Societies have always relied on enforcing certain standards upon one another as a way of maintaining conformity and commonality. Though we could argue that priorities and expectations haven’t really changed over time, modern society is demanding more from people than it ever has before. And it’s most definitely demanding too much.

Today’s standards have evolved from the idea of “the Renaissance man”, the ideal man who participated and excelled in art, music, writing, philosophy, and mathematics. However, in our modern society, there is an increased amount of information and opportunities available that allow us to achieve more goals. The standards of the Renaissance man have doubled as a result, and span an even larger skill-set.

You are expected to accomplish everything, ranging from physical fitness to social awareness to academic excellence to an active social life, all whilst trying to carve out an individual identity for yourself. Coupled with that mindset is the practice of accomplishing and moving onto the next thing at a rapid pace. Add in the omnipresence of social media and its additional pressure to achieve and demonstrate your work. The result? A dog-eat-dog environment almost everywhere you go, and you’re left to wonder if we are really increasing each individual’s productivity or hindering it in the long-run.

As with many things, it all comes down to knowing our limits. We can increase our ability to learn and excel, but if we push too much, all we are left with is a burned-out individual with no further drive to succeed. It’s not like there isn’t a reason for striving for these ideals. Societal pressures are one of the most effective driving forces behind people’s actions — people scramble to find commonality, and societal standards provide them with that. Resisting them would require an open mind, but rather than individually considering their life’s purpose and how they plan to achieve that, more people are hiding from those daunting questions and falling back on an arbitrary and unrealistic checklist of things to accomplish. But I don’t see how conformity is worth the risk of an almost inevitable collapse of personal spirit and drive.

Aside from that daunting possibility, we also have to acknowledge that the modern-day Renaissance man creates a false sense of unity. We are not all equally capable of achieving this standard, considering there are those who have more resources to make the goal of the Renaissance man a reality, whether it be due to financial, social, or environmental reasons. What we’re really doing is squeezing the potential out of certain people rather than truly increasing productivity by giving more individuals the ability to achieve.

It feels like a waiting game, but the type that involves being glued to the ground as you are forced to watch a giant asteroid slowly get closer and closer to your location. We can’t abandon our desires to become the modern Renaissance man, but until we reach a point where we cannot push ourselves any farther, we are going to keep trying until we overload ourselves.

I think we’re completely capable of reinventing and rediscovering our life purposes. Breaking away from the old takes a deep understanding of its faults, and that’s what’s key to overcoming it. For a standard that is so focused on individual accomplishments, today’s society places too much stock into how great those accomplishments are when compared to others’. If we really want to further productivity and encourage well-roundedness, we have to actually emphasize individual needs, goals, strengths, and motivation. Otherwise, we fall into the endless pit of the modern-day Renaissance man, and abandon the hope of improving ourselves as individuals and as a society.

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