Don’t be a social media Michelangelo

Even if you do your best to avoid art and history, it’s hard to avoid the legacy of Michelangelo. Heck, the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles made sure of that. You’ve probably seen Michelangelo’s Statue of David, maybe his Pietá, and maybe his Sistine Chapel. As a side note, when I was in high school one of my peers asked our teacher where the other 15 chapels were. They had always thought it was the Sixteenth Chapel. But I digress.

Given all of his accomplishments, you might think I have a typo in my title. Why shouldn’t you be like Michelangelo? He did great work. He left a powerful legacy. Truthfully, though, Michelangelo made two mistakes over and over again, and his mistakes are not too dissimilar from paths I see people on in the online world.

Work first, everything else second

The kind of work that Michelangelo did was not easy. He was not an artist sitting in a comfortable studio, air conditioning blowing, brush flitting across the canvas. Michelangelo worked with marble and well, heck, he painted a huge ceiling. It is said that Michelangelo would work so persistently on his sculptures that his hands would begin to bleed. He wouldn’t eat much or sleep much. He didn’t like company. He’d stay in the same shoes or boots for so long that he would pull skin off his feet when he finally removed said footwear. By many historical accounts, while his work was beautiful, he was not a happy or pleasant man.

Is that really a great legacy to leave?

In the online world, you see a lot of people tweeting at seemingly all hours. People tweet about how they aren’t sleeping. I see tweets all of the time about how people worked right on through lunch, or people who worked so hard they forgot to eat for two days. You’ve probably seen things like that too.

Even if you are a great blogger…even if you are a highly successful speaker…is this the best approach to your work? Do you really need to upload photos of your anniversary dinner to Facebook? Do you really need to miss your kid’s baseball game while lamenting how much work you have to do on Twitter? I’m not convinced you do, but there seems to be this one-track mind sort of thinking about work that seems prevalent in the online world. You’re not really working hard unless your hands are bleeding, you have no real friends, and your feet are stuck to your boots.

I don’t really buy that line of thinking. I don’t really recommend it, either.

The ebb and flow of the leadership

It would have been hard for Michelangelo to live in more turbulent times. Every city state in Italy not only battled other city states, but they also had battles within. Florence was forever being caught in a tug of war between the Medicis and their rivals, and Michelangelo was one of many, many people who got caught in the cross-fire. Brought into the Medici household as a promising young artist, Michelangelo, for most of his life, went from works commissioned by the Medicis to works commissioned by their rivals. He committed to grand ideas by the Medicis that he really didn’t want to do only to discover that they couldn’t pay him. He’d work hard on a project for their rivals only to see Florence swing back towards the Medicis again.

In a lot of ways, Michelangelo was like a piece of driftwood in the sea of the times in which he lived.

I see a lot of people similarly caught up in the ebb and flow of social media leadership. A person will present herself as a staunch supporter of someone, but then when another influential person points out a problem with said someone, our friend will say, “You’re right, I agree with YOU. That person is dumb.” If the tide changes, the person’s loyalty will change again and they will go back to their original guru.

I’m not sure how much maneuverability Michelangelo had in his world. It was the great leaders who could commission his grand works. He was competing with Raphael, for heaven’s sakes. That was no easy task. But people nowadays, we have a lot of choices. We don’t have to drift from leader to leader. We don’t have to drift from clique to clique in the online world. And yet that seems to be what happens to many people. Their loyalties, their beliefs, their tonality, their views, change as the wind blows. Where on one hand they will encourage people to “call someone out,” on the other hand they will tell said person how great they are.

Is this a great legacy to leave?

Michelangelo today is remembered as a great master, but he is not usually remembered as a great man. How do you want your work to be remembered years and centuries from now? How do you want people to think of you? Being remembered like Michelangelo isn’t all bad. I have to believe there’s more to strive for, though.

Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/captainchaos/382029326/ via Creative Commons

4 comments
Stanford
Stanford

I'm genuinely torn about this one.  If I had the talents of Michelangelo I don't think I would ever stop working.  I would be obsessed too.  To quote the great theologian - Peter Parker's Uncle Ben - "With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility", I wonder if being great requires sacrifice.  Michelangelo sacrificed being voted "most likely to bring a great potluck dish".  Gosh, If I had to choose, give me David.  Still thinking... Damn.

margieclayman
margieclayman moderator

 @Stanford Eh, you're pretty darned talented, Mr. Man. But you value your kids. You value your family time. You value your hobbies. Imagine your life without any of that. I think you wouldn't like it as much as what you have going on now, potluck dish or not :) 

Martina McGowan
Martina McGowan

I love this post, and this whole series, Margie.

 

I think that many of us, like Michelangelo forget that we are part of the legacy of work that we strive to leave behind. We are driven from cradle to succeed, to outshine, and perform, and we miss much of life. And, yes it make us "not nice people" and it makes us bitter. At least until we can lift our heads from our task and see that the world continues to grow and change, even if we aren't taking part.

 

I can attest to this having sacrificed my own youth and that of my children's to work and career. I am amazed that I have such great relationships with my daughters at this stage of our lives. I can now admonish "youngsters" against sacrificing all for the people they say they love.

 

Great post.

 

Martina

margieclayman
margieclayman moderator

 @Martina McGowan Thanks so much, Martina. 

 

I don't know that keeping your head down necessarily has to make you bitter, but I think that's a fairly common side effect. We love our work but the missed opportunities pile up. We realize too late I guess that sometimes the non-work things are the ones that are once in a lifetime.