Friday, January 23, 2009

Versus.

I interviewed someone for a job today, and in talking about my time at Hallmark, pointed out that—had I not left for three years to run Lighten Up—I'd be celebrating my 20th anniversary there this fall. My high school class—if they get their shit together, which is unlikely—might have our 25th reunion this year. Just when I've gotten used to hearing myself say "I'm 42 years old," I'm about to turn 43.

I don't feel like any of those things should be true. 

Sure, I make better life choices these days—based on (1) the need to remain employed, (2) the inability to stay out past midnight on any kind of regular basis and (3) the understanding there are people with access to my Facebook profile who make important decisions regarding (1).

But in many respects, I don't think I've changed much from the day I took my first improv workshop almost 20 years ago. 

When it does hit me, I feel like I've gone to the Dark Side. I hear—or have—a cool, creative idea that I know is off strategy and doesn't have a chance of producing the financial results required to justify its existence. Or I talk to someone who is so excited about doing something—but completely unaware of the barriers they'd have to break through to do it. Or I make a decision based on my head instead of my heart. 

Because of my field, I've been a benefactor of—and a champion of—the belief that unconventional thinking is essential to innovation and growth (not to mention fun). I've fought against not-invented-here syndrome, we've-always-done-it-this-way disease and the but-we-already-tried-something-like-that disorder at least once a week my entire career. I've been called "passionate" and known it meant "relentless and annoying."

So it's a little odd to realize there are some who have moved me from "us" to "them" because I've hit the trifecta: older, experienced and possessing strong opinions. 

More and more in the last few years, I've encountered (or maybe the right word is "noticed") creative types who believe nobody over 30—but especially over 40—has the fresh perspective or imagination to come up with the next big idea. We don't take enough risks. We're not aware of how quickly things are changing around us. We can't see the obviousmuch less the unexpected. Worst of all, we just don't get it. (Multiply any of these aspersions by 100x if any part of the discussion is internet related.)

My friend John told me this when I was in my late 20s: "About the time you're 30, you figure out who you are. By the time you're 40, you're OK with it." 

In your 20s you pretty much have to be bold—sometimes courageous, sometimes arrogant—to get anything done. It's a great time for bravery, because you're typically naive, inexperienced and untested enough to believe you can do anything. And you do: For example, I quit my job at Hallmark to run an improv comedy troupe with exactly one year of improv training, swearing I would do everything differently than the 40-something guy I'd worked for. You have to believe you're right—even if it's about something stupid—because if you didn't, you wouldn't do anything. 

By the time you're 40, it turns out your chances of actually being right increase pretty dramatically. Because now you've got experience on your side—you've seen things, learned things, made mistakes, fixed them. You may be less likely to be patient with people who don't understand this. You will be annoyed with people who are clearly too willfully ignorant to see that you know what you're talking about. This will undoubtedly be mistaken for arrogance. 

But if you feel really strongly about one particular instance of this happening, you'll make one more long-winded rant to get it out of your system and think, "You go right ahead with what you're doing. Have fun with that. All of us old people all think you're being a dumbass."

(And you'll seriously consider closing comments and probably take the post down the next morning.)

5 comments:

  1. Screw that! You leave this post up! Leave it up I say!

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  2. yeah, i agree with pete. and i have, in fact, copied and pasted it to a word doc that is now saved and password protected. if you take this post down, you'll find it reposted (and attributed to you) in a variety of online media.

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  3. Oh yeah. I am a huge hater of the "we tried before" and the "we've never done that" syndrome.

    And many times, I've made it work despite all those objections. Each time just makes me a bit more confident (read: stubborn) when the next challenge comes along.

    43 is the new 31, in my book. Having knowledge and the gumption to do something is what I love.

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  4. I have so much to say on this, but not enough time. But for now, I will say that "Seasons of Bush", something I am incredibly proud of, was the creation of eight people. Five were over 30, two over 40, and one over 50.

    Funny and smartness know no age.

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  5. Smart-assed-ness and irreverence know no age, either. The Exit 16 kids are constantly trying to shock me—hee. AMATEURS.

    ReplyDelete

New rule: I'm not approving anonymous comments. If you want to sit at the grownup table, you have to sign your name.

Now c'mon. Pick a fight.