Steven Petrow Interview: How to Age with Grace, Wisdom, Humor and Hope (and without hoarding!)
Diana Landau | November 09, 2021
This week Carl talks with Steven Petrow, the award-winning journalist, advice columnist, and book author about his latest book, “Stupid Things I Won’t Do When I Get Older – a highly judgemental, unapologetically honest accounting of all the things our elders are doing wrong”. It’s a perfect read for our listening audience!
Steven was caring for his elderly parents and began making lists about what he wouldn’t do as he aged. He admittedly started a snarky list, but as he saw his parents struggle, a compassionate, funny and very helpful NYT article followed, then a book. He writes about the very human experience of aging, with chapter titles like, “I won't wait until I’m deaf to get a hearing aid”, “I won't limit myself to friends my own age” and “I won't pass up a chance to pee.”
Steven grew up in Forest Hills, NY, taking the subway to Manhattan for high school. “We were all mugged at one point,” he says, “not so great for my wallet but great for my character.” His dad was a TV producer turned journalism professor and his mother was a psychiatric social worker. As a well-known advice columnist on manners and social civility, Steven was inspired at an early age by his mother, who was very careful to teach her son to be a well-mannered boy. Steven also had a particular passion as a kid for meteorology, but you'll have to listen to the podcast for that funny story.
After graduating from UC Berkeley and then obtaining several degrees from Duke, Steven started writing articles for the Washington Post, the New York Times, and other media about cardiac problems, depression, even sexual issues. Steven writes in the first person about all sorts of things. “You’ve been so open and honest about your life in a public forum,” Carl notes. “I’ve been writing in that way to make it easier for people, less challenging,” Steven says. He started writing an advice column on manners and social civility about 25 years ago and his career took off – with a book deal, more columns, more books. “These days I like to focus on the language we use, how we show respect, and how we can break through this polarization.”
Now 64, Steven has no plans to slow down. “I love what I do as a columnist and writing books. As long as my brain and my fingers still work, I don't plan to stop.” Steven now lives in Hillsborough, NC, and enjoys spending time with his family, including many nieces and a nephew. He’s also working on a screenplay for the new book. “It’s an entirely different creative process and I’m learning a new craft. I've never done it before and it’s really fun to do. Fun is a great value and virtue at this stage of life!”
Some of Steven Petrow’s advice on aging with grace:
Quality time: “Think about who you want to spend time with. Friends come and go through seasons in your life. Why is it we have no problem telling people we broke up with someone (in your love life)… but the same can be true of friendships.
Young friends: “I do think it’s important to have younger friends as a way to help you see the world in a different way, to talk about new things. It keeps you nimble and helps you see a bigger world than you might see day-to-day, or just being with folks in your own generation.”
Learning new things: “Try a different place, or take a different route—get out of your rut! Embrace the unfamiliar rather than being afraid of it, running away from it.”
Diana Landau is the Content Wrangler for Pickleball Media. After 15 years in corporate marketing, in 2012 she pivoted to write and wrangle content for Niche Media's weekly blog. She now manages the “I Used to Be Somebody” weekly blog.