Creative Chronicles: Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number. Use It To Your Advantage!

Nubby Twiglet | Creative Chronicles #9: Age Ain't Nothing But A Number. Use It To Your Advantage!

Over the years, so many emails have landed in my inbox with variations on the same theme:

“I’m [insert age here] and just realized that I’m meant to be a designer. Am I too old?”

Those emails always sting big time because they hit so close to home. I wish I could meet each and every single one of you who write me those messages, give you a big hug and tell you that it’s never too late. Instead, I’ll have to do it virtually, right here.

If you’re contemplating a career in design, it really isn’t too late.

Nubby Twiglet | Creative Chronicles #9: Age Ain't Nothing But A Number. Use It To Your Advantage!

Ignore your age and get to work

I now spend my days running a graphic design studio but it wasn’t always that way. During high school in the late 90s, I was a late bloomer and had no idea that being a graphic designer was a viable career option.

Unsure of how I would make a career as an artist anyway, I went to school for business which was super practical but completely crushed my creative spirit. After graduation, I worked some stints in offices but those those so-called real jobs I thought I was supposed to have as an adult left me feeling empty and hating life.

After I met a few graphic designers in my early 20s, it was a wake-up call. I knew I was definitely in the wrong profession. By the time I got into a program at my local community college in 2006, I was 25 years old and mostly surrounded by a bunch of fresh high school graduates.

Instead of feeling old, I used my life experience to my advantage and poured it into every single project. Why? I knew that age was just a number and was well aware that many people who are now the best known in their professions also got a late start:

1. Oprah Winfrey’s talk show didn’t go national until she was 32 years old.

2. Debbie Harry didn’t release her first album with Blondie until she was 31 years old.

3. Jon Hamm debuted as Don Draper on Mad Men at 36 years old.

4. Julia Child published Mastering The Art of French Cooking when she was 49 years old.

5. Martha Stewart founded her catering business at the age of 35.

Nubby Twiglet | Creative Chronicles #9: Age Ain't Nothing But A Number. Use It To Your Advantage!

Being older is an asset

By the time I graduated and got my first full-time design job, I was 27. In the grand scheme of things, that isn’t old but designers at the studios I worked at that were the same age often had 5 solid years of experience under their belts while I was just scratching the surface. Instead of feeling bad about where I was, I decided that I would work harder to catch up and spent most nights and weekends working on any project I could get my hands on. I actually still do that!

Trust me, your age can actually be a huge asset. These are 4 reasons why breaking into the design industry when you’re older is beneficial:

1. You’re more focused.

All that background noise is long gone. When I started my program at 25, there were a handful of students who were older than me and their work was the strongest in the class by far. They showed up on time, did the work and gave every project their all because they were serious about wanting a design career.

2. You have more life experience.

This trumps everything. You can only learn so much in school but real world experience is where serious growth comes in. When you go back to school as an older student, you’ve worked at a larger variety of jobs. You’ve traveled more. You may have a family. You have a firm sense of who you are as a person. Life experience gives your work depth, grit and provides a sense of perspective.

3. You know yourself better.

Knowing yourself on a deeper level develops naturally with age. As you discover more of who you are, your personal style becomes more defined — you’re able to draw a line in the sand, assert yourself and that confidence shows. Period.

4. You’re more driven.

As you get older and work more jobs, it becomes clear that you’d be happiest supporting yourself doing something you truly love. A few bad job experiences will propel you on the path to search out a career you actually like. Before I got into the design world, I worked in an accounting department, did a bunch of other entry-level office jobs and worked retail at a few shoe stores. The second I got my first design job, I felt like I’d finally found my home.

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The only obstacle is you

Once you’ve made up your mind to be a designer and attend school at an older age, there’s no reason to hold yourself back. Trust me, once I made the decision, I had to push off a constant barrage of questions from well-meaning people who were concerned about me racking up more debt and another degree. I was lucky to land a full-time design job as soon as I graduated and paid off my student loans two years later. Nine years after enrolling in that design program, I’m happier and more fulfilled than I’ve ever been.

Quotes about doing what you love fly around so often now that it feels like a bit of a cliche but you really have to do what makes you happy. There’s no point in going through life feeling miserable and looking back, wishing you’d given your dream a real shot.

The truth is, nobody cares how old you are except you…so get started.


Photo: Shell de Mar Photography.

20 Responses to Creative Chronicles: Age Ain’t Nothing But A Number. Use It To Your Advantage!

  1. Misaki Shimizu says:

    True that!
    My last nail designer woman was in her late 40’s and just started her nail design carreer. After all the office jobs she just wanted to be the creative she wanted to be and she did a reaaaally good job :)

    • Shauna says:

      Thank you for sharing this! I’m getting my nails done professionally for the first time in a year on Friday (it’s about time!) and this is such a great reminder that age is an asset. <3

      • Misaki Shimizu says:

        Wish you the best for getting your nails done 😀 If it’s gel it may feel super strange at the beginning, but after a while it feels strange to NOT have it XD

        Yes, age doesn’t matter as much as the drive you have <3

  2. Corrin says:

    Yes to this! When I read her autobiography, I found Julia Child to be an inspiration not only because of her age when she started, but also because she had to actively work to find her passion – she even thought it might be hat-making! – rather than just always knowing what she wanted to do with her life.

