It’s been a while since WOW readers have read an inspiring WOW interview. I blame this terrible omission on COVID because so many of my prospective interviewees – remarkable women over the age of 70 who are still actively contributing to their greater communities – were unable to do in-person interviews with me.
This week, however, now that COVID is largely in the rear-view mirror, an interviewee came to me – as if dropped from Above – in the form of a visitor to San Miguel whom I was fortunate enough to meet.
Debbie Weil, 71, is an author, editor, journalist and podcaster, who, with her husband, retired physician Sam Harrington, also an author, were in SMA for the first time recently. When she saw my blog posted in the daily newsletter San Miguel FAQ, she contacted me, and we agreed to meet. She then interviewed me for her podcast (more about that interview in future WOWs), and I was later able to interview her for my WOW blog.
Following are excerpts from my long and enriching conversation with Debbie.
BB: You’ve accomplished so much, and you’re still very much “in the game.” Please tell us what motivates you to do what you do.
DW: I wish I could put my finger on it. It’s a bubbling mixture of a drive to be excellent, a fear of not being accomplished enough, and pleasure in having found what I’m good at. In this case, podcasting.
We’re at almost 100 episodes of the [B]OLDER podcast and I find it to be an endlessly fascinating and creative way to tell stories. The podcast gives me the chance to make the point, over and over again, that you can reinvent yourself and create a new life for a last chapter. Creating the podcast combines everything I’ve learned as an editor and journalist over many decades.
While [B]OLDER is not solely aimed at older women, the subtext is always there. That’s who I am, at age 71, and that’s what motivates me. I feel compelled to explore and to try new things. I feel passionate about combatting American society’s ingrained ageism. I don’t think of myself as a role model, per se, but if my approach to aging is inspiring to other women (including my two daughters), then so be it.
BB: I’m always curious to know – which is why I ask all WOW interviewees — what sustains you in your efforts to do what you do at this age?
DW: If by sustain you mean what feeds my soul, it’s having a purpose. For the podcast, it’s the desire to create and the commitment to publish. Purpose is the antidote to procrastination. I need a focus and a rhythm in order to be fulfilled (sustained).
I believe purpose is absolutely essential as you get older. The word “retirement” doesn’t exist for me. I felt it intuitively when my husband and I left Washington, DC, ten years ago to reinvent ourselves. We said jokingly, at age 61, that we were reinventing our lives before “it was too late.” But I now know that was absolutely correct.
You are much younger at age 60 than you are at age 70. Ditto for age 80 and age 90. So whatever it is you might want to do – such as retire to San Miguel de Allende, Mexico? — do it now. Don’t wait. And have something in mind you might want to try in a new phase of your life.
Of course, my husband and children and grandchildren and siblings and many cousins sustain me as well. Sam and I just celebrated our 50th wedding anniversary. Our marriage is far from perfect, but he still makes me laugh.
BB: I’ve been listening to your [B]OLDER podcasts and loving them! Please tell us how you came up with that perfect name.
DW: When Sam and I left DC, we set out to take a grown-up “gap year.” We started a joint blog, Gap Year After Sixty and I named the podcast Gap Year For Grown-ups. Then along came the pandemic and I realized that everyone was on a kind of gap year.
So the name changed to The Gap Year Podcast. Another year went by and finally it was clear: this was a podcast about positive aging and wisdom and making the most of growing older. My producer, Julie-Roxane, and I came up with the name [B]OLDER.
BB: Please tell us more about some of your other accomplishments, Debbie.
DW: My biggest accomplishment since leaving DC has been to create and produce Island Women Speak, a multi-generational women’s storytelling event for our small island community in Maine. IWS is a surprise accomplishment. I’m not a theater director. I’m not a producer. But I know what a good story is. I loved the idea of women from different decades coming together and learning from one another.
So I jumped in, knowing somehow that I could figure it out – yet not knowing if the event would be a success. It was! The audience has loved it every time and still begs for another performance. I hope this makes me a role model for what an older woman can do.
BB: Last but of course not least, what would you like your legacy to be?
DW: How about if it read, “She pursued her passions – writing, editing, teaching, podcasting, crafting stories – but she was also a loving and attentive mother and grandmother.” It’s got to be both.
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To subscribe to [B]OLDER (it’s free!): Go to the podcast home page here. Or go directly to Apple podcasts: https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/b-older-with-debbie-weil/id1449776332 .
Selected [B]OLDER episodes that will immediately resonate with WOW readers:
Debbie Weil on making the most of growing older:
Journalist Jane Brody’s life lessons:
Author Hilma Wolitzer at 92:
Alelia Bundles on growing bolder:
Ashton Applewhite on ageism: