The idea that creativity declines with age is an idea that we need to stop perpetuating.
In a culture that celebrates youth, the idea that you have to have "made it" in your 20’s or even 30’s in a creative path not only is false but also puts an unhealthy amount of pressure on creatives to perform to the point of exhaustion. What’s more, it keeps older creatives from even pursuing an artistic path at all.
It can be easy to get sucked into a dark abyss of internet comparisons with other people who developed skills before you in life. To think, “why even bother?” To think you are already behind or it’s “too late.” No matter your age—whether you are 18 or 75—it’s easy to feel behind.
We falsely buy into the notion that creativity is a youthful pursuit. However, many artists—many successful artists —create work throughout their entire life and some of their best work in their later years.
As we age, we have many more experiences and more wisdom to draw from when we create.
Most people won’t give up a career to start painting on a whim, but the good news is that we are allowed to have multiple interests, multiple paths, passions and pursuits in this lifetime. It is never too late to start again with a new beginning or to reinvent yourself.
Monet didn’t start seriously painting until his wife died in his 40’s. Folk artist Grandma Moses didn’t start painting until she was in her 70’s. Georgia O’Keeffe famously painted throughout the later years of her life. Popular artist Lisa Congon didn’t start her illustration career until her 40’s and has recently published a book called A Glorious Freedom about other women artists who began their careers later in life.
Here are a few things to do or tell yourself when you catch yourself thinking it’s “too late” to start really exploring your creativity.
Life experience gives you a creative advantage
With age comes life experience. You have seen more places, experienced more friendships and relationships, felt more moments of joy and sorrow. There are deeper wells to draw from to create meaningful work.
Aging also comes with the gift of becoming more comfortable with ourselves and our ideas. We are able to express ourselves more clearly and with more confidence than in earlier years. We also get to make our own rules for our lives. We are in charge of how we define our creativity, when we practice it, what it looks like, and what it means to us.
Embrace the beginner’s mindset
If you didn’t have to start at the beginning, what would you do? Would you paint? Sculpt? Make comics? Be a dancer? Write a novel?
Often what holds us back from pursuing a creative passion is the fear of being bad at being a beginner. Especially when we reach middle age, we get comfortable in what we are good at doing. We know where we excel, and it feels good to accomplish things with ease.
Starting new hobbies, careers, or pursuing new interests is, quite frankly, scary.
However, know that insecurity and fear of failure will only keep you from pursuing things that you enjoy or delay the first day of your journey. Your own self-judgment can be a caging factor—preventing you from fully experiencing the joy of a creative pursuit. No one is judging you as harshly as you imagine them to be.
Stay open to growing and to being a newbie at something. Have a sense of humor about when your work looks terrible to you. Understand that everyone is at a different point on the path and they were all in your shoes once.
Give yourself permission to be bad at something, knowing that you will only grow from your experiences.
Drop the idea that you are “too” much or too little of anything
How we talk to ourselves has a significant impact on what we believe about ourselves. Have you ever caught yourself saying “I’m too old to try that”? Or maybe, “I would love to do that, but it’s too late in my life.”
Many of us fall back on sayings like this on a regular basis.
We say things like this when we fear starting something new and comparing our newness to an imagined expertise that everyone around us has.
When we call ourselves “too much” or “too little” of anything, we excuse ourselves from the vulnerability it takes at being bad at something. In a performative age where we broadcast our pursuits online and open ourselves up for criticism from thousands of internet strangers, it can be daunting to be a beginner.
But, if we tap into our true desires, and block out the rest of the noise, we can start pursuing our creative passions more freely and with less pressure. We can stop saying we are “too old,” “too busy,” “too rigid,” “too young,” “too anything.”
Remind yourself that creativity can add new meaning to your life
Trust that there will be intrinsic value in following something that you feel passionate about—knowing that it will not always be easy, but it will be rewarding.
In a time of instant gratification and performance pressure, take a step back and embrace the process. Take what you learn from your new creative pursuit and apply it to other areas of your life as well.
Has trying something new allowed you to face frustration and failure with grace? Permit that to others as well. Has learning a new skill like cello or painting given you a deeper sense of patience with yourself? Allow this to breathe into your daily life. Have you awoken a deeper sense of joy within yourself through your creative practice? Share that happiness with your friends and family. Has working with your hands given you back a sense of grounding in your body? Thank your physical health for allowing you to experience this.
By taking the focus away from the final product and back onto the process, we can allow ourselves to enjoy our time and fully feel the positive and therapeutic effects of being creative.
No matter the reason behind your creative pursuit, whether it be for a second career, to inject more joy into your life, to reinvent yourself or to express different parts of yourself, stay aware of what parts of the process you enjoy and what the process brings you.
Know that there is no such thing as being “behind”
You can’t compare where you are to where anyone else is on their journey.
You can only better yourself.
You can only compare yourself to where you were yesterday, last week, or last year. Creativity helps us grow and realize different parts of ourselves. It gets us out of our comfort zone and able to disrupt our regimented and structured lives. It helps us remain youthful and build different connections in our brains.