Creative Director Tony Lieb Face

I turned 40 this year and I felt it. Within months of my birthday, I threw my back out so bad that I got to take my first ambulance ride. This was mid-pandemic and I was in the middle of growing an admittedly questionable beard for the first time in my life.

I’m not great at new things; that’s why I usually stick with what I know. I’ve had the same hair situation (bald on top with a little on my chin) for roughly 20 years. Same goes for my fitness routine: a minimum of three 45-minute runs a week followed by 100 push-ups. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” makes sense. Until you break it.

The perils of patterns

Breaking patterns is a big deal for me. I’ve dealt with obsessive-compulsive disorder for most of my life; because of it, breaking rituals takes on an extra level of disruption. My brain craves routine, and this year didn’t cooperate.

During this time, I was also questioning my work. Much of the work I found inspirational — both internally and within the larger industry — was created with tools outside of my skill set. Animation, 3D type and progressive digital content were all emerging, and I felt left behind. If I wanted to make new types of work, I needed to be open to learn a new skill and break existing patterns. I was scared. I didn’t want to look silly, dumb, or worst of all ... old. 

As I grew my first real beard, I was surprised by how much of it was gray. I didn’t mind how it looked, but it was an indicator that I’m a bit of an old dog at this point. I’ve been around this industry for a minute, and I know how things work — or at least how things used to work. And that’s THE THING. Knowing how things have worked can be powerful. It can also be a hindrance. It was time to take an honest look at what was working and what wasn’t. That meant being open to change: learning new skills in my life and the workplace.

New tricks for an old dog

As I took a look at things that needed to change, I realized that there are more resources available to all of us than ever before. I needed to add flexibility to my fitness routine to be able to adjust to my back being sore. I started to look up boxing videos on YouTube, and they helped me add more low-impact exercise options. It turns out there are also helpful podcasts about everything from Faith and spirituality to OCD. They’ve been extremely helpful in improving my own sense of wellbeing. Even beards have plenty of related content to “help you through the awkward phase” and to “learn to accept your beard.” You can learn about anything with some free time, wifi, and a willingness to learn.

The availability of resources also made trying new things like learning animation less intimidating. Being a visual learner, I never liked digging through manuals to figure out how to learn a new skill. There are now plenty of great videos on YouTube to walk you through the technical side of learning animation. I no longer need to depend on asking a coworker to talk me through it and this takes away some of the fear of looking silly while finding interesting skills to learn.

"Playing it safe may be the most dangerous thing you can do."

Give fear a break. Give change a chance.

I’ve realized that the biggest roadblock to learning new skills in the workplace is fear. I’m ready to give fear a break. A good thing about getting older is that you realize others' opinions are like YouTube videos — there are millions. If you try to pay attention to all of them, you’ll go crazy.

Getting older isn’t the same as being outdated, as long as you’re willing to adapt. Playing it safe may be the most dangerous thing you can do. Be willing to be mediocre as you learn a new skill; otherwise, you may never be great at it. My left jab could still use some work, my animations are still a little clunky, and my mental health is an ongoing journey. But I can honestly say that being open to change has made my life better.

As for facial hair, I may just need to find that video about learning to accept your beard … one gray at a time.

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