
    to ride horses, both English and Western saddle, to knit, crochet, and embroider
    in short all the “womanly arts”, as well as to be intelligent and well educated
    and finally artistic. I did however fail
    in the ability to speak several languages and as to marrying well……..I failed
    miserably. I did however give birth to a son!

    As a modern day renaissance woman (if in fact I truly am!)
    It is not something I would recommend.
    Unless you are incredibly well known, or you work with others that see
    the advantages to it, it will net you very little, except for the label of
    being eccentric. For example; when my
    previous Manager realized HOW smart I was, instead of using my intelligence to
    his advantage he became very intimidated by me and then rather abusive. He would say things to me like, “You’re too
    smart for your own good!” What does that mean?!?

    If you should find you should find yourself employing a
    renaissance woman you have found a jewel.
    She is capable of working in many areas, she will learn quickly and has interests
    in many things, her creativity will enable her to think and see things others
    will miss. She is intuitive and logical
    and a very valuable asset. Her vast areas
    of knowledge will surprise you and be very useful if you recognize what you
    have.

    • Steph

      It is amazing that my ex-husband called me this after a long discussion we had about improving his relationship with his sister. I had not really known what it meant, so I Googled it and read your article. It’s me…Nurse, Air Force Flight Nurse, Nurse Practitioner, recently completed a master’s degree in counseling at the age of 60 (this will be my 2nd career when I ‘retire’), adoptive mother, grandmother, seamstress, crafter (knitting, crocheting, needlepoint and cross-stitch), baker, gourmet cook and life coach. I am thinking about writing a novel about my life and sometimes I think that it would be boring . . . but then, I am engaged to marry that ex-husband. Maybe he will appreciate the renaissance woman this time.

    • Oma Edoja

      It might be a sign to start your own venture, Eli3006! Many of us RW get that comment (too smart for your own good) and recognise it for what it really is, the voice of an intimidated person. It may just mean that you have outgrown your current position and it’s time to move on up to something higher. If properly channelled, I feel that our “renaissance tendencies” are actually leadership qualities. And since the majority around us aren’t leaders, they just don’t know how to handle it! Rather than let the majority discourage us, it might pay better to hang around and learn from other RW who have profited from their “eccentric ways!” And you don’t need to be well known first. Most well known people were once unknown. If you believe in what you’ve got and stick with it, your gift will make room for you!

  • Monique

    Thank you for this article! I always aspired to be a well-rounded woman. Now as a recent college graduate with no job at the moment, I find my job search and career discovery to be a challenge because there really is so much I would like to do. I have so many interest and skills, including writing, jewelry-making, entrepreneurship desires, cooking, event planning, travel, the list goes on. I have no clue how, but I want to do it all! This article was encouraging in that there is nothing wrong with having so many interests ( because as I see my friends having one passion and pursuing it, I feel like something is wrong with me). I just need to figure out which ones to pursue first.

  • tami

    Wow this is me 100%

  • Amanda

    Thank you for writing this, I really needed to read this! I’m about to call my mom and tell her to stop calling me the jack of all trades…but you know I have adapted this saying so that whenever someone starts out with “you know that saying…” I just finish their sentence…..yeah yeah jack of all trades, master of SOME. lol Well anyways just wanted to say you have inspired me to embrace my many talents and for that I am thankful.

  • Amy M.

    Wow, this article is great — I’ve been so reluctant to see myself as a renaissance woman, and it has totally cause me to feel that sadness/depression that Amy talks about in the article. I feel really motivated to stake the claim that I’m a renaissance woman vs. someone with ADD or a jack of all trades! It’s also funny that very recently I had a realization that I had an unconscious belief that only men could be polymaths (people who are experts in many fields). So thank you for sharing the various modern day renaissance women in this article! I tried looking up some historical example of renaissance women, and I came across lists of hundreds of men, and just a handful of women. I’m sure that there are many renaissance women out there buried deep in history, and I’m excited to look into this more.

    • Amy Beth O’Brien

      I’m sure there are a lot of women from years ago, too, they just didn’t make the history books. When you think about it, women in traditional roles were natural renaissance women. They knew how to sew, knit, cook, take care of children, a home, and take part in their community.

  • http://pamelamkramer.com/ pamelamkramer

    With certainty I can tell you YES!

  • Joo

    Thank you so much for this article, reading it really made me nod my head and feel better about myself. It’s so refreshing to feel understood! that i’m not crazy. Reading this is the reassurance I needed to trust in myself and my multi-talents. I know that what I need to do is to go forward with confidence and not box myself in! thanks :)

  • Deborah

    At last!!! There is a way to articulate this phenomenon. I have spent far too long being defensive and even apologetic for what really is talent, creativity and passion! I’m working on a new way to answer the dreaded question, “what do you do?” Thank you, Amy Beth O’Brien.

    • Amy Beth O’Brien

      You’re very welcome!

