The Half Life of Your Work

I  n a conversation the other day, a comment from a close friend prompted me to revisit a personal theory, which is this:


Everything you do in life moves you one step forward.

That’s it. After that it’s useless.

For example, you spend four years of your life in high school banging on grades and positioning yourself for good SAT scores, all for one transaction into a university. Seriously, that’s nuts. After that, your high school numbers – not the knowledge, but the product you created – is useless.

Later, a good university experience in turn sets up your first career move. And so on.

We create a body of work; we use it; we move on.

I don’t mean to suggest that what we do becomes worthless. The residual value of our work – the knowledge and wisdom we acquire – builds. Depending on our choices, it can last a lifetime. There is great value, and personal joy, in the body of work we accumulate. But the half life of its usefulness is much shorter.

Think of your creations as chapters in a story. As scenes in a plot that advances, we live chapters that move us to other chapters. Sometimes the scenery changes drastically, and what we once made no longer matters. The plot of our life builds even as old chapters become irrelevant to the current storyline.

At one time I was a young gun in the church leadership world, a first to market author on a trending subject. At the half baked age of 26 I was leading seminars and keynotes on the creative use of screens in worship services.

I had arrived, I thought. Over time, this thought took to my creative lining as a sickness. I became comfortable in the world my work had birthed, so I extended it as long as I could, perhaps long past its half life as a creative work. Because what happened was that many more people came along and put a twist on what I had done. Some became first to market on social media; others on the anti-screen movement.

One day, I woke up and realized that I had gone from playing arenas to sporting a mullet on a flea market stage. Okay, it’s not that bad, and I still listen to Journey sometimes, but you get the idea.

In fact, I charted this phenomenon in a previous post on The Sigmoid Curve. Here’s the shorthand from that post:

Exactly when you should expect to reap the rewards of your work, you need to be busting hump creating the next thing.

Oh, the irony. Such is the life of those who create.


What are you creating?

About the Author

Len Wilson

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Christ follower. Storyteller. Strategist. Writer. Creative Director at St Andrew. Tickle monster. Author, Think Like a Five Year Old (Abingdon).