Turning 50 in Ad Years
This started out as "50 Thoughts on Turning 50 in Advertising."
But 50 is a lot of thoughts. And if I've learned anything in my 25 years as a copywriter, it's that editing is appreciated. So, here's a tight handful of reflections on hitting the Big Five-O in a career that's traditionally had a pretty short expiration date. (Except for a few of the whitest and malest among us.)
First off, 50 does not feel 50. But what is 50 supposed to even feel like? Wise? Tired? Inexplicably drawn to sassy tunics in the Chico's catalog? I don't know. I've never been here before. But the way I see it, my best, most prolific years are easily ahead of me. There are actual, scientific studies have shown that creativity peaks in our 20s and our 50s. But since life is short, I won't waste your precious time or mine citing those studies.
Instead, I'd rather share my own, highly un-scientific theory: If you compare life to a weeklong staycation, you start off with lots of huge plans. But then you tend to fritter away the first few days sleeping in, flipping through year-old issues of Real Simple magazine and pairing single socks. It's not until around day four when you kick it into high gear. That's when you decide you absolutely must make baby books for your two teenage children, plant a medicinal herb garden, and reupholster all your furniture by Sunday night.
Creatives, after all, need a deadline.
So here I am at day four-ish. And as I reflect on my career so far, it's been a slow burn. A consistent show of hard work, good work, patience, lots of small awards, a few big awards, plenty of big goals still ahead and a collection of amazing relationships I've forged along the way. That last part is, and will continue to be, my proudest and most fulfilling career accomplishment.
But with this milestone birthday, I feel a fire lit beneath me. I was recently promoted to group creative director at WONGDOODY, an agency that does not promote quickly or lightly. It's a huge accomplishment that I'm so proud of and have worked my butt off to achieve. Partly due to my promotion, but also due to the sense that creative opportunities and appetites are picking up again, I feel an excitement and hope for myself, for our agency and for the industry that I haven't felt in a long while. We're eager to have fun again. To work together again. To create joy again. And I'm thrilled to be here, taking on my new responsibility with a confidence and ease I've never felt before. (Side note, six years ago, when I wrote about becoming a creative director at the tender, young age of 44, I also talked about a confidence I had never felt before. So, by the time I'm 60, I should be totally insufferable. Fingers crossed!)
Thanks to so many over 50 who've called out the ageism in our industry, and plenty of over 50 (and over 60) role models in my own circle, I feel really lucky to be hitting this age right now. But I've also gotta be honest. I feel the need to write this. Like sending up a flare that I'm still here, not fading in relevance or enthusiasm or creativity. And neither are others my age or older. So, what does that need say about our industry? Our society? Would I feel this way if I had achieved more by now? Has it taken me too long? What more will I do? What will my legacy be? And the biggest question of all, does the label of age even need to mean anything, on either end of the spectrum? Seems to me we're all fresh at something. We're all seasoned at other things. And we're all at our best when we can draw from both of those perspectives when approaching anything new.
These are all thoughts I'm grappling with at the half-century mark, which is so bizarre to say. I interview and work with juniors who for sure feel younger, but not like oh-my-God-I-could-be-your-mom, HALF-MY-AGE younger. I was just there, bright-eyed, heart beating in my ears, in awe of the luck that this was my job and these were my people. Full of so many ideas that I couldn't spill them onto the page fast enough, giddy about what I could affect, create or inspire. And wondering what I could do that would honestly change the world, even if just my tiny corner of it.
Most days—the best ones—I still feel that way. Age has zero to do with it.
And that realization may be the best 50th birthday gift of all.