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Maintain Your (R)Age – The Best is Yet to Come by Jerry de Gryse

At a recent memorial for a friend and colleague I looked around the audience to see that many were aging - significant birthdays passing by in a rush, 60, 70 and more.

Meanwhile, I noted these same aging 'ragers' were still working, applying themselves to creative tasks, stretching themselves to new questions about landscape architecture, design and the environment, excelling at every turn. For these friends, the notion of retirement is something other people do.

I was reminded that in University, we were told we would do our best work in our 60s and beyond. What they didn't tell us - or perhaps I wasn’t listening - was why? Why unlike sportspeople do we get better with age? Does practice make perfect? Or is there more to it?

Reflecting on my own experience, I realize it is more than trial and error that makes us better landscape architects as we age. So I made a list and, like many lists, there are at least 10 reasons why our best is yet to come.

  1. Family: Families make us a life outside our profession and a reason, through our work, to make better places. Our children's sense of exploration opens us to possibilities. Their play keeps us young. Our partners steady us. We learn from their understanding of us through a depth of shared experiences. Our extended families, give us the support beyond the office.
  2. Business partners: We don't do this alone. We have built powerful relationships with our business partners. They share our vision. They complete us and make up for our short-comings. They back us up. They give without demand and clear the way so we can do what we do best. They collaborate - they don't compete.
  3. Friends: Our friends have their achievements in life which inspire us to succeed ourselves. They support us, sharing their wisdom and wish for us to be all we can be.
  4. Collaborators: With age we know we don't have all the answers. We've built a support base of skilled professionals who fill the gaps in our knowledge and give us their inspired wisdom. They are the 'multi' of our multi-disciplinary profession.
  5. Youthful team: We've assembled a team of young professionals around us. They are as far away from where we are in experience as can be yet with skills we never dreamed of and a passion and outlook that only the young have. The future is ahead of them. They force us on to our toes. Through them we give back, and in the giving we distill the lessons we’ve learned into coherent messages that give clarity to the things we do.
  6. Our Elders: Despite our age, some of our mentors survive and continue to give us direction. We can call on them for advice and they willingly share from the depths of their continuing experiences. They taught us much of what we know and now set an example of how to live a life to aspire to.
  7. Knowledge of self: With time in the school of life, we have come to understand ourselves. We trust our intuition. We respect the work of others and have faith that we don't need to do it all. We are confident we are doing all we can and that others with skill and talent are doing their best too. We are forgiving of other's foibles because we recognize our own.
  8. We are grounded in our place: Over time we know the terrain we live in across many scales and levels of meaning. Through long experience reading the landscape and listening to the people who live there, we understand how to go inside our place and respond appropriately.
  9. Perspective of time: At 60+, you can look back 100 years and see that it wasn't long ago. We connect with other times, and understand our own achievements in relation to our predecessors. We appreciate the beauty of history with a view that is hardly possible when we were young. Only in older age do we realize that so much of what we do has been done before.
  10. Practice: Yes there is a reason they call it the 'practice' of landscape architecture, because each project builds on our experience of the last. We make mistakes. We learn. We move on and do it better the next time, and the next until there is no next time.

So is our best yet to come? I believe so. I see my aging colleagues who, despite physical changes, are maintaining a youthful passion for their art - friends who temper the excitement of youth with their wisdom of experience, fellow landscape architects who work in the embrace of their families and loved ones. What better place to be as we maintain our (r)age and experience the best that is to come.

Jerry de Gryse, Australian Institute of Landscape Architects National Councilor and Director, Inspiring Place Landscape Architects, just turned 62. He has worked as a landscape architect for 35 years, 30 of them in Tasmania. He still has a lot to learn and hopes to improve with age.


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