The Recipe for a Long Life: Good Genes, Exercise….and a Healthy Dose of Creativity and Love for Your Career

Paleta y pincel de artistaHow long will I live? That’s the question we frequently ask ourselves—especially as we move past those “nothing-can-hurt-me” teens and 20s. The recipe for a long life typically includes the following ingredients: good genes, healthy living habits, and a little luck. But several recent studies have found that you also need to add a dash of creativity and a love for your job to improve your chances of reaching your golden years.

Creativity is good for the soul and the body. Although the cliche goes that creative people “live fast, and die young,” many musicians, writers, actors, and painters and other visual artists live long, productive lives filled with artistic triumphs—even into their last years. For example, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author Herman Wouk, 102, published another book last year; 91-year-old singer Tony Bennett still packs concert halls; 96-year-old actress Betty White still appears on sitcoms and talk shows; 81-year-old bluesman Buddy Guy has nearly 40 concerts on his tour schedule in the next four months; the famed architect Frank Lloyd Wright finished the design for the Guggenheim Museum in New York in his late 80s; the acclaimed photographer, musician, writer and film director Gordon Parks worked until his death at age 93; and Georgia O’Keefe created art until her late 90s. These examples tell us that working in creative positions (and in a career that one loves) keeps the mind and body young.

So what about the 90 percent of the world that’s not working in traditionally creative careers? There are many types of creativity, and many career fields require this trait, including law, medicine, engineering, and even finance. “The key,” according to an article on longevity in Time, “is finding work that calls on you to remain nimble, adaptive, even visionary, to invent ideas and solve problems on the fly rather than just responding to the same questions with the same answers again and again.”

Band performs on stageThe second part of the revised recipe for a long life is loving your job. Many people choose to turn away from their dream job (artist, video game designer, musician, teacher, actor, tour guide, etc.) to pursue careers that offer high salaries and job security. This is a mistake in most instances (unless real financial considerations come into play). It’s extremely important to find a job that you love—whether you’re making $20,000 as a community art teacher or high six-figures as a hedge fund manager. This is especially true if you are young, unmarried, have no children, and have the latitude to explore your interests before locking yourself into a career path. High college tuition and student debt may make this seem unrealistic, but there are many ways to pursue your dream while in college. You might double major in one practical field (business) and one dream major (music). Or you could take time off from college by participating in co-ops or internships in promising fields. Once you graduate, you might work in a traditional job while building an art portfolio, honing your photography or design skills, or pursuing graduate study or professional certification that can improve your income in fields that do not typically pay high salaries. The key is to have a plan, continue to learn and expand your skills, and not be swayed by jobs that offer high salaries, but do not fulfill your dreams.

It’s not too late if you’re already in the workforce and hate your job. If you aspire to be a musician, artist, writer, or other type of creative professional, you should continue to practice your art and begin to find ways to dabble while still paying the bills. Your overall strategy should be to start by dabbling, and gradually build your artistic activities into a full-time career. If you’re an aspiring writer, you need to get in the practice of writing every day. You should also start a blog, submit your work to literary magazines and contests, and find other ways to share your talents with the world. You could even publish your own book and promote it at literary fests and community events. If you’re an aspiring musician, consider selling your music online and launching a YouTube channel. Take every opportunity to play in front of crowds—whether that “crowd” is 10 people at a family party, dozens at an open-mic night, or hundreds at a community event.

There are no promises of success to working on your art. Success takes talent, hard work, and a lot of luck. I remember that at least 10 people in my Advanced Fiction Writing class in college were superior writers who were as good as any of the published writers I was reading at the time. Yet, I don’t think any of them ever became well-known writers. We all know bands and authors that should be way more well-known than they are.

Despite the challenges, embracing your creative muse may help you to live longer. And even if you aren’t lucky enough to live a long, healthy, and productive life, a dose of creativity (or a full immersion in the life of an artist) makes life more rewarding and fulfilling.

Copyright (text, except Time quote) Andrew Morkes/College & Career Press

Photos courtesy of DPC

An abridged version of this article appeared in my career newsletter, the CAM Report. It has been published for more than 40 years, and provides job-search tips and strategies, information on in-demand occupations and employment trends, and much moreClick here to read a sample issue and to learn more about subscribing. Here are just a few comments from our satisfied subscribers:

  • “I’m thrilled to have this material at my fingertips. I’m certain that many counselors and guidance directors feel the same way as I do–GRATEFUL!”
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