What is Your Shelf Life?

It’s really clear to me that you can’t hang onto something longer than its time. Ideas lose certain freshness, ideas have a shelf life, and sometimes they have to be replaced by other ideas. ~ Alan Alda

by Pete Ferguson

Having a great idea is great. Taking action on it is even better. But as soon as I start to rest on my laurels, the expiration of greatness can sneak up on me and begin to stink.

It’s funny, because we can see other’s shelf life easily – It’s the guy who has been in the job for over a decade and always wants to talk about the good old days (um, sometimes that’s me!).

Or it is the gal who came up with a great idea and was recognized for it … five years ago … and hasn’t done much since.

Within my profession, there is a certification that requires taking a pretty difficult test (the test is difficult, not the knowledge the test is supposed to be validating). People expect that gaining the three letters CPP, PCP, or PSP behind their name is supposed to somehow ensure greatness for the coming decades. Same goes for PhD, DDS, etc. The shelf life of the letters expires the Monday after you received them. Party is over, time to look for the next great thing.

I find I’m happiest when I’m focused on the road ahead instead of what is fading away in the rear view mirror.

An acting career usually has about a shelf life of ten years before people get sick of seeing you. It’s a good thing to have a job to fall back on and I really do enjoy directing. ~ George Clooney

Understanding your own shelf life takes practice and humility.

Jerry Seinfield pulled the plug on his show when everyone else thought there was another season or two. Smart move. Michael Jordan retired in his prime.

Intellectual property has the shelf life of a banana. ~ Bill Gates

The moments in my life that are most disappointing occur when I didn’t see change coming. I didn’t realize my shelf life on a project or in a position had long since expired. But everyone around me knew it! I had begun to stink in yesterday’s success.

So how do you keep from expiring? I have a few thoughts, but I’m mostly interested in yours:

  1. Read. Read. Read some more. Study the lives of great people and learn from their successes and failures.
  2. Read outside of your genre. I’m in the physical security profession, but I read about psychology, coaching, technology, cars, etc.
  3. Be sure to have a few good mentors who will tell you how it is straight up. If they are hurting your feelings, good, that means they smell what you are not smelling.
  4. Listen more than you talk. Also consider hiring a career coach.
  5. Every year commit to stop doing about 1/3 of what you are currently doing and replace it with big, bold, challenging tasks – that way you are a new person every three years.

This is where I need you to chime in – because your perspective will benefit me more than me typing a few more words. Selfish, I know, but lay it on straight. My WordPress theme is really stale, my writing is getting predictable … lay it on. Or let me know what tricks you have used over the years to keep it fresh.

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2 thoughts on “What is Your Shelf Life?

  1. Pete, excellent point that our ideas and our own selves have shelf lives. “I find I’m happiest when I’m focused on the road ahead instead of what is fading away in the rear view mirror.” Oh, how true!

    Thank you for practical steps in extending the shelf life! I extend gratitude to you for refusing to “expire” — in order to inspire!

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