  • http://www.facebook.com/chelofive Chelo Aestrid

    Amazing article! I have done so many things in my life and have taken so many different types of classes. I have excelled in many fields, but sometimes I have really thought I have an inability to focus. In hindsight, I regret none of any of those majors or hobbies or passions or jobs because they’ve all fascinated me to no end. Thank you for this. I will definitely embrace my varied interests more. I have even found a common thread among them. Hooray for progress :D And now if someone asks what it is I do, I will proudly say, “I’m a Renaissance Woman”.

  • http://www.facebook.com/chelofive Chelo Aestrid

    I’d like to share this poem with you all that I wrote ten years ago. Even then I knew I was a little different.

    “The Curse”
    By: Chelo, 2003

    ‘What is it they say about a jack of all trades?
    They’re always busy busy busy with their beds not made
    “What is so wrong with that?” you inquire…
    Well, tasks are unfinished as the body eventually tires
    I am not a Jack but you can call me Jacqueline
    For I have many uses sort of like Vaseline
    I am a singer, dancer, actress, songwriter, choreographer
    While I draw, go to Business School, and even dabbled in Architecture
    As if twenty-four hours was enough for all that I aspire
    I’m still trying to play the keyboard and the guitar!
    I should be very versatile and successful someday
    But that could be when I’m old, more bitter, and gray!
    I am a girl with too many trinkets in her purse
    Now do you see what I mean by “the Curse”?
    Thus, not one competition have I ever won
    For my talents are many, but I am a master of none.’

    But now, I will add:

    “However, this curse has given my life color and variety
    And ultimately the most interesting me that I can be
    Thus it not a curse after all, but the biggest blessing
    I am a Renaissance Woman: many talents in many settings.”

    And, I’d also like to say that ten years later, I have won competitions in various fields and have been successful in many things I’ve set out to do :)

    • Amy Beth O’Brien

      I
      I decided to revisit this article today, and enjoyed reading everyone’s comments. I love your poem, and I’m so glad you decided to embrace your renaissance nature!

  • Aniya

    Two friends recently referred to me as such and I got such a giggle out of it that I decided to research this notion. It’s not hard at all for me to meet the criteria by definition alone but your article has truly summed up my life in a way that makes it utterly impossible to come to any other conclusion. I am a renaissance woman! Owning that title no longer makes me giggle, it makes me proud and complete. Thank you so much for this article!

  • Rhiannon

    Thank you so much for this article, even though I’m apparently a few months late seeing it. I currently work as a bill collector, which isn’t such a glamorous position. I do, however, find that the mundane quality of the job allows my mind to wander when not on calls, and I jot down ideas for everything else I’m doing: Acting, writing, stand-up comedy, professional wrestling, visual art, lighting design, set design, playwriting, film-making, music, craft beer connoisseur…and even more I’d like to try including bartending (mixology), culinary school, web design, philosophy, advanced physics, graphic novels…

    I can hold and focus on a steady job, make my income that way, and still earn my income on the side with these other ventures. Ideally, at least one of them will take off, as collecting money from debtors is not my passion – although I’m one of the top collectors at my company.

    I can’t be contented doing just one thing. Sometimes, it really feels as though there should be more hours in a day, because I gain new interests frequently, but never lose my old interests. It all builds on, and I hate to feel as though I’m neglecting anything.

    The thing I’ve gotten is that people seem not to understand that if I’m talented at something, why I can’t just narrow it down and focus on that one thing. The thing is, even if I experienced immense success, aside from the few small awards I’ve received, I’d STILL be working on those other things.

    I don’t think it’s ADD; I think it’s my constant desire to learn, coupled with perfectionism in wanting to master everything, giving nothing up.

  • http://www.facebook.com/candyhutchins.musicteacher CandyHutchins MusicTeacher

    I totally relate to this! I used to be embarrassed about my various skills, jobs, and interests but I am starting to embrace this quality which I most likely inherited from my parents. They owned a restaurant in their 20′s, became interested in archery (Mom became a champion and Dad hand-crafted bows.) Then they started a trophy/award business along with gospel family singing group (self funding two albums in Nashville), and they just keep going and going at 85 & 88… Dad paints, golfs (has designed his own putters too); Mom’s health is poor but she is determined to get better so she can keep up with Dad. And my sister has been a licensed hair stylist, mom, grandmother, office assistant and a director of a local Red Cross chapter. In addition to that she is a fearless DIY-er, crafter, and talented singer as well. I have been in three industries myself after I got restless and left music school: fashion shoes, architectural moldings/millwork and now back to music as a private teacher. So, yes this article describes nearly our whole family!

