“Once in seven years I burn all my sermons; for it is a shame if I cannot write better sermons now than I did seven years ago.” ~ John Wesley
John Wesley was said to have burned his sermons every seven years. I think he was on to something.
Lars Ulrich was right there with him. There’s a scene in Some Kind of Monster where Lars is getting rid of everything in his house and redecorating. Lars didn’t want to be reminded of the last decade and wanted instead to focus on the current one.
This idea seems to play out time and time again – you have to periodically clear the decks to make room for new revelations.
Speaking of “revelations”, it definitely comes into play for us. A glance at a Third Day setlist will reveal that 90% of our setlist is comprised of songs from the past seven years, and usually all but one come from the last ten.
So there’s a cycle here, where every seven to ten years, the “old” us regenerates into something new. But do we really burn the old?
Crap or compost?
There is a sort of alchemy that seems to happen over the course of seven years. Seven years seems to be roughly the time it takes something to go from being fresh on our minds to being a resident of our long-term memory.
I have a hard time listening to our recent records without thinking about the parts or the mix. I can still remember conversations we had about what chord to go to, and still remember which “side” I was on. But older records are different. I can almost get a sense of what it’s like for a casual listener to experience our music. Almost.
The same goes for writing. The older a journal entry is, the more perspective I have when reading it. The further removed I can get from it the better. I have recently discovered some of my journals from the late ’90’s. Interesting stuff.
Heather Sellers talks about the idea of “composting” when writing. The things we try to cover up while we’re presenting our brilliant, shiny selves to the world are actually way more interesting than the things we create when we strive for greatness. Just as the trash we throw away turns into rich soil over time, these memories we’ve been covering up can be of great value as well.
It’s as if when we try to write gold it’s crap; and yet, the crap of our lives turns into gold over time.
So “seven years” is sort of a duel-edged sword. There are merits to both throwing out and gaining insight from old things. Why not take advantage of that?
Here are a couple of ideas:
1) Out with the old:
- Take a bold move. Do a little decluttering. Throw away that shirt you’ve had for years that you’ve never worn. Give away at least one copy of 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (you know you’ve got a couple!). Maybe it will work for somebody else.
2) But don’t forget to look for gold
- Honor yourself – Madeleine L’Engle talks about staying true to yourself at different ages. As an exercise, write in your journal about what you were doing seven years ago. Are you in a different place now? Maybe. Maybe not.
- Do some harvesting – if you’ve been journaling for sometime, try to find things you’ve written from seven (or more) years ago. See if there are any insights there.
- Old emails – if you’re somewhat of a packrat like me, you can pull up old emails from years ago. What were you working on then? Can it relate at all to what you’re doing now? (If you’re feeling really wacky, reply to a couple as if it were today.)
- Old other stuff – depending on your line of work, you might have old projects lying around. Are any worth pursuing today?
Okay, so you might roll your eyes a bit at my action steps. I’m just trying to get you from thinking about doing stuff into actually doing it!
What about you? Does the “seven years” thing resonate with you at all? Do you have any other ways to put this concept to work? Use the comments to share your thoughts!