I know creatives my age and beyond who like to refer to themselves as “seasoned.” This term makes them sound like they may end up as a roast.
I prefer “battle tested.”
All kidding aside, age and ageism are serious concerns to a lot of creatives out there. How do you compete?
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Here are a few ideas:
Keep your tech skills and software current.
Don’t worry that you started your career when Rapidograph pens were more common than Macs.
Creative sensibility is paramount, but falling behind on current tools is going to stall your career.
I don’t mean that you have to leap into web design if you’ve been a print designer all along – just stay educated on the latest techniques and software, and get the latest versions as often as necessary.
Having to ask for files to be saved to a legacy format makes YOU look outdated.
Stay up-to-date on trends.
Nothing will send you out to pasture faster than continually producing dated-looking work.
- Get yourself some issues of Communication Arts (check out the library for free resources),
- Subscribe to blogs that inspire you,
- Buy some cool new fonts,
- Join local creative groups,
…anything to stay connected and relevant.
And while you’re at it – respect younger professionals in your field.
Just because you have a few years’ advantage on the younger ranks of creatives doesn’t mean you have to disparage them or dismiss them immediately as newbies. Face it – that just exposes your own fear of being replaced.
Stay interested in the up-and-comers around you and let their work inspire you and keep you current.
Be open to new opportunities and niches as you develop your creative career. A totally different aspect of your profession may lead you down a whole new career path.
Have you always wanted to teach? Figure out how to make that happen!
Put your experience to work for you.
As a “battle-tested” creative, you have tons of experience that gives you a leg up on your younger counterparts.
You are multi-dimensional.
You have been a creative in many different settings and in several roles and specialties. You are very well equipped to manage (or outsource) all angles of your freelance work.
You know what your strengths are and almost as importantly, you know what your weaknesses are – which brings me conveniently to my next point…
You have connections – use them!
You’ve lived a full enough professional life to have a long list of friends in the business to call upon for collaboration, advice or commiseration when you know I need to share the wealth of work or ask for some back-up. In other words, when you seek out help, you turn your weaknesses into strengths…can’t get much better than that!
And you have little hesitation about asking for that help. You don’t need to prove that you can do everything yourself. You’ve been around long enough to recognize that you don’t really WANT to do everything yourself.
Overdoing it consistently never ends well, and you’ve learned that from experience, too.
You don’t take much personally anymore.
You can take constructive criticism with the best of them. It’s about the work, not about you.
Tantrums don’t look good on anyone at any age.
You’re mature enough to listen and see the truth in the feedback. And your experience gives you the tact and authority to push back when it’s appropriate.
You’ve had loads of human interaction practice.
You’re comfortable doing things like pitching a logo to a large group of strangers or throwing your ideas out there in a brainstorming session. Your radar is pretty good for interpreting what a client is looking for even if he or she has a hard time articulating it.
I’ve had clients say they felt like I could read their minds, and I take that as the highest compliment!
You’ve had time to wander.
Let your life experiences and your history inform your design.
When I got out of art school, I didn’t go straight into the design world. I followed a crooked career path that included stints as a merchandiser at the MFA Boston shop, an art supply store clerk and a picture framer.
Your experiences have given you a completely unique wisdom and aesthetic – appreciate that and put it out there!
You have persistence.
You’ve used it to gain your skills and break into the business, and maybe even to start your own business and keep it going.
- I stepped back briefly from my design career when I had my sons and then came back to it.
- I’ve been laid off more than once but came back stronger than ever.
That ain’t kid stuff!
And now, for my favorite tip of all…
The most disheartened conversations I see online regarding age and ageism in the creative world center around designers trying to land staff jobs and losing out to younger counterparts.
How to work around that?
Build your own business. You’re a shoe-in with the hiring manager when that person is YOU!
Milton Glaser said this:
The real issue is not talent as an independent element, but talent in relationship to will, desire, and persistence. Talent without these things vanishes and even modest talent with those characteristics grows.
Follow in Milton Glaser’s footsteps – make the effort to keep doing this thing you love, and keep getting better at it.
Where are YOU in your design lifespan?
If you’re a younger designer, you have so much to look forward to. If you’re battle-tested, congratulations! Either way, please write a note in the comments telling us how YOU succeed.
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