Why Art is High Altitude Training for Work

Come the heat of summer you’ll find Lebron James running 100 yard sprints on the football field by his house, even though his usual place of business, the basketball court is only 93 feet long. Timothy Bradley, the world champion boxer would run stadiums with 145 lbs on his back (keep that in mind the next time you are walking up to the cheap seats with a hot dog). Pro athletes are constantly seeking limits in their training. Marshawn Lynch is a frightening example.

On September 14th, 2014 ‘Beast Mode’ came out of the Seahawks tunnel rocking what looked like a Bane[1] mask before their Week 2 football game against the San Diego Chargers. Aside from scaring the women and children he was up to something. This ‘Elevation Training Mask[2]’ had resistance valves on the breathing vents that mimicked training at high altitudes. You have to work harder to get oxygen. It builds crazy lung capacity.

Beast Mode takes training to the extreme which is why if he was a businessman he probably would have come out of the tunnel carrying a paintbrush. Or maybe a Chef’s apron. Or a lute[3], because art is the high altitude training for work. See, both art and work rely on the same core human function: creativity. And dropping our preconceived notions about what creativity really means is the only thing in the way of becoming Beast Mode of our own realms.

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Julia Cameron writes in ‘The Artist’s Way[4]’:

“As a culture we tend to define creativity too narrowly and to think of it in elitist terms, as something belonging to a small chosen tribe of “real artists”. But in reality, everything we do involves making creative choices, although we seldom recognize that fact.”

The first concept to re-learn is that creativity is not a special gift reserved for those making things that go on a stage, or into galleries, or in museums. Creativity is a native function that comes pre-loaded on every human. It has a much simpler definition than we are led believe.

Creativity simply means connecting the dots between two separate points. It’s not the magic ability of a blessed few to invent things out of thin air. It’s just downloading a bunch of data and finding new combinations. We do it all the time.

Coordinating your kids carpool from school to their various activities, financial modeling, figuring out how to not have class on Fridays, whatever your walk is this is constantly happening in everyday life.

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When we think of ‘art’ we tend to think of things like paintings, sculptures, or dance - things further up on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs[5]. Art is an endeavor to represent thoughts, feelings, and emotions with physical techniques such as brushstrokes, movement, or notes. It can offer the viewer a vicarious emotional response via this translation by the artist.

It’s why some people cry at the end of ‘The Neverending Story[6]’ (I was young, don’t judge), why we dance when Michael Jackson comes on (still do), or why we raise our fists when Daniel-san crane kicks the Cobra Chai dude in the face at the end of ‘The Karate Kid[7]’. Art is communicating the essence of our humanity through tangible mediums. At times it can feel like magic.

As Steven Pressfield writes in, ‘The Artist’s Journey[8]’:

“[The artist] enters the Second World and comes back to the First with something that had never existed in the First World before.”

There are two things that can make us better at work: deeper understanding of our businesses and improving our ability to make connections. The connections being made with art cross the widest chasm of all - from a mental place to a physical one.

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Just as going to the gym is not only for Arnold Schwarzenegger making art is not only for the ‘pros’. Creativity is a muscle which too gets stronger with reps. Training with art is like putting on the Bane mask.

Art can be done in any number of ways - planting a garden, banging a drum, preparing a meal – it is just a way of expression. It isn’t confined to the stages or museums. We don’t even have to show anybody, unless we want to.

The only thing that matters is that we give ourselves permission to engage. We shouldn’t think of it as flying to the Bahamas to lie on a beach, it’s more like flying to Denver to get ready for the Olympics. Our livelihoods depend on it.

I do have to warn you though, there are side effects that come from doing this type of work: catharsis, satisfaction, fulfillment, and sometimes enjoyment. It may make us better outside the office as well.

In closing we quote Seth Godin in, ‘Linchpin’:

“The art of running a meeting, counseling a student, conducting an interview, and calming an angry customer. The art of raising capital, buying a carpet at a souk, or managing a designer. If art is a human connection that causes someone to change his mind then you are an artist.”

Maybe with enough training we can come to realize that what we do every day is not just our creativity at work but rather that the way we live our lives is perhaps the most ultimate form of art we can ever undertake.


[1] Batman villain https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bane_(DC_Comics)

[2] https://www.si.com/edge/2015/01/26/marshawn-lynch-training-mask-seattle-seahawks

[3] A plucked string instrument https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lute

[4] https://juliacameronlive.com/the-artists-way/

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maslow%27s_hierarchy_of_needs

[6] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_NeverEnding_Story_(film)

[7] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Karate_Kid

[8] https://blackirishbooks.com/product/the-artists-journey/