What the Bleep is a Renaissance Man?

Jim Woods

Jim Woods has over 20 years of experience in the markets from working as a stockbroker, financial journalist, and money manager.

I was at a social gathering recently with familiar acquaintances, and also with many people who I had never met. One of my acquaintances introduced me to the group in the following fashion: “Hey everyone, meet Jim, he’s a Renaissance Man.”

While many of the newly introduced smiled and said hello, one rather bold young gent blurted out this response: “What the bleep is a Renaissance Man?” Of course, he didn’t use the word “bleep.”

Now, while some people may have been put off by this response, I was not. In fact, I took it as an opportunity to educate this young gent, as well as the rest of those gathered around, as to just what the bleep a Renaissance Man is, what that actually means in action and why it matters to my life — and to the lives of countless others. 

I started off first with a little history lesson on the Renaissance itself, which is the term historians use for the period in Europe where there was a cultural, artistic, political and economic “rebirth” following the Middle Ages. This period is usually thought to have taken place from the 14th century to the 17th century. The reason why this period in history is so important is because the leading thinkers, scientists and artists of the time promoted the rediscovery of classical philosophy, literature and art — i.e. the things that move the world, and that make life worth living. 

After establishing the history, I explained that the modern use of the term “Renaissance Man” is a moniker to describe someone with a wide breadth of knowledge, competence and actual hands-on experience in multiple different fields. I further explained that a Renaissance Man is someone interested in just about everything, knowledgeable in many things and that can do a whole lot of things well. 

To bring a specific example to life, I told this group about the one person I know best. Here, I described a Renaissance Man as someone who can write about complex subjects such as financial markets, investing and the economy, and make sense of it all for tens of thousands of readers. And that same person also can play piano, guitar, harmonica, and can sing and compose and perform original music. He can and has competed in bodybuilding contests, martial arts tournaments and strength competitions. That same person also served in the U.S. Army as an airborne infantryman and special operations soldier. He also holds a BA in Philosophy from UCLA. Oh, and that same man is an expert horseman, marksman and racecar driver. 

Of course, the person I know best is me, and the above description is just a brief outline of my personal biography. 

I then explained to this group what it means to think, act and live like a Renaissance Man. I told them it starts with an approach to existence that incorporates three key concepts, or what I call the “three pillars” of the Renaissance Man ethos, which are “focus,” “integration” and “celebration.” 

“Focus” here is the most essential, as it also serves as a basis for all information processing, and for the application of the two other pillars of my ethos. The term focus means much more than just concentration. By focus, I mean focus in the wider, philosophic sense. Perhaps a quote here from my favorite philosopher and my favorite novelist, Ayn Rand, will explain what I mean by philosophic focus:

“In any hour and issue of his life, man is free to think or to evade that effort. Thinking requires a state of full, focused awareness. The act of focusing one’s consciousness is volitional. Man can focus his mind to a full, active, purposefully directed awareness of reality — or he can unfocus it and let himself drift in a semiconscious daze, merely reacting to any chance stimulus of the immediate moment, at the mercy of his undirected sensory-perceptual mechanism and of any random, associational connections it might happen to make.”

So, when I say “focus” is the first pillar of my personal ethos, I mean it in this sense. I mean it in the sense that whatever it is I am doing, whether it is writing, speaking, analyzing companies, reading, composing and playing music, horseback riding, weight training, martial arts, combat marksmanship, driving a racecar, walking my dog or just petting my cat, I do it in a state of full focus. I do it with the full, volitional and conscious awareness of reality — in the moment.

“Integration” is the second pillar of my ethos, and it comes after you’ve focused your mind on the facts and sensations of reality. Through the process of mental integration, you can categorize the facts, sensations and feelings you’ve experienced in that state of full focus, and you can begin determining what they all mean and how they fit into your broader, and deeper, philosophic premises such as the things you value.

