Is your career a work of art?

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Bob Dylan

Bob Dylan wrote 'When I Paint My Masterpiece' ( Courtesy of Sony Music)

In the book "Every Leader Is An Artist," authors Michael O'Malley and William F. Baker highlight the pragmatic steps successful artists have taken and relate them to the workplace.

Describing French sculptor Auguste Rodin, they wrote: "Whatever Rodin's natural gifts may have been, he honed them over a very lengthy period of study. He did not miraculously become a great sculptor. … Leaders who understand that they are engaged in an occupation that requires study are ones who find mentors, learn from their own mistakes, test new methods, speak to others about their approaches, take classes, read books and improve over the years as a result."

In a Harvard Business Review blog post published last year, Gianpiero Petriglieri, an associate professor of organizational behavior at the French graduate business school INSEAD, wrote: "First, you need a foundation of knowledge and skills. You can't be Picasso if you can't handle brushes."

I believe a flaw in many people's quest for success is failing to recognize the work it takes. Again, the definition of success doesn't matter — but to be a great parent or a great receptionist or a great social media manager, you must put in the work.

Our workplaces can help us along this path, first by managers recognizing and appreciating that everyone has goals. Petriglieri also suggested that people seek out or create "identity workspaces."

"They are groups or organizations where we can both acquire valuable expertise from others and also address fundamental questions with others," he wrote. "Identity workspaces are communities that help us discover who we are, where we belong, what we can do and how we are meant to do it."

These could exist in a company or outside, a space where people can gather and talk about their passions and ideas, hopefully deriving some guidance or inspiration as they work toward their masterpiece.

I asked Petriglieri via email whether he believes identity workspaces would be helpful even for people in fields that aren't traditionally considered creative.

"I think those ideas apply to any job, whether those traditionally labeled as 'creative' and those who aren't," he wrote. "Artistry — the disciplined expression of oneself in one's work — is not the preserve of artists or professionals for that matter. Undoubtedly in some jobs — say columnist, professor, architect or web designer — the opportunity and demand to be 'creative' are most apparent. However, the ability to produce something that is unique, useful and appealing within the constraints of one's genre is a conduit to great performance in any job. And it is what makes us experience our work as meaningful."

Despite my love for the idea of painting a masterpiece, I can't tell you what mine will be. It could be the moment I see my children graduate from college. It could be something I write that, if I'm lucky, makes a difference in people's lives. Or it may just be sitting back with my wife and reflecting on a good life.

The masterpiece is in the eyes of the artist, and the artist is you. The masterpiece is the goal, the thing that keeps us driven.

Enjoy your painting.

TALK TO REX: Ask workplace questions — anonymously or by name — and share stories with Rex Huppke at, like Rex on Facebook at, and find more at

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