Monday, January 25, 2010

What's Your "Sell By Date?"

I was shopping last week when I noticed that some of the milk in the dairy case was nearing its "sell by" date. Naturally, I passed it by in favor of milk I could expect to be good for a longer time. I've recently noted the same phenomenon in the pharmacy, with some over-the-counter remedies there so near their expiration date that it made no sense to buy them.

All this started me thinking about these dates. Should they be limited to foods and medications? Do humans carry a similar date? I guess, if you consider the Biblical three-score and ten predicted age, some of us are already past our "sell by" date. How about the things we do?Do our activities and projects carry an expected shelf life? Most likely they already do, and we just don't pay attention to it.

During my thirty-five plus years practicing medicine, both as a private practitioner and a medical school professor, I wrote or edited eight textbooks. In medicine, knowledge changes fast. I noticed, the last time I checked online sources, that most of these books are still in print, and apparently some people are still buying them. But my co-authors and I have already revised the most recent "classic" text we wrote, and it's scheduled to undergo another revision soon. Probably 80% of the material in that book is still accurate, but in medicine, 100% is the gold standard. When the new edition comes out, the old one may not have passed its "sell by" date, but it will be nearing the end of its shelf life.

My novel, Code Blue, will be a
Publish Post
vailable on or before April 1. Novels are a great way to reach the reading public, but they too have an expiration date of sorts. Other than true classics, novels have a finite shelf life. Once sales dwindle, the books go out of print, and other than in second-hand bookstores and garage sales, they disappear. They do their work, serve their purpose, then they're gone. To a writer, that's sad.

My non-fiction book, The Tender Scar: Life After The Death Of A Spouse, hasn't set any sales records since it was printed in 2006, but the demand for it continues at a steady pace. In the publishing trade, you'd call it an "evergreen." But when something better comes out to take its place, it will go out of print. It will have reached the end of its shelf life.

All this has made me begin thinking about the things I do every day: the way I interact with people, the example I set for my children and grandchildren, the things I try to accomplish. What's the shelf life of the results of those actions? If it's long, it's worth the effort. If not, maybe I should pass on it in favor of something of greater value. Think about what you're doing today. What's it's shelf life? I hope it's a long one.

1 comment:

Jody Hedlund said...

Wow! What a great analogy! I definitely want the things I do to have a full and long shelf life. And hopefully, especially spiritually I can pass on an eternal shelf-life to my children.