I just had a major “I am getting old” moment. I was reading a list of “The Top 25 Songs of 2014” and as I browsed through their list it was not so subtly dawning on me that I didn’t know any of these songs. Not a single one. These were apparently major hits this past year, and the fact that I didn’t just not know the songs but I also hadn’t heard of almost all of the artists listed either made me feel at first more than a bit bummed. I was never the coolest guy, but I liked to think I was always abreast of pop culture and what was considered “in” at the time. I all of the sudden started feeling an urge to talk about how back in my days burgers were a nickel and had the desire to yell at the neighborhood kids to get off my lawn.
Seriously though – this did having me question how actually “in touch” I was with the current music scene (answer – not at all). As an amateur (at best) musician myself, this realization totally bummed me out. I started think about if I had the same disengagement with what was current if music was my career how successful I would be. And I knew the answer – I wouldn’t be. Sure – I might have some success but it would be a limited window until something new and different came along. Adapt or die they say. I am an avid classic rock and old school rap fan. But if I am being honest, when I have listened to new releases over the last few years by some of my favorite artists of those genres it usually elicited the same response from me as a fan – and let’s just say it wasn’t a positive one. To almost wash away that bad taste I would usually go back and play albums from their “prime”.
We hear the term “in their prime” a ton – in music, sports, art, politics – all walks of life. But this got me thinking – why does there have to be a “prime” in your career? I looked up the definition just to be clear and here’s what I found:
Prime – noun – a state or time of greatest strength, vigor, or success in a person’s life.
So if we accept that we all have a work “prime” does it mean that we can’t be successful for the span of more than just a few years in one’s career? And if so – how does one do that? I then started to think about people who have had career long “primes”. Two came to mind immediately, one famous and one deeply personal: Jack Nicholson and my father. Nicholson has been a prime box office draw from a young man to his later years – never once compromising on his integrity but still managing to remain relevant, respected and vital. My father, an attorney for his whole career who started a law firm over 30 years ago with a partner and is still working well into his 70s, is to this day considered one of the best lawyers in Boston. I always get an incredible sense of pride hearing others talk about my father professionally with glowing remarks and I will always sit and watch a Jack Nicholson movie and like his performance. Then I tried to think about why they have both been able to stay in their “prime” for so long. These are the commonalities I thought of:
1. Passion – both have an incredible passion for their work. My father to this day commutes at 6 AM to Boston every day and sits in ridiculous traffic at 6 – 7 PM every night because he absolutely loves what he does. This man will never retire. I have also heard countless interviews with Jack Nicholson over the years – and the one constant is this guy absolutely loves what he does too.
2. Open to change – Jack grew up in a different era – beginning with his first major role in “Easy Rider”. He could have “stuck to his guns” and done more offbeat type work but he has been able to evolve over the years, from serious dramatic flair to horror to comic book movies and everywhere in between. My father also grew up professionally in a very different time. But – he always wanted to learn about everything new with regards to being a lawyer– and throughout the years has made a real effort (because of reason #1) to be as up to date and relevant as he could be – often times staying ahead of the curve with what he was continuously learning. Both could have stayed with “what got them there” but refused to accept that and were open to new ways of doing things.
3. A respect for all workplace generations – these two men never snapped about the “young whippersnappers”. I love hearing interviews with younger generation Hollywood when they are asked about working with Jack. They all say pretty much the same thing – that he is unbelievably giving of his time and experience, and that they are the better for having working with him. Having personally known people who have worked either for or with my father over the years across all different workplace generations, I hear the same thing. What I infer from that is they both see real value in working across all levels of age and experience, and by giving of their time and learning they also receive something back in return in the form of learning from the younger generations new ways of looking at and working on the same problems.
Regardless of whatever is “cool” today or years from now, I have come to the belief that there doesn’t need to be a “prime” in your career if you can just incorporate what made Jack Nicholson and my father still relevant well into their 70s. Having worked in environments where there are several generations represented, whether young, older or middle aged the successful people I have known have also inhibited these qualities. It doesn’t make the sting of reading the “The Top 25 Songs of 2014” list any easier to swallow though for this music fan. I guess I need to give Ariana Grande, Rich Gang and OG Maco a listen…..