At what age do you lose your creative mojo?

If you find my creativity can you send it back?

Does creativity have a shelf life? Do those whose jobs depend on creativity for a living have careers that come with a “best before” date? My first real job in advertising was a summer internship that I won through a scholarship while I was at art college. It was at McCann-Erickson. I remember the awe I felt as I was escorted to my claustophobic gray cubicle known as “The Newbicle” as I walked down the creative department corridors. At that time, the Communication Arts Ad Annual was my bible … and the impressive nameplates on the closed office doors read like an advertising hall of fame’s “who’s who.” It was almost a religious experience for someone in their 3rd year of an advertising program. Over the years I have been fortunate to work with many high-awarded, high profile creative people. But as the years have gone by, and the tarnish settles onto the awards trophies, I remember the names but often wonder, “where are they now?”

Thoughout my career, I’ve been told that advertising as a career is only for the young and foolish. It’s an industry that eats its young. And that certainly seems to be the case, as so many of my contemporaries are either no longer in the business, or have managed to morph themselves with Industrial Light & Magic precision, into alternative careers. Of course there are exceptions, like Lee Clow. Plenty of them. But I think their numbers are merely a blip on the radar. I wonder why there are so few working, respected, awarded creative teams whose collective age exceeds 80. Does creativity fade at a certain age, like an over-washed pair of jeans? Do we, as we get older, lose our curiosity and therefore our ideas run dry?

To a certain extent, that advertising’s long hours and lack of respect for the personal contribution that goes into every concept, eventually extinguishes the fire that rages within the creative soul. For some, perhaps they simply run out of ideas in their creativity jar, while others discover that advertising opens doors for alternative explorations and challenges. Perhaps those folks are the smart ones … getting out while they still can. I really believe that as we get older, two things happen. One – we become less curious because experience tells us that we already know all the answers. And two – we become fearful or afraid. Afraid of the blank page. Afraid of lame ideas. Fearful of the future, afraid for careers, family, consequences from decisions – you name it. Creativity is strongly tied to never being afraid to ask the question “why not?”, “how come”, “what if”, “just imagine that”, and “what lies between left and right?.” Call it “boldycurious” and it needs a healthy dose of the “I am right, I am not afraid to be right, and I will stand up to all those who doubt the rightness of my idea” bravery in order to survive the ills that can impact a career. That doesn’t mean they are blindly stubborn … they are simply confident in the decisions they have made that have led them to their particular creative solution. They are brave.

When you’re standing on the awards show podium with shaking hands, take a moment to thank yourself – for believing in YOU. Thank yourself for your curiosity and your questioning nature. Take stock of your confidence tank. Keep it full. There are way too many people out there who are going to try to siphon off some of what you got … but don’t let them. Because allowing fear to creep in puts one creative foot into an early grave.

How to stay creative at any age

1. Be curious
2. Be brave – eat fear for breakfast
3. Think confidently and you will BE confident
4. Don’t give up – don’t let time dictate when the creative solution is done
5. Be a student of your industry … there is always something new to learn
6. Explore creativity outside your area of expertise … again you may learn something new that you can apply to what you do
7. Have fun. If you aren’t having fun what the heck are you doing here?
8. Challenge yourself at least once a week. Do something outside your comfort zone
9. Don’t let others keep you down – but keep an open mind when listening to feedback. Great ideas can come from anywhere
10. Be open. Just ’cause you’ve been there and done that doesn’t mean it’s still being done the same way.


