Older designers need to flaunt their strengths
| September 10, 2019
Some readers of a certain age may object to my labeling them as "older." I get that. "Old" and "older" are pejoratively loaded terms in our society and in a profession that thrives on creativity, innovation and novelty.
The reality, though, is that, like it or not, "old" is how others perceive you. For that reason, it is crucial that you not take your past success for granted. If you want to stay competitive or employable, you need to reinforce your value to your clients or your firm.
We live in a culture that is always chasing after the next new thing — a mentality that favors the young. Nonetheless, when it comes to executing ideas and problem-solving, there’s a lot to be said for knowledge, proven skill and experience, which older designers have in spades.
The trick is to find the balance between relying on what has served you well in the past and staying open to new ways of thinking and doing things.
Keep your skills, particularly technical skills, up to date. Stay current on trends and developments in your field. Look for fresh sources of ideas and inspiration. Creativity is ageless. Think of Leonardo, Rembrandt, Beethoven, and Twain.
One of the areas where older workers excel is communication and listening skills. True, you may not be up to date on the latest texting abbreviations or emojis, but you’ve had years to hone your ability to express yourself clearly, to listen attentively and reflect back to the speaker what you’ve heard, to become sensitive to nuances in tone and body language, and to deal with disgruntled or irate customers or vendors. Since design businesses run on relationships, those are extremely valuable skills to have mastered.
Multitasking has become the norm, especially among younger workers engaged with a multitude of information, social and entertainment inputs. Yet many studies have shown that attempting to multitask actually decreases productivity, increases the likelihood of error, and elevates levels of stress.
Because they take great pride in doing a good job and in their achievements, older workers, on the other hand, tend to be highly focused and task-oriented. They are less likely to become distracted or to spend time engaged in non-work-related activities.
At a time when employers are having difficulty holding onto or recruiting talented workers, older workers can provide stability. Over and over again, surveys show employers value older workers because they are dedicated, reliable and dependable.
While they have been criticized as the generation that "lives to work," boomers throughout their careers have demonstrated a strong work and corporate culture ethic. In addition, as a result of years of experience, they often have good organizational, supervisory, management, and/or mentoring skills, and are eager to share their knowledge with their younger peers.
According to the American Society of Interior Designers, about a fourth of all practicing designers are age 55 or over, and one in four designers has more than 20 years of professional practice. It would be a huge blow to the industry if it were to lose so much talent and experience.
Many of these designers own or are partners in their firms, and so perhaps are not as vulnerable to workforce changes as those who are employees. Even they, however, may be perceived as out-of-step with current practice and face pressures to make way for younger colleagues.
Some enlightened employers and loyal clients already recognize the value of sticking with designers who have served them well over the years. For others, older designers will need to advocate for themselves and demonstrate the value they bring to their work and their firms.
Consider proposing options such as moving into a different position, working fewer hours per week, or phased retirement to accommodate changing human resources needs in the firm.
Regardless of how you feel, you can’t prevent others from thinking of you as "old." But you can show them that age is not a predictor of ability or excellence.
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