Thursday, June 22, 2006

Shelf Life

It turns out there's a word for the reaction I typically have to most of the junk that people - even the people who are close to me & ought to know better - seem to feel with some degree of regularity a compelling need to forward to me. One bit of glurge that has shown up in my inbox from time to time is the one about the husband explaining how he came to see the importance of treating every day as a special occasion after his wife died before she ever found the right 'special occasion' for which to don an expensive piece of lingerie. Even though the story always made me gag, the sentiment isn't entirely lost on me either... though I find now that I have an easier time thinking about it in terms of shelf life.

I'll admit that I came by this notion much more slowly than was probably necessary. I went a long time letting things like bananas and other fruit go bad, thinking that I was leaving it for someone else who might want it. I even have let really good chocolate turn completely tasteless just because it wasn't mine, if you can believe that. In retrospect, it's actually rather amazing that after having been passed by on so many other feminine tendencies that I should somehow get both the interest in chocolate and the kind of self-sacrificing that many men just scratch their heads over. Surely, "You gonna eat that?" ought to apply to chocolate as readily as anything else, right?

While I still hold back on chocolate that actually does belong to someone else, I'm less inclined to stand by and wait for the bananas to get so far as to become candidates for the banana bread I never get around to baking (another of the distaff qualities I somehow missed). I understand now that they have a limited shelf life. If we don't enjoy them now while they're good, it will be too late. Saving such things for later, even if it's something we believe would get used up and not replaced, doesn't work. At least with used up and gone, there's the enjoyment of the experience. Letting it go bad is just wasting that opportunity.

This applies to time too, especially time with people we care about or time spent doing things that are important to us vs. extraneous junk that seems more important at the time than it really is. We usually don't know how much time we actually have; we only know that it is a limited amount like will go on longer than it really will.

There is a shelf life to time and we must enjoy it while it is available to us. Saving it for some unqualified "later" won't work any better than saving Jelly Bellies for a year or more - which I can tell you from personal experience doesn't work well at all. Chocolate Easter Robins' Eggs on the other hand survive pretty well, though I'm not sure if that's because of the armor-like candy coating or the fact that they start out bad enough that it's tough to tell the difference a year later.

So what's a cynic to do - get all gushy and introspective? Maybe. I find it works to remain skeptical if need be and at least temporarily set aside the cynicism long enough to figure out if there's anything worthwhile in the midst of all the glurge before deleting it. Even in falsity there can be truth.

Case in point - Merck is taking some heat for its Make a Connection campaign to create more public awareness around the causal link between HPV - the human papillomavirus responsible for genital warts - and cervical cancer. And guess what - the shelf life of that link is along the lines of 5 years or more.

That means that if you're 'fortunate' enough to have to make several inconvenient trips to someplace really fun like Harborview - and hey, what a treat that is - about the time you have forgotten all the fun you had and why, there's an opportunity to make another series of even less fun trips to investigate and deal with any pre-cancerous anomalies that may have shown up on an annual exam - and can anyone tell me why freezing things that one normally doesn't think of freezing is so often involved? The only thing I can think of that's more unpleasant is the cutting that sometimes happens too. Then, if you truly are fortunate for real, that's about the end of it; only for lots of people, it's not.

Of course Merck's interests are sure to be largely mercenary given the vaccine that they're about to release, and hence the criticism. Anyone who doesn't think so can explain why we haven't seen this campaign say, about twenty years ago when scientists first figured out the relationship.

That doesn't make the program itself a bad thing however. Who wouldn't want to save their sister, girlfriend, or daughter from a cervical cancer scare - or worse yet, the real thing? I'm just amazed that in twenty years, people don't already understand the connection any better than they do. But then ignorance can have a pretty long shelf life. I olnly wish chocolate lasted that long.

If you have thoughts about how long is appropriate to wait to see if someone else is going to take the last slice of pie when you've already had a slice yourself... or the about longest amount of time you've ever waited to eat your last piece of Halloween candy and had it still be good... or anything else along those lines, go ahead and send them to me at so we can compare notes. As long as it's not glurge, I'll promise to read what you send.

How do you tell the difference between patience and immobilization and what does it take to move back into action?

Kimm Viebrock is an ICF-credentialed Associate Certified Coach who helps technology professionals and service-oriented technology groups develop and use their skills more effectively and increase their value within the larger organization, allowing them to do more, do it better and have more fun doing it. Kimm is devoted to finding the connectedness in life.