Don’t fall for this ‘best before’ nonsense – about food or yourself.

Recently there’s been an outcry over how much food is wasted because of the unrealistic ‘best before’ labels on its packaging. Mountains of good food is being needlessly dumped – costing the UK some £600 million per year.

Scandalous. But so is another kind of waste that’s also down to unrealistic ‘best before’ labelling. It’s all about the equally false notion that people of a certain age are no longer fresh and valuable enough to have anything to offer.

This faulty labelling is also inflicting cost – in terms of missed opportunities, experiences, richness of life, contributions to society and more. So if we are to kill off ‘best-before’ on food, which is a plan of the government, let’s kill it off for people too.

Does such a label on people really exist? Indeed it does.

Mainly it’s down to how the past shapes our expectations of the present. Once, most people ending full time work expected little more than to hang around in God’s waiting room.

But today most come to their afterwork season with years of potential ahead, in better health than those in the past, and with a lifetime of experience to invest.

Yet the past keeps whispering in our ears. As a result, instead of feeling exhilarated about the bonus years, society – and ourselves – have the underlying fear that ‘age’ is not our friend. The risk is to settle rather than pioneer. To play safe rather than explore and discover.

A valuable response to this kind of thinking can be found in a new and insightful book by the Scottish-born journalist Carl Honore – Bolder: Making The Most Of Our Longer Lives. Its content can be neatly summed up as –

‘A call for society to become less ageist and for individuals to stop worrying about the process of ageing and wring every drop out of whatever time is allotted to us.’

In his book Carl highlights how much society would have missed if those like Michelangelo, Verdi and Frank Lloyd Wright had all removed themselves from the refrigerator of life on the date society expected.

That’s because, among the many other late achievers, as Carl points out – ‘Michelangelo finished painting the frescoes in the Pauline chapel at the age of 74; Verdi premiered his finest comic opera, Falstaff, at 79; architect Frank Lloyd Wright was 91 when he finished the Guggenheim Museum in New York. And Kant and Cato produced their finest philosophical work in old age.’

Yet today, Carl reminds us, if a young or middle-aged person forgets where they left something it is of no significance. But if it’s an older person then the assumption is ‘his memory is going’.

To rub it in, Carl notes, ‘since the Brexit referendum, some commentators have even suggested stripping the over-65s of the vote.’ That’s what some would wish to do with perfectly usable goods!

Okay, we’re not all Michelangelos or Frank Lloyd Wrights. But that’s no reason to get sucked into the lie that ‘you’re too old to be of any real use’. Indeed, as the first generation of the ‘young old’ it’s up to us to pioneer the way for those coming up behind us.

How can we do that? Carl Honore’s highly-readable book has a lot of practical advice. To pick out just three examples –

  1. Make the most of who you are: To quote Carl, ‘Stay physically active. Eat a healthy diet. Drink alcohol in moderation and don’t smoke. Form strong social bonds. Have a purpose in life that gets you up in the morning. Be less materialistic. Laugh a lot’.
    So nothing hard there then. And for some instant areas to explore see the AfterWorkNet web pages at Health and Fitness.
  2. Mix across generations: Don’t just engage in social connections within your own age group. Instead, keep tabs with those both younger and older. True, inter-generational contact may not be easy but it has benefits for us and society.
  3. Keep on learning: For sure, it’s harder to learn new things with the passing of the years. But, to quote Carl again, ‘The chief obstacle to learning in later life is not the ageing brain. It is the ageist stereotypes that erode our confidence and put us off trying new things’.

And to make his point, Carl reminds us Marie Curie learned to swim in her 50s, Tolstoy to ride a bicycle in his 60s and Jens Skou, a Nobel Laureate in chemistry, mastered computer programming in his 70s.

So don’t go claiming that learning the ukulele is beyond you – or anything comparable come to that. And for a large bundle of inspiration check out our webpages on New Opportunities.

To get the big picture do read Carl Honore’s book Bolder: Making The Most Of Our Longer Lives published by Simon & Schuster.

And from now on, each time you check those ‘best by’ dates, take them with a pinch of salt. And treat the way others may feel about your age in the same way. Remember, there’s lots of shelf-life left in you yet.

Peter Meadows

Peter is AfterWorkNet’s Programme Director. He uses his retirement to help churches, resource inter-church initiatives, enjoy his eight grandchildren, escape to Spain and to spend his kids’ inheritance.


  1. I needed this today. Have had flu and still have no energy. With no routine and not feeling too great physically your mind starts to think stupid things about what we are “supposed to do now in retirement!” Thanks for the encouragement. Love this site. Kath kelland

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


The word retirement is not even in the Bible. What is taught in scripture is transition. There is nothing that says you work most of your life and then get to be selfish for the next 20 years"

Rick Warren, PurposeDrivenLife