About Jill Atkinson

From concepts and smart headlines to original content and transmedia storytelling, to television pitch materials, directors treatments, long format writing, blogs and web copy with SEO, I write it all. I'm a writer, copywriter, and a content writer. My job is to help you say it better with ideas and language that get noticed. With copy and content that engages customers and audiences and ideas that make a connection with them. Ideas that generate a response. Materials that can sell a pitch. When you work with me you're working with the big boys: Maclaren, BBDO, Taxi, Sharpe Blackmore and also a great bunch of mid-sized agencies, b2b shops, a national television network (CBC), 15 specialty channels (History Channel, National Geographic, Showcase, Action, IFC, BBC Canada, + many more) and start ups who have taught me everything I know about how to get you noticed, remembered and sold. Or clicked. Or talked about. There are lots of ways to try to sell your products or to sell people on your offer or to engage them in your content and your show. But there is only one way to get it done right and on strategy. My experience is a foot in the door for your brand or your television idea . And no matter the size of your project, my commitment and attention to detail remain the same, big or small and always on deadline. Great conversations have to start somewhere. Give me a call or shoot me an email Check out my work at
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8 Responses to At what age do you lose your creative mojo?

  1. Hayes says:

    I’m sorry for that idiotic reply, Jill. It’s partly out of fear because, believe it or not, I was thinking about the age/creativity thing today.

    Why should we get more scared the older we get? That’s a horrible thought, isn’t it?

    Are we just blissfully ignorant when we’re young.

    A couple of years ago when I was 36, a girl who had contacted me about teaming up asked me what I thought of ‘the whole age thing’.

    I thought ‘Jesus, I’m only 36’. But already to her I was probably ‘way old’.

    It may be true that a lot of creative studios stop at the age of 32.

    But it’s also true that there’s a lot of average work out there.

    If your life experience informs your work in a postive way, then your work should only get better and better.

    At least that’s what I try to think. If I thought my best stuff was already behind me, then there wouldn’t be much point going on.

    But it may be true that you need to be young to take all the knocks and that ‘older dudes’ should move into more management type roles.

    In the end, perhaps whatever you believe becomes true, so you have to be careful what you believe.

    • jillatkinson says:

      “Are we just blissfully ignorant when we’re young?”

      I suspect there’s a lot more to your comment than meets the eye. I whole heartedly agree that you have to be careful to not lose sight of the things that you loved about your craft as you mature. It’s what you said about what you believe becoming true – because it does. I heard that success is made up of something like 65% positive thinking … I’ll go ponder that one from my rocking chair!

  2. I tend to agree with what you post here, but in this instance I ought to say that I do not agree with this.

  3. Paul Dungy says:

    I need some advice for my blog….I like your layout. Can you help me? 7 2 4

  4. Hayes says:

    Especially like your tip no. 5

    Be a student of your industry … there is always something new to learn

    This inspired me today actually to listen to an interview with Dave Droga, by Wal at Hyper Island. You’ll find it if you Google. You know, there’s nothing really new in what Dave says. And that’s refreshing and inspirational in a way, because it means anyone can do it. It also means that everything we’ve learnt so far still holds true. You have to try to be confident without being arrogant. It’s a tightrope. But success always has been, hasn’t it? At least, that’s what I learnt from the interview scene in the movie ‘Trainspotting’.

    Let’s start a new movement (although perhaps we’re not quite there yet) – Graytivity.

    • jillatkinson says:

      Graytivity. Love it. I agree with you. Most of the name brands in our industry are all saying the same things, but putting a different spin on how they say it. But every once in a while I get an “aha” moment like when I first listened to Erik Kessels and read (well, looked at all the ads) in KesselsKramer’s Kilos series. The Hans Brinker work is so far out of my personal comfort zone, and yet the strategy is so brilliant – it’s so no holds barred, I consider it to be some the bravest work I’ve ever seen. And yet to hear Erik talk about his personal philosophy, it all makes perfect sense. Success *is* a tightrope – you’re bang on. Loved the look and direction Danny Boyle gave that film. He’s another brave soul who has never compromised for the sake of conforming. Cheers,

      Jill Atkinson Creative Director Advertising & Media Communications, Brand & Promotion Canadian Broadcasting Corporation phone 416.205.6506 fax 416.205.7635

  5. This post is beyond awesome. I am always wondering what to do and what not to do so I will follow some of these tips.

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