For example, let’s say you focus your mind on something that is on the surface mostly a physical pursuit, weight training. Yet, is it mostly a physical thing? While the actual performance of the movements might be primarily physical, what you’ve likely already integrated before you even decide to begin weight training is the fact that challenging your muscles with progressive resistance loads is a good thing for your physical well-being.

Indeed, the integration of higher-order concepts of “well-being” requires a long chain of philosophic integration that has to do with the value you place on your existence, your health, your appearance, the maintenance of your functional ability, etc. The wider point here is that the ability to focus on facts and integrate those facts into your philosophic matrix is the necessary second pillar of a Renaissance Man ethos, and it’s one you must be consciously aware of if you are going to engage in the third pillar of this ethos.

“Celebration” is that third pillar of the ethos, and it comes once you’ve focused on reality and integrated those facts with your personal worldview, i.e. your personal philosophic premises. Then and only then can you rationally indulge in celebration

For me, celebration is the result of the focused integration of the concretes of reality and what they represent in my life. Staying with the weight training example, I know that a focus on facts means I need to weight train to stay in good physical shape. Staying in good physical shape is a value to me because I’ve integrated the virtue of good health and the absence of disease in my life as rational values for me to pursue. And despite being on the losing side of my fifties, I am for the most part in excellent physical condition, largely free of disease, strong, flexible and fully functional. It is this combination of focused integration that permits me to celebrate this circumstance.

The way I see it, when you live a life in full focus, and one in which you integrate the ideas and values that really matter to you, then and only then can you rationally celebrate your existence. It is this celebration, in all its glorious forms, that makes life worth living.

Whether that celebration is the pleasure of watching your children grow up, or whether it’s staring into the eyes of the person you love most and feeling that love come right back to you, or whether it’s something as simple as performing a set of intense barbell curls — when you live a life of focused integration, you can justly celebrate life in all of its forms.

For me, the three pillars of focus, integration and celebration comprise the basis of my personal ethos. And thanks to the young gent’s bold utterance, “What the bleep is a Renaissance Man?” I was able to go much further into the issue than anyone at the aforementioned gathering was ever anticipating

Now, as a reader of The Deep Woods, you may already know that I have put these Renaissance Man concepts and ideas into the world via my lifestyle website and podcast, WayoftheRenaissanceman.com.

Today, I am proud to announce a new and improved Way of the Renaissance Man website. The new site features enhanced video content, including a new welcome video that explains more about what the site and podcast are about, and highlights some of the new and improved features

One of the improved aspects of the site is the new Way of the Renaissance Man Lifestyle Shop. Here you can show your enthusiasm for celebrating the rational life by grabbing some of your very own Way of the Renaissance Man gear

Also today, be sure to tune in to this week’s episode of the podcast, the “Last of the Curious Conversations with Gabe Bautista and John Paul Mendocha.” This episode is the third and final installment of my fascinating conversations with two of the country’s leading business consultants

Finally, I am pleased to tell you that my recent educational presentation on Bitcoin, the blockchain and cryptocurrencies has been picked up by the Global Financial Wealth TV network. To watch my presentation, simply click here now.

So, check out the new and improved Way of the Renaissance Man lifestyle website and podcast today. Oh, and the next time you are at a party and someone is introduced as a Renaissance Man, you will know exactly what they mean!


Adams’ Eye 

“You don’t make a photograph just with a camera. You bring to the act of photography all the pictures you have seen, the books you have read, the music you have heard, the people you have loved.”

–Ansel Adams

The brilliant photographer expresses a Renaissance Man ethos here, as he integrates the sum total of his being and brings it to life via his stunningly moving landscape pictures. Adams’ work is an example, and in his case a literal example, of how the proper focus on reality can result in the production of work that we all get to celebrate.  

Wisdom about money, investing and life can be found anywhere. If you have a good quote that you’d like me to share with your fellow readers, send it to me, along with any comments, questions and suggestions you have about my newsletters, seminars or anything else. Click here to ask Jim.


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