Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel, considered one of the mankind’s greatest artistic achievements, is awe-inspiring in person when I visited Rome years ago. While the chapel was elbow-to-elbow packed with crowds, I was simply mesmerized when looking up at the ceiling paintings.

Michelangelo’s Frescoes at the Sistine Chapel

One of the most difficult artist skills to master is fresco painting. Michelangelo had very little experience with the style. He sought out fellow painters to assist but eventually settled on using the “buon fresco” technique, where he painted quickly on wet plaster before it dried.

As I learned more about Michelangelo, I was amazed by a few facts:

He didn’t consider himself a painter. He thought of himself primarily as a sculptor. He spoke about aiming high that really resonated with me.

“The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short, but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.”

Many of us are career switchers. I myself began my career as a software developer before becoming a product manager. It is possible to reinvent oneself and still reach the pinnacle in a second or even a third career.

He designed his own scaffolding as Pope Julius II insisted that religious services would continue to be held so he couldn’t use a standard scaffolding, resting on the floor and rising up to the ceiling.

Faced with a hard requirement that the church remained open, Michelangelo had to design a system that satisfy the constraint. Software development is working with a set of constraints. He would have made a great software developer!

When Michelangelo was about 60, he was ordered to paint the Last Judgment on the altar wall. He ended up cutting down two of his lunettes (an arched window in a domed ceiling) for the new painting.

“Out with the old, in with the new”. As I get older, I’ve been more open to toss out my long-held ideas to embrace more innovative and disruptive ones. For years I’ve taken videos in the landscape mode. The overnight sensation of TikTok and Facebook Reels quickly challenged the status quo and standardized on the portrait mode.

In summary, there are many lessons we can learn from the fresco paintings of an old master. Another surprising fact is that he painted a panel in a single day. Until next time…

Originally posted to Medium