A guide to mental resilience

Go to any ad agency and you'll probably encounter a beehive of youthful energy. Twenty- or thirtysomething account executives will be scurrying into conference rooms to enlighten the team on the newest project. Vivacious young art directors will regale each other about the challenges they overcame on their last photo shoot. Writers will pause in their work to engage in playful banter about their new cars, the latest political joke on YouTube or their personal preferences about colon use (the punctuation kind). The ad agency offers a fun, fast-paced environment.

One thing you won't see a whole lot of is gray hair. It seems that by the time people hit their mid-forties the agencies have either told them to hit the bricks or they've wised up and become clients themselves. Some will have started their own agencies or design firms. Or they've gone into management in which case they've discovered that people in their 20s work a lot cheaper than those in their 40s and 50s. They also forget the value of experience which they once sold very hard before becoming part of the management committee. 

But another important reason that people leave agency work once they get a little older is that there is a certain mental flexibility that is required to enthusiastically embrace each new bearing manufacturer that joins your agency's client roster. Here are a few suggestions that will help you maintain a mind of youthful suppleness whether you are still trying to thrive among 30-year olds or on to bigger and better things (like telling the 30-year olds what to do).

1. Listen to young music. Music puts energy into everything. If you don't like today's young music then go back to the music of your  own youth whether it is Peter Frampton or Frankie Lymon. One advantage of being a baby boomer is that there is a sort of "retro chic" that goes with music of the 60s, 70s and 80s. If the creative product of bands like the Rolling Stones or Aerosmith can still be relevant then  so can your work.


2. Get yourself an 11-year old. It's hard to feel old when you have children the same age as people in their early thirties. Kids keep you moving and constantly challenged. Plus you'll always know about the latest game systems and popular phrases from dumb reality shows. If you don't have an 11-year old of your own, I know where you can borrow one.

3. Passionately take up new hobbies. Some people collect stamps all their lives. That's the thing they do and they stick with it. But that's not the way to do hobbies. The most interesting people are those with cluttered lives and dozens of hobbies. It may drive your spouse a little crazy but after 20 or 30 years of collecting hobbies a person can talk about just about anything. So go ahead and learn Spanish. Or suddenly decide you want a gem and mineral collection. Book that deep sea charter and go after that Marlin. If you're not a reader, become one. Heck, do all of these. Your brain will be better for it.

4. Approach every project like it is your last. Remember the personal importance you put on your early work? The first client you brought in? The first brochure you typed out (that wasn't a college design project)? People who are new to the advertising business (or any other business) put  a little extra something into projects because they are trying to establish themselves. Or build up the portfolio or résumé. After a couple hundred client projects youthful zeal could wane. And while a person can't mentally fool him or herself into feeling like the next ad for a chain of laundromats is "my first real project," taking the entirely opposite approach might do the trick. What I mean is that none of us knows when we are going to "check out," be "shown the door" or win the lottery. So what would you do if you knew the project on  your desk would be your last? Chances are you'd add something unique or inject an element that will make it a little more memorable. Try it on your next project and see what happens. That laundromat ad might clean up at the next award show.

5. Think backwards.  Sure you might be 15 years older than the guy in the next office. But you might live to 90 while he only makes it to 64. So who is younger now?

It's all about maintaining mental flexibility. And trying one or all of these could restore the firmness and agility you had in  younger years. If you are young, chances are you do these things anyway. Just don't forget. There will be more to come on the subject of mental resiliency, but these five suggestions are essential to building a lean, fit, youthful brain. Now excuse me while I turn up the music.