S3-EP24: Steven Petrow on the Stupid Things He Won’t Do When He Gets Old

Jun 18, 2021


Debbie Weil talks to award-winning journalist and author Steven Petrow about our ambivalence about getting old, the long list of stupid things old people do (that he vows NOT to do), and how to talk about the hard stuff with our elders. A fun, easy listen about hard topics.



Today, Debbie talks with with Steven Petrow about his new book, Stupid Things I Won’t Do When I Get Old: A Highly Judgmental, Unapologetically Honest Accounting of All the Things Our Elders Are Doing Wrong (Citadel Press 2021). Publication day is June 29, 2021 but you can pre-order.

The title says it all as does the list of stupid things to avoid, offered in 43 bite-size chapters. Steven is an award-winning journalist and author who is best known for his Washington Post and New York Times essays on aging, health, and LGBTQ issues. Debbie has been following his work for a while and when she heard about his new book on old age she jumped on getting him onto the show.

We’ve all had a lot of time to think about life – and death – during this pandemic gap year and old age is starting to get personal for Debbie (she turns 70 this year). She figured Steven’s humorous approach to the topic would make it easier to get into a substantive discussion about getting old. It did and you’ll find this conversation goes surprisingly deep.

The book covers lighter topics like:

  • Why you shouldn’t color your hair
  • Why you shouldn’t avoid looking at yourself naked in the mirror
  • Why you shouldn’t lie about your age (even on dating apps)
  • Why you shouldn’t hoard those little jam packets (and otherwise collect clutter)
  • Why you shouldn’t tell your life story when someone says, “How are you”
  • Why you shouldn’t become a miserable curmudgeon


In this episode, Debbie and Steven talk about harder stuff.  When does old age actually start? What about the looming uncertainty of how many years – how many good years – you have left? How do you make that time count?

They also talk about things no one wants to talk about (like decreased libido, not wanting to use a walker, and the “smell” of old people). And they talk about how to have the hard conversations with elderly parents. You know the ones: “Maybe you shouldn’t be driving anymore” or “Maybe it’s time to think about getting more care at home” or, even, “What kind of memorial service do you want?”

Steven offers candid answers for how to address the indignities and challenges of old age whether you are encountering them through family members and friends, or worrying about yourself. This is a fun, easy listen.


Mentioned in this episode or useful:

“For fans of David Sedaris and Nora Ephron, a humorous, irreverent, and poignant look at the gifts, stereotypes, and inevitable challenges of aging, based on award-winning journalist Steven Petrow’s wildly popular New York Times essay, Things I’ll Do Differently When I Get Old.”



Note from Debbie

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Thanks to our media partners

Encore.org, our newest media partner, is an ideas and innovation hub tapping the talent of those 50+ as a force for good. Founder and CEO Marc Freedman is an award-winning social entrepreneur and author, most recently, of How to Live Forever: The Enduring Power of Connecting the Generations. Looking for a great gap-year transition program? Check out Encore Fellowships, which match skilled, seasoned professionals with social-sector organizations in high-impact, paid assignments.


Modern Elder Academy is a program dedicated to navigating mid-life transitions. MEA, based in Baja California, Mexico, provides the place and the tools to start reframing your lifetime of experience. Grow whole, not old. Founder Chip Conley is a New York Times bestselling author, award-winning hospitality entrepreneur and a rock star of the mid-life transition movement. His newest book is Wisdom @ Work: the Making of a Modern Elder.


Next For Me is an important new resource for the 50+ crowd focused on rewriting life. Taking a gap year or timeout may be the best way to figure out "what's next" when you're in this stage of life. Founder Jeff Tidwell explains, Next For Me "connects and inspires our generation to evolve our post-50 lives through new work, a new purpose, or a new social contribution."