Negative stereotypes around ageing are all around us, in advertising, the media and even internalised within older people themselves. These prejudices can result in serious consequences, discouraging the valuable contribution that people can make to our society when they have more time and experience to offer in retirement. But there are a growing number of voices challenging these stereotypes, and instead telling the story of an inspirational ageing society.

Retiring the old clichés

When Helen Cathcart and Dominique Afacan started Bolder, they wanted to change perceptions of ageing and celebrate the achievements of people they met along the way. 

“We found so many people to interview,” says Cathcart. “We started out just wanting to find some positive stories about ageing because we’re constantly fed these negative images by a media driven by younger people – but it’s so easy to find real, inspirational older people.” 

The project turned into a book, Bolder: Life lessons from people older and wiser than you, which showcases just a few of the individuals who are blowing apart the negative stereotypes of older people.  

And what people they’ve found: men and women over 70 who’re still ice-skating and painting, running businesses and marathons, and doing it all with only the occasional backward glance. One of the (few) common themes, says Cathcart, is that age is an irrelevance. 

“They’re just not dwelling on their age. When you ask them what’s their favourite age, they always say Now,” she says. “They have such a zest for life.” 

For too many of us, work is the defining feature of our lives. Whether it’s the paid work of a career or the unpaid but important work of raising a family, many of us fear retirement as a featureless time without goals or passions, a time that can knock a big hole in our identity and sense of self. But such a slide to the grave is by no means inevitable. 

“The old clichés of retirement are disappearing,” says Andrew Kail, CEO of Retail Retirement at Legal & General. “The simple fact is, healthcare is improving, people are living longer and it’s a very different landscape to the way it was 50 or 60 years ago.”

There’s no age limit for success

Retiring from your job no longer means retiring from life. Older people can still have a huge impact, not only in their immediate circle of family and friends but in the wider world as well – many of those featured in our Colourful Retirement Stories are making a difference across the world. Like Rosetta, whose work with a school in Gambia is changing the lives of its pupils, as well as the wider community.

New goals can be set at any age, and those goals might utilise the skills and experience you built up in earlier life or challenge you in new and exciting ways. Nigel has done both: spending more time on music and poetry was a change to his academic career teaching and researching, but helping set up a food partnership for the benefit of the local community tapped into his research into the food system.

“There’s a view that success has to be achieved by a certain age, but that’s not true,” says Cathcart.

Key to this is a mindset that focuses not on your own age, but on the job in hand. None of the people in Cathcart and Afacan’s book thought, “Am I too old to do this?”; they simply asked themselves “What do I need to do to achieve this?”

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Arm yourself with information and start planning your retirement 

Of course, it helps if you have fewer money worries, and one regret for many older people is that they had not thought more about later life when they were younger and had time to save. But there’s plenty of good advice – much of it free – available for those of any age who are looking to plan the next stage of life.

Taking financial advice can be of real value; but no matter how much or how little you have, it’s taking charge that makes the biggest difference. The global pandemic has demonstrated that none of us know what’s round the corner, and has also impacted many people’s plans: almost as many people are now going to delay their retirement as accelerate it.  

As Helen learnt when she began Bolder, your best age is ‘now’. Retirees Nigel and Rosetta have shown us that following your passion can be fulfilling and rewarding, and there’s no limit to what you can achieve, whatever your age. 

Helen Cathcart and Dominique Afacan’s book, Bolder: Life lessons from people older and wiser than you, is available on Amazon. 

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