I was cleaning out the refrigerator the other day and noticed that we had of lot of old food tucked away in the back. A closer look revealed that most of the items had long since passed their ”Use By” date.

I thought about how much money I probably throw away every year because I don’t pay attention to the “Use By” date. That bothered me, and I was feeling a little guilty about wasting so much food. As I proceeded to purge the fridge, I noticed it also started feeling really good getting rid of the old food so I could make room for something new.

I started thinking about other “Use By” dates in my life that I may be losing track of or ignoring. That’s what habits, routines, and comfort zones can do – cause us to lose track of whether or not what’s in our life is up to date and still good for us.

I wondered how much of my time and resources were being wasted. I wondered if I might be getting unhealthy or even sick as a result of not paying attention to those dates.

After some reflection, I now believe that just about everything has a “Use By” date.

Relationships are a good example. There are some relationships that used to fill our needs perfectly. They were rewarding and fulfilling. Then, if we don’t tend to them, time takes its toll and they spoil and go rotten.

If we are willing to do the necessary work to maintain them and keep them fresh and flourishing, they will support and nourish us. If we fail to do that maintenance, they can expire, become toxic, and make us unhealthy and even sick.

The problem is that we can tend to take them for granted, hold onto them, and assume they’ll always be as fresh and tasty as the day we got them, like a bag of potato chips that is now old and stale.

It seems we forget about why we wanted them in the first place, and we push them to the back of the shelf. Eventually, we realize there is not enough room in the cupboard or the refrigerator, and by then, it may be too late to save them.

Sure, we may hang onto them, maybe shove them around and find a little space for them. Eventually, as we pack more stuff into our lives, we’re looking at them again and realizing they’ve gone bad or become toxic. At that point, our energy and efforts to improve them are of no avail. They are well past their “Use By” date. They have expired.

Our jobs can most definitely have a “Use By” date as well. A career that once challenged us and made us feel like contributing members of society can grow stale based on many factors. There are the normal changes with new management, acquisitions, and a new cast and characters. Sometimes the whole culture of an organization shifts. Sometimes it’s on purpose, and sometimes it just happens. Sometimes it works for us, and sometimes it doesn’t.

During those changes, our relationships, roles, and responsibilities – and our sense of purpose – can become unfulfilling, unhealthy, and even harmful.

We may not notice it right away. Like the old food in the fridge, or a relationship that is no longer working, it’s easy to lose track of time because of our habits, routines, and comfort zones. It’s not until years pass that we realize we’ve been on a treadmill that isn’t pointed anywhere that we want to go.

Habits and routines also have a “Use By” date, and these are probably the hardest things of all to realize they’ve expired and toss out. Many of the habits we’ve developed were useful at one point in our lives. Now, they’re simply relics of a time long past. Like those old computers sitting around the house, we fail to toss them out, hoping that they might someday become relevant again, like the day we brought them home.

I’m convinced that nostalgia is one of the most powerful emotions in the human condition. Ask someone from any generation and no doubt they’ll long for a return to something that was great and was comfortable – “the way it used to be.” Maybe that’s the reason we tend to ignore the “Use By” dates in our lives so often . . . because we choose to.

Look, I’m not saying that it’s always best to simply throw away something that’s no longer working for you.

What I am saying is stay connected with what’s in your life. Spend time checking it out – whether it’s a relationship, a job, an investment strategy, a habit or routine, whatever – and evaluating whether or not it’s still up to date and good for you. If you’re sensing it may be expiring, figure out if you can adjust it and rejuvenate it so it works for you. If that answer is no, think about whether it’s time to adjust your course and make some room for some new in your life.

Stay on top of, and be thoughtful about, what’s going on in your life.

Pay attention to the “Use By” dates in your life.

Ask yourself

What relationships in my life may have long since passed their “Use By date? How are they impacting me? Am I committed to making them fresh?

What am I going to do this week to start cleaning out the fridge?

How do I feel about my current role in my organization? Why do I feel that way? What can I do about it, and what will I do about it?

What can I focus on this week to create reward and fulfillment in my job?

What habits and routines am I hanging onto that are not working for me, that are past their “Use By” dates?

Why do I cling to those habits and routines? What new and better ones can I replace them with?

Where else in my life have I neglected a “Use By” date?

Thoughts for the week:

“It is strange how we hold on to the pieces of the past while we wait for our futures.”

-Allie Condie

“Remembrance of things past is not necessarily the remembrance of things as they were.”-

-Marcel Proust

“We are homesick most for the places we have never known.”

-Carson McKellers

“I’d trade all my tomorrows for one single yesterday.”

-Kris Kristofferson

“Don’t judge me by my past, I don’t live there anymore”


Looking forward to our next conversation