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Posted: August 29, 2013

Chef Laura: Father of Invention reinvented himself

DaVinci’s quirky career path – appealing or insane?

Laura Cook Newman

A few months ago, the insipidly named DaVinci Machines Exhibit came to the Denver Pavilions.  Despite its lackluster marketing efforts, I eagerly attended. 

To say Leonardo DaVinci was “busy” would be like calling the Brown Palace a “motel”.  Displayed in the warehouse-like space was a generous collection of replica creations he invented. 

We can credit DaVinci for gadgets we use every day: pulleys, levers, ball bearings, bridges, and bicycles. A team of Colorado School of Mines’ grad students didn’t craft this laundry list of engineering wonders…only Leo. 

But that was just the first room.

Traveling deeper into the cavernous exhibit hall, visitors discover his artistic side.  He did this real famous painting of a subtly smiling lady.  I don’t think it leaves the Louvre anymore, but yeah – at age 51, the same guy that designed deadly battle tanks, also delicately painted the Mona Lisa.  Oh, and Dan Brown fans around the world can thank DaVinci for whipping up the Last Supper.

But that was just the second room.

Turning a corner, we learn about his clandestined dissection of human corpses to understand how our insides work.  A little gory perhaps - and the church wasn’t too keen on it - but without an MRI machine handy in the 1500’s, you gotta make do. Because of DaVinci, posters of the original Grateful Dead are plastered on the walls of med students’ dorm rooms worldwide: The Vitruvian Man.

But that was just the third room.

Then he composed some music, penned some books, and just for kicks, he scribed everything backwards.  If they had trophies for singing, dancing and acting back then, I’m sure he would’ve pulled a Whoopi Goldberg and EGOT’ed too.

And that was the fourth room.  Please exit through the gift shop.

When we think of being a Renaissance Man – Leonardo, not Oprah - is the person who started it.  DaVinci (b. April 15, 1452 – d. May 2, 1519) died at 67: an insanely old age for that era, but only two years into retirement by today’s standards. 

Experiencing this exhibit got me thinking about career paths.  Assuming we get our first job in our teens, we could work for 50+ years.  Do you want to punch the same clock for five decades, or do you have a little Leo in you?

Career path aesthetics: If it were bedding, would your career path look like a kaleidoscopic, hand-stitched patchwork quilt?  Or a monochromatic, machine-made comforter purchased at a big box store in Beigeville?

Career path map: If it were a board game, would your path play like Candy Land: wiggling in circuitous manner - sometimes stuck in the Molasses Swamp - sometimes taking a shortcut through Gumdrop Pass?  Or would it play out more like Connect Four: linear, strategic, and ever-ascending?

Please don’t misunderstand.  A beige, linear career path is nothing to scoff at.  But what happens when you stop working (by choice or not)?  What will you do to earn a living or simply enjoy your golden years?  Although I’m sure he would receive every “Associate of the Month” certificate, I just can’t picture an elderly, blue-smocked Leonardo greeting customers at Wal-Mart.

There’s no shame in being content with your career and path as is.  If the term “reinventing yourself” makes you conjure up images of Madonna in a pointy bra, let’s call it something else.  An “enhancement” may suit you better.  Take what already exists and sculpt it (BTW, DaVinci was a master at that too) to complement the current and future you.

Fingers-crossed, there’s a lot of living left to do.  Perhaps you can’t go all “DaVinci” and tinker on flying machines in your spare time.  But what else in your toolbox is worth exploring, both professionally and personally, to diversify and sharpen your skill set?

Laura Cook Newman is a professional Chef and Training Manager for a Fortune 500 food manufacturer. She earned her chops at Johnson & Wales University, has an MBA in Marketing and hosts a blog for behind-the-scenes insights on the food service industry. Contact her at

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Readers Respond

@Pams - no record shows of DaVinci being married. @TaTee - you are correct. It seems that like DaVinci's personal life was as interesting as his professional life. It's just a shame he didn't have any children. Imagine claiming DaVinci in your family tree? And one more interesting side note - it's been recorded that DaVinci was a vegetarian. No spouse, no kids, and no meat - maybe that's the secret to living a long productive life? By Chef Laura on 2013 09 03
great article - i was relieved that the article wasn't about leo decaprio. you failed to mention davinci's clandestine meetings with king Francis I of France! though, not sure that has anything to do with sharpening your skill set... By Ta Tee on 2013 09 02
You need to proof read... C'mon "The forth room" By Grammar girl on 2013 08 29
OK Laura you really have my curious mind in overdrive. Was DiVinci married? If so, his wife probably invented divorce. Did he ever have time to sit down and enjoy a gourmet meal? Doubt it. He probably had a bag of stale oats that hardened up...and voila! the first granola bar. Forget the boxers or briefs question. It was more expedient to throw the old blue smock on. He was the first diagnosed case of ADHD most likely. And what did he die of? Wouldn't it be kind of neat if he could have done his very own post mortem? He would have loved that! Divinci wasn't buried. Thanks to cryogenics he and Walt Disney are frozen in time. By Pamsclams on 2013 08 29
This reminds me of John Lennon's words 'Life is what happens to you when you are making other plans" By Music Lover on 2013 08 29
I thought he died on the Titanic By Confused on 2013 08 29
Love your postings and this one was superb as usual. Reminds me of a quote I saw recently: "When you map out the future, do it in pencil." Thanks for sharing. By Jonathan Spencer on 2013 08 29
Chef Laura, Great article for all of those who are employed to rethink the changes they have made in their careers to get where they are. A view for those on the road on where they could end up based on which decisions they make and the need to keep learning and changing. Lastly, for those who are not in the job market or trying to get back into it-- that change is possible regardless of your age. Education is freedom. By Jeffrey Fischer on 2013 08 29
EXCELLENT! Thank you. By golden girl on 2013 08 29
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