  3. Celi M. says:

    Thank you for this! I just began my second semester at a community college Advertising & Graphic Design program. I was 25 when I started, I’ll be 27 when I graduate, and I have a BS in business. Your blog has actually been a big influence on my decision to leave my job and go back to school for design, but I had no idea just how close our stories are. My experience working in an office and helping build marketing campaigns has already been such an asset. I don’t view it as time wasted, but just another skill set that will make me a better designer.

  4. Moriah says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this post!! I was a late bloomer as well — starting my design degree at 26 and my first full time design job the week of my 29th bday. I was terrified starting my program with a bunch of 18 year old freshmen! I had never even taken an art class before and my much younger classmates had to show me how to use my new art supplies 😉 But I totally agree with what you said and soon found that my age and life experience were huge assets! Getting a design degree and pursuing my passion was the best decision I ever made. I now have my own business doing what I love. Yay for being the oldest in class and not letting fear get in the way!

  5. Cole says:

    I really needed to read this right now! I graduated from college last year at the age of 25 and have been considering going back to upgrade to a degree. The program I want to take is four years, but I can knock off the first year and cut it down to three. I’ve been scared to go back because I already felt super old in my last program. I also have an 8 year old daughter (former teen mom here!) so trying to relate to my classmates was super hard.
    I’ve had my application filled out and sitting on my desk for a week now, but I think this finally gave me the courage to go mail it! Thank you!

    • Shauna says:

      Cole, your age is such an asset — I bet if you go back, you’ll be helping out the younger students with projects based on your life experience and insights. You’d be such a valuable asset in your classes! And congrats for striving for a higher education after becoming a teen mom. Finding that balance is not an easy one. Send in that application — I’ll be cheering you on over here!

  6. C. Wilson says:

    I needed to hear this *so bad* right now! I’m in my early 30s and starting out in my design career, which has been absolutely terrifying every time I ponder the age question for too long. (If you’ve ever felt old in your 20s, just wait until the next decade rolls around!) There’s definitely a premium placed on being young and cool in the design world. But Shauna, you’re totally right about age being an unsung advantage. I’m taking as many community college design classes as I humanly can right now, and I’ve made great connections with the teachers and produced work that has (in more than a few instances) obviously been produced with more care and thought than some of the younger students. (Though there are some fabulous yougins there, too, I won’t lie!)

    I’ve been so inspired by reading about your career trajectory, and it has seriously helped me change my life for the better. So thank you. Keep on spreading your gospel, lady!

    • Shauna says:

      Awww, that is SO AWESOME. I love that you are in community college, also. Save that money and avoid that soul crushing debt! Keep on keeping on. It feels so good to finish the classes and when you have a job you love, you’ll be so glad you committed to this new, sometimes scary path. Thanks for reading!

  7. Scarlett says:

    I started my interior design career right out of school and worked in the industry for over 10 years. Then at age 35 with two small kids, it became very difficult to do my job (I was doing colour forecasting and trend research and travelling tonnes) with two small kids, so I reinvented myself as a makeup artist. Now I am parlaying some of those skills, plus writing, into an online business. Most women will like change careers and directions a few times if they decide to have a family. Embrace the age – don’t think about it – and tackle your dreams!

    • Shauna says:

      Scarlett, thanks for chiming in! It’s totally normal to change careers (at least once but probably much more!) in our lifetimes but instead, it gets looked down upon as being indecisive or wishy-washy. Part of the fun of living a full life is the exploration. If something feels off or boring or just isn’t working any longer, there’s no reason to stick to that path just because you feel like you’re supposed to. Good for you for finding something new that works for your lifestyle!

  8. Birgit says:

    After finishing a degree in communications, I just started afresh this year as a graphic design student in art school. I’m 23 years old. And I can completely relate to what you are saying, I’ve been much more motivated and I used the life experience I’ve gathered so far to become a better student and designer. I’ve just finished the first half year of my study with the highest grades you could get and I’m so happy to be where I’m at right now. Feels good to read I’m not the only one choosing this path. Love your blog!

    Love from the Netherlands!

  9. Jenny says:

    WOW! Yes, this is totally what I needed to read today. I went back to school in my early 30s. Even now in my graduate program, I am still the oldest person there. I have spent a lot of time recently wondering if pursuing a creative path is the wrong thing to do. Honestly, I cannot imagine doing anything else. I always enjoy reading your blog, and really appreciate this post right now. Thank You!

  10. Thank you so much for sharing! I worked in Corporate America for 15+ years prior to pursuing my purpose in life. I’ve always been passionate about empowering women but I didn’t know where to start. It wasn’t until I was laid off from my job at 33 that I decided to step out on faith and launch my own coaching business. It was one of the best decision I’ve made and I haven’t looked back. I agree age is nothing but a number and you can start at any point in your life, it’s never too late.

    Siobhan
    http://www.befreeproject.com

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