Growing Older in a Creative Industry

Steven Heller wrote a fun article on Design Observer this week entitled “How You Can Tell If You Are An Old Fogey Designer”. Being of a certain age, there is much I can identify with in his essay. But, despite his jabs at us old folks, there are a few other thoughts about growing older as a creative that are not quite so fun, and unfortunately are quite real.

Getting older in the creative fields is both a blessing and a curse.

On the plus side, there are so many problems that used to stump me as a junior designer that are instantly clear to me. I have the tools and capacity to tackle much more complicated tasks, offering solutions to problems that are thoughtful and multidimensional, the kid of answers I would not have been able to even comprehend a decade or two ago. With the radical  changes in the media landscape over the past 30 years, I’ve yet to get bored with the business or not found something wildly interesting, whereas my younger self rarely saw that something amazing was right in front of my face. I suppose some of that is maturity, or maybe wisdom.

The downside to being older is that I don’t have the strength I was once had. Recently I pulled an all-nighter, and it left me wrecked for a couple of days. Although no one wants to admit it, there is certain amount of ageism and discrimination. I can be viewed as being out of touch because I don’t use Snapchat or am not up on the latest and greatest. In my defense, that has nothing to do with age —  I’ll use a new technology or platform once I find a good use for it.

And the pay can be lousy, comparatively speaking. Most of my contemporaries are engineers, accountants or members of more respected professions, not designers or creative marketing types. Few are Art Majors and all make considerably more than me. They always have, and odds are good they always will. That is a thought that never occurred to the younger version of me who pursued the things he loved rather than chasing down a bigger paycheck. I sometimes question if this was a good route to take as I help put my daughter through college.

It’s hard getting older and working in a creative industry. I thought by the time I was 50 I’d be set. I figured I would have all the answers. Instead, every day is a new day, with new challenges. I’ve worked harder and put in longer hours over the past couple of years than I ever have. Never saw that coming. I thought my working life would get easier. Instead, it has gotten stickier.

In a way, that is a good thing. Creativity thrives on adversity. And the last thing I want to have happen in my later years is to find myself coasting. As a cyclist, I’ve always enjoyed the struggle of going uphill more than the ease of freewheeling downhill. Perhaps the same can be said of my creative life. And yours, too, as you grow older.