While in Scotland we took a three day tour to the Highlands and Isle of Skye. I never expected to encounter such rugged, awe-inspiring scenery in the UK. At times it reminded me of the American Southwest (just pretend those gorse bushes are piñon), at other times the Alps. We were greeted by a rainbow at our first stop at Loch Lubnaig. Highlights: Ben Nevis, Rannoch Moor, Loch Lubnaig, Loch Lomond & Trossachs National Park, more castles (Monty Python/Outlander/Monarch of the Glen) Isle of Sky, Sligachan, Fairy Pools, Fairy Glen, Portree, Point Neiss, Talisker Brewery, raw oysters, steak pie, Cheviot sheep, Highland Cows, rock cairns, Gorse bushes, croft houses, Eilean Donan Castle, Old Man of Storr, Isle of Skye Bridge and so much more—all with my favorite girl.
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.
September 23 I will be part of a design panel talking about failure. Sponsored by the AIGA, the event is titled Failure as an Appetizer. And the general premise of the talk is that through our own failures we learn deeper lessons.
Failure is a really hard word. Technically it means the state or condition of NOT meeting a desirable or intended objective. Who wants to admit to that?
And in reality I'm not sure we should. I think that every day our lives are full of dozens of small failures and successes. I don't want to think of them as failures—they are just less-than-perfect moments that I learn from and adjust to.
So how do I define failure for this presentation? I came up with four broad categories. And I can rattle off at least one example from my life for each category:
- Project failure. A project that doesn't meet the goals my client and I established.
- Personal failure. When I've done or said something that was untruthful, unkind or just plain wrong. (Have you read the Four Agreements? I wasn't impeccable with my word.)
- Business failure. When I've made a decision or done something that hurts my business.
- Balance failure. When I've made a decision or done something that hurts my family or business—when I have had to put one before the other.
But here is the good news—with 52 years behind me and almost half of them running my own design business, none of these failures have been insurmountable. Business is good. I'm still married. I pay my bills and taxes—and fund my retirement. I'm working with clients I've had for decades—and a half dozen new ones. My kids love me. And my cat still tolerates me.
So how do I get through failure? Sometimes it feels like an arrow to my chest. Sometimes a series of annoying pin pricks. Either way, recovery takes time. Time to identify where I went wrong, or what I didn't anticipate. And then time to make a conscious readjustment of attitudes, plans, relationships and work methods. Then, as always, I put one foot in front of the other and jump back into work and life. It is this active concept of adjusting that I try to embrace.
I like the word FAILING a lot better.
Failing and it's antonym, improving, are words I can get behind. I love them as a pair—like yin and yang. And I think they offer a good metaphor for life as an independent. I envision my business as a surfboard that is veering back and forth. Most of the time I am happily riding the waves somewhere between failing and improving. Enjoying the water below me and the sun on my shoulders. But sometimes I tip towards failing. And through a series of small and subtle maneuvers I regain my equilibrium. Other times I lurch turn towards the sun and gravity not so subtly pulls me back down with a bump. And as always, some subtle shifts in behavior or attitude bring me back to an even keel.
What do you think about failure and what might you add to the list? How do you keep going when failure threatens to sink you?
When I was a young designer I had a job in New York City that I loved. I worked at a large firm that handled corporate identity, industrial design, packaging design and interior design. I was part of a team of incredibly talented people.
But, there was something funny going on. Everyone was talking about something else. They would say things like: "I'm a film maker." "I'm a musician." "I'm a ski instructor for the deaf." "I'm an antique collector and appraiser." What was wrong with them? Didn't they realize that we were living a dream getting to design for Fortune 500 companies? I was reveling in the life of sketches, comps and kerning and secretly I snickered at them.Read More