Getting older: the good, the bad, and the ugly
By Robert W. Bly

In the Woody Allen movie "To Rome with Love," Jesse Eisenberg tells Alec Baldwin, "With age comes wisdom."

To which Baldwin replies: "With age comes exhaustion."

In my experience, both are true -- to a degree.

And when it comes to exhaustion, the overwhelming majority of people – based on my anecdotal evidence – do get tired of some aspects of their career and life as they get older.

For instance, in his book about Prokofiev, Simon Morrison notes that the Russian composer made periodic "declarations of weariness with life on the road."

I know that my energy level has dropped a bit over the past 35 years.

At the beginning of my professional life, I was obsessed with writing, copywriting, and marketing, and worked at it and studied it almost nonstop.

Today it's a tad different.

I still work long hours, love my work, and have tremendous energy while I am at my desk working.

But the minute I am done for the day, my energy level drops almost instantly and precariously.

Sadly, like much of America, I collapse on the living room coach and do nothing more strenuous than read or (gasp!) watch TV (my favorite show is The Middle).

Yes, I still read business and marketing books.

But increasingly my leisure reading is "junk novels" like Lee Child's Jack Reacher series, which I got into only recently after seeing the trailer for Tom Cruise's Jack Reacher movie.

I do enjoy modern literary novels too; Michael Chabon and Jonathan Franzen are two current favorites.

I also read the New York Review of Books religiously, which one can argue is at least a little bit work related, since some of the topics they focus on, particularly world events, politics, and economics, relate to the work I do for some of my copywriting clients; e.g., investment newsletter publishers for whom geopolitical events can play a role in their product and promotions.

But to fess up, I read NYRB mostly just because I enjoy the format: the long, well-written, think-piece style article on a topic of intellectual interest.

My late mentor, copywriter Sig Rosenblum, once accused me of being an intellectual.

I replied: "Sig, I WOULD be an intellectual – but I am not smart enough."

As related to the quote I attributed to Eisenberg earlier, a trade-off of advancing age for me is that, while my energy is on a slow, gradual decline, my wisdom – I hope – is steadily advancing (my family would dispute this).

As we age, we accumulate more experience. Properly studied and analyzed, your experiences will translate into a gain of wisdom.

I agree with my favorite comic, Louis CK, who said that, as a rule, older people's opinions are more valuable than young people's, for the reason that "they are based on more information."

It does not mean that in a dispute on marketing between a graybeard like me and the young kids today who run marketing in most corporations, I am always right – or even mostly right.

It is undeniable that they, being more hip and current, most likely know a lot of things I don't.

What I think many young marketers fail to recognize is that, because of the sheer dint of my experience – the hundreds of campaigns I have been through compared with their dozens – I likely know at least a few things that they don't.

In marketing, all else being equal, the marketers who know what works are those who have done the most campaigns. This group includes large direct marketers, online direct marketers, and experienced marketers like yours truly.

When I was a fledgling marketer at Westinghouse, the old guys were considered the go-to guys – and we kids were seen as unschooled and inexperienced. We deferred to them and they demanded we do so.

Now that I am an old guy, I am in a culture where the young, new, hip, and trendy reign supreme ... and the unemployed marketing and IT guys I know over 50 can't get a job.

Throughout my life, the generation gaps have not been in my favor. I sure didn't time my birth date right, did I?


Bob Bly is a freelance copywriter with 20 years experience in business-to-business and direct marketing. He has written direct mail packages for Phillips Publishing, Agora Publishing, KCI Communications, McGraw-Hill, Medical Economics, Reed Reference Publishing, A.F. Lewis, and numerous other publishers.