5 incredible pieces of wisdom from the elderly at the end of their lives

Apps are a dime a dozen, common and ubiquitous. Few are special, but the StoryCorps App is.

This free app allows people to create an oral history of the contemporary United States by recording an interview with an elder they know.

Each week, the Storycorps podcast shares unscripted conversations revealing wisdom and courage in the words of ordinary people who lived in earlier times.

On this podcast older Americans share wonderful insights on the key ingredients for a good life recorded during the Great Thanksgiving Listen, an annual initiative from TED Prize winner Dave Isay and his team at StoryCorps. This wonderful advice first appeared on TED.

1. Think of hard times like bad weather — they too will pass.

From an interview recorded between Arden Fleming, 15, and her grandmother Agneta Vulliet comes this wisdom I wish someone had told me in my twenties.

Vulliet tells her granddaughter that one’s 20s are very turbulent, but that things improve over time.

“You want so much for yourself, you have such expectations, you have so many wishes to succeed, and there’s a lot of anxiety that goes with how all that will take shape. I never want you to get carried away with how hard it seems.” She adds, “Growing up is a lot like the weather. Every time you hit the big storms that seem like they’re going to snow you under, it will change and get better — and the sun will come out.”

2. Draw inspiration from all the people you meet.

Bill Janz was as a journalist who wrote a column for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel about ordinary people who’d shown remarkable courage. In a 2015 interview with his 14-year-old grandson, Jasper Kashou in Freedonia, Wisconsin, he told his grandson about a 10-year-old boy who had inspired him throughout his life.

“A boy named Eddy helped me see a little bit about what life is all about,” Janz told his grandson. This boy had his leg amputated due to cancer and Janz had written an article about him.

“No matter what happened to him, he never gave up,” he recalls.

“I called Eddy once at home, and the phone rang and rang and rang. Finally, he picked up the phone. I said, ‘Eddy. I was just about to hang up. Where were you?’ And he said, ‘Bill, I was in another room. My crutches weren’t near, so I crawled to the phone.’”

Says Janz: “He was only a young man, but he was teaching an old man to never give up. I sometimes tend to give up and go do something else, and [he helps me] remember not to do that.”

3. Love your work — for the salary and for the people.

From someone who got his first of many jobs at the age of 7 comes the following advice. In a 2015 interview with granddaughter Vanyce Grant, 17, Bennie Stewart, 80, talked through his many jobs and what he learned from his work experience. “It taught me that I can have something of my own and provide for my family and get some of the things in life that I couldn’t,” he says.

This appreciation of independence was also mentioned in an interview that Torri Noakes recorded with her grandmother Evelyn Trouser in 2016. Trouser worked in auto factories, first on the line and then as a welder. “My advice to everybody in my family: learn to take care of yourself. Don’t depend on anyone to provide you with anything,”

You would think that her work was dreary and not enjoyable, something that you and I would run away from for greener pastures, but no, what she says, made me sit up and take note: “I used to love going to work,” she said. “It’s the people you’re with that makes a job fun or not. As far as I’m concerned, it’s the people you’re with that make things different.”

4. Find mentors who can guide you and challenge you.

Allen Ebert, 73, who started his working life as a welder and went on to become medical doctor told his grandson that we spend a large part of our lives fixing the mess of a few wrong decisions and you can minimize them by just having people in your life who will challenge you and make you think twice, who will say, ‘Well, that doesn’t sound right to me.’

To find mentors, you should look beyond your bosses and teachers. “Just develop relationships with people whom you can observe, even from a distance, and see how they accomplish things,” Ebert says.

5. Make the most of less.

Some of the stories highlight one of the secrets to a life well-lived: learning to make the most of what you have, writes Torgovnick May. Patricia Smith, 80, talking about her tuna noodle casserole, told her grandson Kiefer Inson:

“When I was 18, I was married and had a child and did not have an outside job, so I’d go to the library, bring home cookbooks, and try the recipes. Back then, we were on a very limited budget. A pound of fish cost 69 cents, so I learned to cook a lot of things with that.”

Jaxton Bloemhard, 16, interviewed his mother, Bethany Bloemhard, 38, about Ukranian pierogies. She told him how her own grandmother would make hundreds at a time. “She’d tell stories about how they kept the Ukranian people alive,” says Bethany Bloemhard. “The Ukrainians grew potatoes like nobody’s business, and as long as you had flour, water and some oil, you could make the dough.”

In many ways our stressful high-tech lives that we find so difficult don’t begin to compare with the hardships suffered by earlier generations. We could all take a few leaves from their books of life. For more on what we get when we listen to people’s stories, watch Dave Isay’s TED Talk.

Pearl Nash