Life Lessons from Astonishing Women Wiser and Perhaps Older Than You

Why I love the podcast “Wiser Than Me”

Grandmother with birthday boy
My mom with my son Diego. Read on to learn how she figures in this post.

At a restaurant a few months ago, my husband’s friend Andres brought up a podcast he was loving called Wiser Than Me, where, he explained, Julia Louis-Dreyfus interviews famous older women like Jane Fonda and Isabel Allende. He sounded blown away.

I was instantly intrigued, not so much by the interviewer and her guests, but by the fact that this man was so into this podcast. I mean no disrespect, but I didn’t expect from any of my husband’s friends such a forceful endorsement of content clearly directed at women of a certain age.

Because I’m a runner and listening to podcasts is what I do while I run, it wasn’t long before I took in the first episode of Wiser Than Me and found that Andres’s enthusiasm was justified. It’s a hugely entertaining and illuminating listen for people of all sexes.

I’m a top fan now. All the interviewees are worth listening to.

Julia Louis-Dreyfus has made older women a thing— the older, the better. To my mind, the three most jaw-dropping interviews were those of Carol Burnett (90), Jane Fonda (85), and Isabel Allende (80), in that order.

It’s not only what they say that’s compelling, but also how they say it, with such passion, conviction, and the perfect balance of humility and pride — the humility part being, in my view, the hardest to pull off. I for one couldn’t manage to sound half as humble if I’d accumulated a twentieth of any of these women’s accomplishments.

The Wisdom of Our Mothers

As amazing as the interviews were, what kept me hooked to the podcast was Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s wit in her introductions, questions, and comments. She’s my new role-model-I’ll-never-meet. I’d love to be a fraction as brilliant and charismatic. Above all, I want to be foul-mouthed like her. I just don’t know how to do swearing right.

While listening to the show, I felt like Julia had a lot in common and like she could be my sixth sister. I know I’m just projecting and that anyone can find commonalities with anyone. Especially when we admire someone famous, we want to think we’re alike and that we’d hit it off if ever we met.

Anyway, it just so happens that both Julia and I have two sons around the same age, and that she and my son share a birthday, January 13, quite an uncommon birthday, mind you. Julia also played the same type of pretend when she was little as my five sisters and me. When I heard her describe her little scenarios, I could tell she’d have been into our “queen and her subjects” and “wedding ceremony” storylines.

The other thing we have in common is that we seek the wisdom of our mothers. At the end of each episode, she runs the interview by her “mommy,” just like I run everything by my “mami.”

And lastly, I have a friend whose college boyfriend way back when is Julia-Louis Dreyfuss’s cousin. If that’s not a coincidence I don’t know what is.

I have an idea for Julia: now and again interview non-famous women older and wiser than you, women like our moms, but not my mom because she speaks little English.

Looking forward to Season 2 of my current favorite podcast!

Show Excerpts

Although I can’t do justice to this podcast by extracting bits and pieces, I will extract bits and pieces just the same. I tell you this because, in written form and out of the context of the full interviews, the quotes lose 95% of their impact. So after you read this, hurry up and listen to the whole thing.

On aging:

On how to age, the good and bad of being a given age, and questions that arise (my comments in parentheses):

Jane Fonda: “Well, successful aging, in large part depends on good health. So stay healthy. Posture is important. You can seem very old if you have bad posture, even if you’re not all that old. And keep exercising. You’ve got to stay strong. Just keep moving.”

Isabel Allende: “You need to have good health… to have a good old age you have to prepare for it. It doesn’t just happen.”

Isabel Allende: “That you don’t have to please anybody. Oh, yeah. Only the people you love and the people you care for, but not the world and not everybody else.”

Fran Lebowitz: “Well, there’s nothing good enough about it.”

(C’mon Fran! There has to be a plus.)

Ruth Reichl: “Will I get more cats? Because they would outlive me. So you think about things like that….Because I hate the idea of not being here.”

(I relate. I’m just 54 and I’m already experiencing FOMO!)

Ruth Reichl: “Well, again, when something frightens you, you have to do it’ it’s worth doing. And, and the other part of that is, and this is, the other big piece of advice I have to give people is, the only thing that really keeps you young, is constantly doing things you don’t know how to do. If you spend your whole life doing things you already know how to do, you get old fast.”

Darlene Love: “I feel as good or if not better than I did when I was like in my 20s and 30s.”

Diane Von Furstenberg: Well, I feel, I feel my age. I am who I am.

(Note: grandkids loomed large as far as great things about getting older.)

On what you’d go back and tell yourself at 21:

Jane Fonda: “No is a complete sentence.”

Isabel Allende: “Yeah, calm down. Calm down for God’s sake.”

Fran Lebowitz: “Don’t buy that first apartment you bought, all of the advice I would give my young self is real estate advice.”

Ruth Reichl: “You will be happy.”

Gina McCarthy: “Read more.”

Rhea Perlman: “I would tell myself to relax,” and, “I just wish I’d spent less time questioning myself all the time.”

On Carol Burnett:

I found it impossible to pick just a few quotes. You have to listen to all her anecdotes and how well she told them, with such detail and color. This was the show’s final episode, and it ended Season 1 with a big bang.


A version of this post was originally published in Crow’s Feet.

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