Tired. Expired.

In mid-January an untimely and unexpected back injury confined me to the couch for about a week. While there is never a good time to have such an experience, being immobile when your refrigerator is close to empty is even less desirable.

So to get by on my own before I leaned on friends to bring me some groceries, I pushed the envelope on expiration dates for milk, yogurt, cottage cheese and the like. One of things I noticed is that some products were labeled with a "Use by XXX date" statement while others offered a "Best if sold by XXX date" disclaimer. Neither was particularly helpful in the long run. Products that should have still had some shelf life according to their imprint were closer to spoiling than I might have imagined. Others that should have been tossed according to their stamp actually were still quite good.

I was reminded of this conundrum this past weekend while facilitating a leadership conference for association chapter leaders. We were talking about the value of professional development and how chapters can deliver educational programming for their members. One of the concepts that emerged from our discussions was that the shelf life of professional knowledge and expertise may be shorter than it once was. In other words, what we know gets stale more quickly and needs to be refreshed or replaced more often. But busy professionals don't always notice that they are relying on practices, skills, or insights well beyond their freshness date. Sometimes they treat their knowledge almost like it is dried pasta sitting on a shelf. It's good forever isn't it?

We are going to have to get better at individually assessing the degree to which what we currently know still has value. We need to become more adept at measuring the shelf life of the skills we have developed and when it is time to toss out the old stock even if it hasn't been touched much.

Seems to me our professional associations should spend more energy thinking about how to help us do exactly this.