I still remember the day when I was the youngest person in the company. It was my first day at my first job, at a magazine publisher (Can you believe they are already literally on the brink of extinction?), when my Editor popped the question:
“How old are you, Joos?”
I said I was 23. That was 14 years ago.
And from the day I got my first Creative Director stint 3 years ago, I’ve been dreading this day – the day I’d be asked the question in the title of this piece.
See, I’m pretty sure everyone has a lot of ideals and stigma attached to this question. We all grew up hating our parents at some point in our life. Yet, at a different point, we all grow to realise: Good lord, I’ve become my parents. And therein lies the conundrum – do we then allow ourselves to become that annoying old fart whom we grew up despising, now that we know the justification?
Or do we try to ‘be’ better and ‘do’ better for the young ones around us?
That, my friends, is the burden of being the oldest person in the room. You worry about how you carry yourself – whether you should still try to roll with the young ones, or roll up the blinds of your corner office (if you have one) and play ‘the boss’.
You have internal conversations with yourself about whether you should be the nice-and-cool boss but risk having some rascals shitting on your head, or walk around with a whip attached to your hip ready to be cracked at any sign of trouble.
I’d be lying if I said I’ve got it all figured out – I don’t. And that’s the fun part. And in an agency environment, that’s the one thing that is seriously lacking across the industry – the ability to have fun while you’re being
The best ideas come from the silliest of thoughts and things. And if you can’t have fun while working in a creative environment, how can you ever dream of having good ideas?
I think it’s fair to say that we’ve all suffered from creativity-stifling education – we were put through a system where there’s only ONE right answer to every question, where the ‘best’ thing you could do is to colour within the lines, and the worst crime you could commit is being ‘wrong’.
But, as Sir Ken Robinson puts it – “if you are not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original”. We are in an industry of selling originals. See how we’ve been set up to fail by our education?
So I guess the point I’m trying to make is whether or not you are the oldest person in the room, whether or not you are the Creative Director; there is no ‘right way to do this. Save for the operational and hygiene stuff.
If you really want to make it in this industry, if you really want to live and breathe creativity and be creative – forget about what you’ve learned, forget about the rules, forget about yourself, even. Because that’s the only way to ensure your mind is always free of limitations, and can therefore produce an endless stream of creative thoughts.
Speaking of endless streams, maybe this is what it’s really like when you’ve finally become the oldest person in the room – you get asked ONE question, and you accidentally type out more than 600 words that may or may not be answering the question in question.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go for my obligatory pre-bedtime TikTok sesh to stock up on my ‘young people conversation bank’ for the rest of the week.
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…or the author.