Next month I turn 53. You might think I would be pondering crow’s feet, aging parents and downsizing but I'm not. [Full disclosure: all have been topics of conversation within the past six months.] Mostly I've been thinking about the benefits of maturity.
Two weeks ago there was an interesting post in the LinkedIn Communication Arts group titled “25 things that happen when you get old in the advertising business.” I’m a sucker for lists and this one pulled me in. It wasn’t particularly funny or clever. But it rang true. The gist is that older workers have the experience and skill to expertly execute a job. They can cut through the chaos, get the work done and lead a balanced life.
Last weekend on a beautiful November morning my husband and I walked down the street to watch a 15K race in the neighborhood. We saw lots of friends and neighbors run by. At one point we saw a couple we know from school approach. As we cheered them on my husband turned to me and said, “I saw [the wife] the other day and she looked great.” And in a flash the LinkedIn post came back to me.
It occurred to me that we are at a really interesting age.
As I watch my friends approach and pass the 50-year-mark there are some real changes taking place. Sure, we are older. But to the one, my friends are more beautiful. I see a self-confidence I didn't see before. I see a comfort in their skin and an understanding of, and an acceptance of, who they are. And in general, I see a grace that had been hidden.
We first met many of these moms and dads at PTO, after school classes and sporting events. We were strangers but we latched onto one another because what we were going through was so universal—we were figuring out how to get through the long days and short years that every parent of small children knows. We were frazzled, sleep deprived and focused on family.
But things have slowly changed. Our kids are finding their way in the world. Each one discovering a niche where they shine—and where we see glimmers of the adults they will become.
Free from wiping noses and actively managing children we have a comfort juggling the career/family thing. We've figured out how to keep the house clean, the car running and the lawn raked while managing a career. We have weathered the ins and outs of long-term relationships. And most of us have been able to come back to ourselves—discovering or rediscovering hobbies, activities and passions that are our own. Those special activities that bring us joy and satisfaction and drive us back out into the world to find others from the same tribe.
It isn't all smooth sailing and we all still have crises. But in general we are better able to manage the turbulence. Knowing when to weather it in silence and when to call friends for support and guidance.
But back to that LinkedIn list that started this post. I see the same things in business. As we get older we have a comfort with what we do. Yes, yes, yes. Those hot young designers have great ideas, splashy portfolios and an apparent handle on emerging technologies. But us older designers? We've got a few tricks up our sleeves.
—We can see immediately what is substance and what is fluff.
—We have a strong sense of what direction to take a project to ensure a good outcome.
—We know a good idea can come from anywhere—even the client.
—We know that our REAL job is to make the people who hire us look good.
—And we know that a job well done has more to do with relationships than with awards.
—And finally, we value our time too much to work 80-hour weeks.
I think 53 is going to be a great year.