Sallie Bingham on Risk-Taking As We Age

My friend, the writer, teacher, feminist activist and philanthropist, Sallie Bingham, who was one of the first outstanding women I interviewed for my WOW blog in 2014 (, now 84, has been thinking a lot lately about the subject of risk-taking as we age.

Perhaps this was because she’d been weighing the pros and cons of an overseas trip to Denmark with members of her family. Should she go? Would it be too risky – at this age, at this time?

Sallie shared with me her musings on this topic in order that I might share them with WOW readers. She did, in fact, travel from her home in Santa Fe, New Mexico, to Copenhagen, Denmark, this summer; and she had a wondrous time.

(You can read about her first days there on her blog post:

So this week Sallie Bingham becomes my first guest blogger, sharing in her own words her meditations on risk-taking as we age:

Sallie Bingham

Afraid to travel. (What might happen out there?)

Afraid of falling.

Afraid of dealing with strangers.

Afraid of that new iPhone.

Afraid of grandchildren’s unknown friends.

Afraid of being alone.

Afraid of hospitals and doctors.

Afraid to think about dying….

Oh yes, there are more and more reasons, or apparent reasons, to be afraid as we age. Maybe we really are more frail. Or maybe we just think we are. Maybe we’re overweight. Or underweight. Maybe we’ve begun to experience all kinds of aches and pains. Or maybe we’re dealing with serious health issues. Or maybe we just never imagined we’d live so long and get this old.

We’ve been working all our lives, and now, in retirement, we just want to relax and be happy. After all, we’ve paid our dues.

BUT we have so much to contribute, maybe even more now than at earlier times in our lives when we were overworked and just too busy to think. Now, we have some leisure, and, even more important, we have the wisdom of age.

We don’t hear much about that these days, but every age and every society — except for the present Western one — has recognized and even celebrated its elders. We are the wisdom keepers because as old women, we’ve outlived the need to charm or to compete with men. (Most of them are dead by now anyway.)

The field is cleared for our great leap forward. Not into the busy work of volunteering, but into the power of our words, words both spoken and written, to tell our stories to ears that need to hear them, even if they don’t do it. These are the great stories of our women’s lives — childbirth, sex, menopause, rearing the next generation — and the great stories of our professional lives, of carving new paths in a male-dominated world.

And, finally, we need the courage to tell the tales of the deaths we’re facing now, or before too long. What will they be? What will they feel like? What faith will we turn to, even if it’s the faith of the returning seasons?

But to do any of this, we need to resurrect our courage. That means stepping out of line: climbing that mountain (or that hill), learning that new language, figuring out how to use that screwdriver (or that hammer), planting that garden, venturing into that unknown part of the world.

Courage, after all, is learned. And it can become a habit — just as fear of risk-taking may have become a habit as we aged.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~


Sallie’s fourteenth book, The Silver Swan, a biography Doris Duke, one of the greatest American philanthropists of the 20thcentury, was published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in the spring of 2020 and released in paperback in March this year. For more on Sallie and her work, visit her website:

On another note: Author Lily Iona MacKenzie’s interview with me on her blog this week can be found here (if you click on “Blog Posts” on the upper-right):

16 thoughts on “Sallie Bingham on Risk-Taking As We Age”

  1. Thanks for keeping us mindful of the things that can hold us back. I try to remember that when one set of opportunities becomes constrained (for example, how far I can push myself physically), another set of opportunities opens up (for example, how we can dedicate ourselves to writing or volunteer work or friends). Abrazos Mija

  2. Thanks for introducing me to both Sally Bingham and Doris Duke. I will be sure to pick up The Silver Swan

  3. Dear Bon,

    There certainly are many things to be afraid of as we age. There are also many things I’m no longer afraid of, so it evens out. Thanks for another thoughtful post.


  4. Several years ago I attended a Native American Croning Ceremony to celebrate those of us women who had entered the third cycle of Life. There is Maiden, Mother, then Crone. When Tashina asked which of us in a group of about 20 women were crones I recoiled at the idea of being a stooped and haggard old thing ready for the dustbin. It was a new idea for me to embrace growing older rather than fearing it. Words are so powerful and so too are ceremonies because they can take you on a safe journey with your sisters from feeling disposable to honoring one’s treasure trove of wisdom and life experience.

  5. Dear Bonnie, the message in this article is a gift from the universe! Today I’m facing a decision about doing something bold and brave that i was about to talk myself out of. This is a sign / reminder / push saying “Go for it, Girl. What have you got to lose??” And I will!!

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