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This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at Queen's U chapter.

When actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus (yes, Elaine from Seinfeld!) watched Jane Fonda’s documentary about her life, Jane Fonda in Five Acts, she realized that we don’t hear from older women enough. As she tells it, this is what spurred her to create Wiser Than Me, a podcast where she asks her guests about their takes on living full and meaningful lives.

Even though Louis-Dreyfus, herself in her 60s, asks her 70- to 80-year-old guests what they think she should know about getting older, each episode is an age-spanning retrospective on the lives of these accomplished women. Their conversations span their careers, friendships, families, and values and reflect on what it has been like to live and age as women in America. For me, the episode with Amy Tan (author of The Joy Luck Club) was particularly impactful, taking up book criticism culture, the relationship between her writing and her family history, and the importance of mobility as we get older. Tan shares resonate stories from throughout her life, as do all of the guests on this season of Wiser Than Me, offering wisdom and knowledge to women and people across all generations. In a gesture that only reiterates the centrality of intergenerational female kinship and friendship, Louis-Dreyfus also ends each episode by recapping her conversations over Zoom with her mom, Judith Bowles, offering listeners yet another layer of women-driven knowledge and storytelling to consider.

As a newly 22-year-old graduate student trying to think up what exactly it is that I want (let alone can) do with my life, what I appreciate most about these conversations is how our host asks each guest to tell her, and all of us, one thing they would say to their 21-year-old selves.

I don’t know about you, but it seems that I’m getting increasingly aware of just how little I actually know about myself and the world around me. While I wouldn’t want to wish away this pivotal time of discovery, connectivity, and seemingly endless mistakes, it can be overwhelming to reckon with (the admitted privilege of) having so many choices. How fitting is it that Wiser Than Me‘s guests tell us what we may just need to hear most?

When posed the question of what they would say to their 21-year-old selves, two of the guests—one of whom is none other than Jane Fonda herself—brilliantly offered this: “‘No’ is a complete sentence.” So, while it is important to say yes to meaningful opportunities (even the ones that scare us), it is also crucial that we, as young people and as young women especially, remember that explanations are not always owed. Your agency is enough.

And while this is a pivotal reminder, it is writer and editor Ruth Reichl’s response that stopped me in my tracks. “You will be happy,” she said. This is the answer that resonated with me most. How difficult it sometimes is to have faith in our decisions and how easy it is to fear the progression of our lives and doubt that things will work out. Whether you look at Reichl’s answer as meaning that you will experience happiness (at some point, for however long) or whether you take it as a reassurance that things will generally work out and bring you happiness, it’s a pretty great way to think about your life. Yes, pain, grief, and loss will be a part of all our lives, to varying degrees, but can’t a belief in our own happiness (present or future) help sustain us as we navigate the turmoil of being in our 20s? Reichl’s answer reminded me that faith in ourselves and our choices can go a long way.

And so, to quote Louis-Dreyfus at the end of each episode, “If there’s an old lady in your life, listen up!” There is so much to be learned and shared amongst generations of women, if only we remember to ask and listen.

Catherine Marcotte holds a BAH in English Literature and Language, with a minor in French Studies, from Queen's University. An avid reader and curious home cook, Catherine is passionate about used (and local) bookstores, collecting cookbooks, and perfecting her at home matcha latté. She is pursuing her MA in English at Queen's where she is writing about intersectional feminism, eco-criticism, and cultural studies in modern and contemporary literatures.