Wisdom//

Planning Ahead at 102

10 life lessons from Kirk Douglas on connection, age, health, and time well spent.

Rick Diamond / Contributor/ Getty Images
Rick Diamond / Contributor/ Getty Images

Don’t wish to be 100, it’s not very interesting — you don’t know what to do with yourself. Trust me, I am over 102. 

I have learned a lot in my later years, as they say, with age comes wisdom. If you are older (or plan on getting older) I think these tips will help you: 

1. Make friends who are younger than you. My wife is very good at this. She always cultivates friendships with younger generations. I have not been so good, and after losing many close friends I became very depressed. But, I took my wife’s advice and started making friends with people in their 70s! One of my best friends is a director named Jeff Kanew. He and I collaborate on different projects and it is very gratifying.

2. Keep active. I think when you’re over 100 you must realize that you’re not dead. Do exercise every day — I like to do a little walking. I also work out three times a week with Doug, my physical therapist. I think that’s very important. When you exercise it makes you feel better.

3. Don’t bother people with how old you are — they don’t want to know, neither do I. Be grateful that you have the time to spend with your family. 4. Get a dog. I miss my dog, he passed away several years ago. He was a great companion. Now, I’m going to try to find one who looks favorably on an old actor.

5. Keep up with current events. Right now, that can be extremely depressing.  But it’s important to know what’s happening in the world around you and even more important — talk to your children, grandchildren, great- grandchildren about how they can change this world for the better. From gun control to the environment, it’s all a mess and they have the ability to change it. We still have the power to influence them.

6. Listen to your doctor! I can count the times on both hands when I could have died. Luckily, I have wonderful doctors and nurses helping me. It’s hard going to the doctor at this age, most of the time they have depressing news, and sometimes, you end up in the hospital. But that is all normal. It used to scare me but now I feel better knowing that I am being taken care of. Don’t be afraid to go to the doctor. Often times, I leave feeling much better than when I arrived.

7. Spend time with your family. I have breakfast every Wednesday with my grandson Cameron. He reminds me of who I was years ago — strong, good looking and starting his own family. It’s hard to keep up with him now, but I try. He tells me about the book he’s writing and his life. I listen and try not to give too much advice. My granddaughter Kelsey also visits me frequently. She, like her cousin, is trying to make a name for herself in the family business. I like listening to their adventures. It reminds me of when I was young. 8. Don’t give people advice — they don’t want to hear it. Ask them for advice. 

I know, it seems counterintuitive, we are the alter-cockers, but that’s where you learn. Even though I am 102 there is still so much that I don’t know. You would think it would be the reverse. I wish I was a wise old sage but I’m just an old actor trying to figure things out. Asking for advice or help is one of the most important things I have learned how to do. 9. Plan your funeral. Let’s be honest, it’s coming and the one gift you can leave your loved ones when you pass is to make all of your arrangements. Make a will, pick your casket or urn, buy your plot, plan the program. It’s hard to think about but it will be much harder for your loved ones when the time comes. 

At this age, I think a lot about my life. I started out as a poor boy and ended up a very rich man. I guess that is what most people consider successful. But to me, I became a success when I was able to give my money away to worthwhile causes. That has given me the most satisfaction. So, my final piece of advice is this: 

10. Do something for others. It may be small, like starting a conversation with someone who seems lonely or baby-sitting your grandchildren, whatever you can do to help. It will keep you invested in your community and give you a reason to get up in the morning. 

To be honest, sometimes it takes a lot of motivation (physical and mental) to get out of bed — there is so much less to look forward to now. But, I promise, if you follow just a couple of things that I mentioned, you will feel better and look forward to participating in this incredible world. After all, what a great gift we have been given to live this long.

Kirk Douglas passed away on February 5, 2020. This was one of his last essays. 

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