  • Marjorie Gray

    Thank you for this article. I found this by Googling “how to market myself as a renaissance woman!” I spent years unable to decide what career to change to, after spending years supporting my art doing housecleaning. I just couldn’t decide because I have too many interests. I finally went back to school and earned professional certificates in Technical Writing, Web Design and Info Design (of course, I couldn’t decide on just one!) Then finding that the job world wants super specialists and I have abilities with writing, logo design, web design, a little of other kinds of design. I’m also good at organizing and could be a counselor, if I wanted to go that route. I finally have decided to market myself as a “renaissance woman” able to do many things. I have an interview coming up as a Web Content Specialist, an opportunity where I think I could use a number of my skills. Of course, some I will have to pursue in my off-hours; I don’t think any job could cover them all!

  • Asillem4

    OMGosh, THIS……IS…….ME!

    I can’t answer the question, “So, what do you do?” because I try to do everything that appeals to me.

    A better question might be, “What DON’T you do?”

    “Math.”

  • Noe’l Roberts

    This article really helped me. People always ask what do I do and I always sigh and say , “what is it that you need and I can direct you”. I always felt like a jack of all trades.

    This is great, I am a renaissance woman!

  • DrJayGarlitz

    Amy, I found your web page when preparing comments for presentation at a funeral for a friend who passed away in Hawthorne, Florida. Jane was a true renaissance woman who was appreciated by her family and community, but will be even more so when I share your description. I will provide this URL to her family. Thank you for sharing your words of wisdom and inspiration online…

  • Cathy Arkle

    What a load of my shoulders after reading this. I was always so envious of people who knew what they wanted to do/be in life and were doing/being it. Once I master something, I move on to the next thing. There seems to be no end to the fascinating things to learn and do in life. Thanks for coining the term “seeker”- I think that term will appear on my next business card. :)

  • Steph


    +

    Flag as inappropriate

    It is amazing that my ex-husband called me this after a long discussion we had about improving his relationship with his sister. I had not really known what it meant, so I Googled it and read your article. It’s me…Nurse, Air Force Flight Nurse, Nurse Practitioner, recently completed a master’s degree in counseling at the age of 60 (this will be my 2nd career when I ‘retire’), adoptive mother, grandmother, seamstress, crafter (knitting, crocheting, needlepoint and cross-stitch), baker, gourmet cook and life coach. I am thinking about writing a novel about my life and sometimes I think that it would be boring . . . but then, I am engaged to marry that ex-husband. Maybe he will appreciate the renaissance woman this time. Maybe I will inspire other women to know that it is okay to be intelligent, capable and knowledgeable about many things. It is OKAY to be you.

  • Maria Mar

    Oh, Amy, I looove this article. I am a modern renaissance woman and I’ve had a great challenge, but finally understood how all my gifts come together, so now I have a business that integrates them.

    My story began in college, when I couldn’t make up my mind between theater, psychology or literature. I kept switching and it took me years to finish my BA! People kept telling me to focus and like you, made me believe that I was a jack-of-all-trades.

    Even when I started my business, all the advise was focus on ONE thing. I am a sacred storyteller, an artist, author, poet, ceremonialist, spiritual teacher and stage performer. Ouch! Like you, I could not simply pick one. It was like I had amputated a part of me.

    But here’s the truth I discovered. I am a shaman. I use sacred storytelling (whether written or performed), poetry and art to help women change the stories that hold them back and create their own masterpiece life. Simple, integrated and clear. Shamans have for centuries used art as alchemy. That’s when my service name showed up: the Dream Alchemist.

    Everything fell into place. So my response to you is YEEEES! And my sharing tip is follow your heart and listen deeply to your Core Self and what brings you bliss and all the pieces will fit together.

    Thanks for this article! I’m smiling from ear to ear.LOL

  • Shilpa

    Wow! Thank You so much Amy Beth O’Brien for such a wonderful article. I feel so much better about myself.Thank you very much !

  • Kia Lanae

    Oh my goodness! I am so grateful to have come across this article! Wow! This is me too ladies! What a relief! At times it’s bliss, at times is pure torment! I’m glad to know it’s OK, we’re ok, & actually kind of special! “Free to be me by God’s design!” Thanks Amy!

  • Sha Dior

    OH, My Goodness! This article is amazing. I think I need to print this out and hang it in every room. Thank you for this. I definitely answered yes to each of the 7 signs. It’s so frustrating trying to focus on one of my gifts. I up for the challenge!

  • eglantier

    Oh, the relief of this weight! Thank you!

  • Yolanda

    Oh my goodness! I’m just finding this article and it’s SO on point! Everything resonated with me. When I’m told to focus on one business venture, I feel boxed in and I don’t like that feeling. I also realized later in my career that the reason I get frustrated after about a year or two is because I need to do something different. I plan to go back to consulting to get that variety of working in project management. Thank you for this article; it has truly made my Monday!

  • Kayla Hollatz

    This is completely me. I’ve been considering myself multi-passionate for a while, but I like the term modern-day renaissance woman. This spoke to my soul. Thanks for sharing!