'I can do everything'

Leonardo da Vinci's resume, the unemployment rate, and 7 other things worth your time.

He was a brilliant artist and inventor, and he was looking for work.

So, 500 years ago, Leonardo da Vinci pulled together his resume.

Maybe I’m oversimplifying. I don’t think there was such a thing as a resume then, but sometime between 1482 and 1484, when he was in his early 30s, da Vinci wrote a one-page letter that served as a job application.

The position he sought was to work in the court of Ludovico Sforza, who was the (rather ruthless) ruler of Milan at the time, and who was looking not for an artist but a military engineer. Here’s how da Vinci’s letter started:

My Most Illustrious Lord,

Having now sufficiently seen and considered the achievements of all those who count themselves masters and artificers of instruments of war, and having noted that the invention and performance of the said instruments is in no way different from that in common usage, I shall endeavour, while intending no discredit to anyone else, to make myself understood to Your Excellency for the purpose of unfolding to you my secrets, and thereafter offering them at your complete disposal, and when the time is right bringing into effective operation all those things which are in part briefly listed below:

OK, da Vinci was apparently a master of the run-on sentence, among his other talents. But from there, he laid out specific things he thought he could offer Sforza if he were retained:

  1. “Plans for very light, strong and easily portable bridges…”

  2. a way “in the course of the siege of a terrain, to remove water from the moats…”

  3. “methods for destroying every fortress or other stranglehold unless it has been founded upon a rock or so forth…”

  4. “types of cannon, most convenient and easily portable, with which to hurl small stones almost like a hail-storm…”

  5. “means of arriving at a designated spot through mines and secret winding passages constructed completely without noise…”

  6. a way to “make covered vehicles, safe and unassailable, which will penetrate the enemy and their artillery…”

  7. “[S]hould the need arise, I will make cannon, mortar and light ordnance of very beautiful and functional design…”

  8. “Where the use of cannon is impracticable, I will assemble catapults, mangonels, trebuckets and other instruments of wonderful efficiency not in general use.”

  9. “[S]hould a sea battle be occasioned, I have examples of many instruments which are highly suitable either in attack or defense…”

  10. “In time of peace I believe I can give as complete satisfaction as any other in the field of architecture, and the construction of both public and private buildings, and in conducting water from one place to another.”

We think of da Vinci as an artist and painter — but that’s not what Sforza was looking for at the time. So da Vinci tailored his resume and talked almost exclusively about how his talents could be applied to military engineering.

I say “almost exclusively,” because he did wind up the letter asserting, as an afterthought, his ability to “execute sculpture in marble, bronze and clay. Likewise in painting, I can do everything possible as well as any other, whosoever he may be.”

Anyway, there’s a happy ending. Da Vinci worked for Sforza for years, and the Milanese duke also became a great patron of his art. In fact, it was Sforza who commissioned The Last Supper.

I came across da Vinci’s letter a few years ago, from Shaun Usher’s great book and blog, Letters of Note. But frankly that was in the middle of a hiring boom and an amazing economy, and I think the whole thing is probably more relevant and inspiring now.

We have a 12 percent unemployment rate, and while some people are doing incredibly well, a lot of others are nervous, to put it lightly. Most of the hardest times of my life were when I didn’t know what I was doing next for a job, or for money. I feel for everyone in that situation.

So I file this away, both inspirationally and infuriatingly, as a reminder that great people are often distracted from pursuing their greatness because they need to put food on the table.

Random examples include Winston Churchill, Ulysses S. Grant, actor Geoffrey Owens from The Cosby Show who went viral when customers at a Trader Joe’s spotted him working there, and tried to humiliate him with a video.

Plus, it’s a good resume: specific, employer-centered and tailored, clear and direct, brief enough once we get past the verbose beginning.

Obviously they didn’t have resume keyword scanners in the 15th century, but if they had I think da Vinci’s resume would have made the cut at “Sforza Enterprises LLC.”

Oh, and while I don’t anticipate ever having any practical use for this knowledge, I have to admit: I’m now very curious about how to remove water from moats.

7 other things worth your time

  • What’s the true death rate from Covid-19? A study of studies says it’s between .5% and 1%. “The estimates suggest the new coronavirus is deadlier than the seasonal flu, though not as lethal as Ebola and other infectious diseases that have emerged in recent years. The coronavirus is killing more people than the deadlier diseases, however, in part because it is more infectious.” (WSJ, $)

  • More than half of the United States is now on the quarantine list for New York, New Jersey and Connecticut. “As of Tuesday, the states that currently meet that criteria include Alaska, Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Iowa, Idaho, Indiana, Missouri, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin.” (NBC News New York)

  • Twitter announced it’s banning thousands of accounts that are associated with the “QAnon” conspiracy theory movement. One report said it will be upwards of 150,000 accounts before the end. (Bloomberg, NBC News)

  • Top Ohio state lawmakers were arrested by the FBI and charged with bribery in an alleged $60 million scheme. (NPR)

  • Walmart says it won’t open on Thanksgiving this year, due to coronavirus. Can I just say, that seems like a long time from now. (CNET)

  • Tomorrow is Major League Baseball’s long-delayed opening day. This completely snuck up on me, and it’s totally disorienting. At the same time, the NFL said it’s canceling all preseason games. (CBS Sports, USA Today)

  • Here’s a deep fake video of President Nixon announcing the death of the Apollo 11 astronauts. It’s kind of scary that it’s this easy.

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