Renaissance person

How to be great*

*This title is not mine. It came from a source that inspired this post.

My older daughter just graduated from elementary school last week, my younger one will graduate from Pre-K to Kindergarten readiness this week. I am graduating, too. After a hiatus from work, I feel almost as if I returned from hibernation into a new, vibrant life, where anything is possible. Time to write down the big and small lessons of this wonderful journey called life. I am ready to write letters to my younger, former self. 

When I stumbled across this post in Quora this morning, I felt compelled to comment; the comment, in modified form, below, planted the seed for my upcoming series of musings about life. 

The article stated in order to be great you had to be ruthless among other qualities.

I disagree, you don’t have to be “ruthless” in order to be great. Being ruthless is having no compassion or pity for anything. After having encountered amazing people like the Dalai Lama, Steve Jobs and many people of the Apple “core”, the “PayPal Mafia”, and other high-achieving individuals, you can be a Renaissance person and multi-dimensional; you don’t have to be a selfish, ruthless person. 

On the contrary, the higher your value system is, the better. I would rephrase the word ruthless into: don’t compromise and understand how to break down complex things that are complicated and cumbersome, into comprehensible, “simple” steps; also: do sweat the small stuff when it comes to the nuts and bolts, especially of a design: while the sum is larger than its parts, you need to know (as a creating, leading and driving force) how to break down from the macro into the micro cosm of virtually anything. 

The fact that Steve Jobs got upset (and threw tantrums) at bad designs is, that he suffered physically when encountering it; I feel the same way, albeit I don’t throw tantrums at work; a poor typographic treatment causes a very painful reaction, which is not unlike perceiving noise or a cacophony where people play out of tune. Only very few people can “listen” to things visual.

here are the qualities that will help you to accomplish greatness in life.

Work on being good at:

  1. Design – Moving beyond function to engage the senses
  2. Story – Narrative added to products and services - not just argument. Best of the six senses.
  3. Symphony – Adding invention and big picture thinking (and detail focus).
  4. Empathy – Going beyond logic and engaging emotion and intuition.
  5. Play – Bringing humor and light-heartedness to business and products.
  6. Meaning – the purpose is the journey, give meaning to life from inside yourself.


Learn to fail. No one gets it right the first time: look what happened to Steve Jobs (the whole getting fired from his own company thing, and then starting Pixar). If you can’t cope with stress and setbacks, if you can’t handle failure, you may as well settle into your comfortable 9-to-5 now. 

Work on your confidence — which (related to learning to fail) sometimes means having a short memory. Learn from your mistakes, but don't focus or ruminate on them. When you mess up, rejoice! 

Learn how to say no. The more successful you get, the more people will ask of you. You can’t make every donation and attend every event and do every favor. You should do what you need to do and what you want to do. 

On a related note, spend smart. Don’t be wasteful. Both your time and money, and most importantly, Earth resources, even if you have the money. 

And develop your charisma. More on that another time.