Taking It to Extremes – Part 2 of 5 – Growth versus Development

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Introduction: 

A number of years ago, I wrote an article about the famous “Golden Mean” of Greek philosophy.  The mean was basically a rule that said the best way of living is to balance extremes.  Another way of looking at what this rule implies is that evil or bad things happen when we over do something.  We need to take all things in moderation.  Thus, drugs, smoking, guns, watching TV etc., are not evil or bad in themselves but when we take them to extremes they became dangerous and counterproductive.

Life is an ongoing struggle to find our proper balance.  However, it may never be a question of equal balance because the proper balance can never be static.  There are many dimensions or polarities in life where it is not really a matter of moderation or balance but more a matter of dynamically imposing a temporary order between two extremes.  The concept of Hegelian Dialectics comes to my mind as an aide in thinking about this process.

Dialectical thinking can be described as: “The ability to view issues from multiple perspectives and to arrive at the most economical and reasonable reconciliation of seemingly contradictory information and postures.”  This is a much more complex process than simply balancing extremes.  The more I thought about it the more I decided to add a corollary to the Greek Rule.  Since I think time has easily proved the value of the Golden Mean, a corollary by definition is a proposition that follows from and is appended to one already proved.  My corollary is as follows:

John’s Corollary:

Anytime, one concept in a set of opposing concepts is allowed to dominate the opposing concept, extreme dysfunction will result.

I want to discuss this more by using five pairs of concepts that I think are critical to our world today.  I want to show you how the distortion created by proponents of each concept is dangerous to life as we know it.  I do not use the word dangerous loosely or frivolously or for effect.  The battle between these ideas is destroying life as we know it on this planet.   The proponents of each side of these polarities seek to destroy the proponents on the other side.

Rather than looking at things from a systems perspective and trying to dynamically adjust the system, opponents are driven to allow one idea to dominate to the exclusion of the other idea.  Witness the name calling between conservatives and liberals today.  Each side demonizes the other side and assumes God is on their side and Satan is on the other side. Liberals are evil to conservatives and conservatives are evil to liberals.

Here are the five pairs of concepts we will look at in the next few weeks.  This week we will look at number two on my list.  We have already discussed the “efficiency versus effectiveness” dimension in part one of this blog series.

  1. Efficiency versus Effectiveness
  2. Growth versus Development
  3. Society versus the Economy
  4. Conservative versus Liberal
  5. Rights of the Individual versus Rights of the Group

2.  Growth versus Development:

I live in two counties in two different states.   The states are about 2000 miles apart.  In Arizona, I live in Pinal County.  In Wisconsin, I live in Polk County.  You would think that these two states could not be much different, but actually they are remarkably similar in many ways.  Weather is not one of them.  The one main way that they are similar is in the greed and stupidity that underlies attitudes towards growth and development.  Both states have politicians and leaders that have no concern with balancing these concepts but instead fight to destroy the other side.  I will give you an example that is now happening in both states and which I have been involved in.  However, first we need to define and understand the difference between growth and development.

Most simply, growth can be defined as getting bigger.  Development can be defined as getting better.  Bigger and better may go hand in hand but they may not.  A child can grow into an adult but if developmentally disabled will not get better in the sense of becoming a mature adult.  The child can grow bigger but will never be and adult.  Conversely, someone can fail to grow physically due to some systemic disease but can nevertheless develop mentally.  My good friend Brian Rogers did not have much physical development but mentally he was a giant.  He was not only brilliant intellectually, but he was kind and compassionate to everyone that he met.  This in my mind is the ultimate development.

The noted scholar Dr. Russell Ackoff discussed these two concepts as they applied to a country.  He described them as follows:

“Growth is an increase in size or number.  Development is an increase in competence, the ability to satisfy ones needs and desires and those of others.  Growth is a matter of earning; development is a matter of learning.  Standard of living is an index of national growth; quality of life is an index of its development.  Development is not a matter of how much one has but how much one can do with whatever one has.  This is why Robinson Crusoe is a better model of development than J. Pierpont Morgan.”

“I hope we can help public policy and decision makers realize that development and growth are not the same thing.  Neither presupposes the other.  Rubbish heaps grow but do not develop.  Einstein continued to develop long after he stopped growing.  Some nations grow larger without developing. and others develop without growing.” —Transforming the Systems Movement, 2004

Dr. Ackoff died in 2009 and I would venture an opinion that he did not live to see his hopes come true.  Too many politicians, real estate developers, business leaders and government officials still do not grasp the fundamental distinctions between growth and development.  Even worse they ignore the balance that must happen between the two concepts that is essential to protecting our society, environment, and our very lives.  Let me give you two examples from my life in Polk and Pinal counties.

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Pinal County, Arizona:

When we bought a house in Arizona City in 2008 and decided to become snow birds upon retirement, we inquired into the issue of water in our area.  Knowing that we were moving into a desert we were concerned about the availability of water.  We were told not to worry.  There was a water plan that would deliver all the water we needed for the next 50 years.  This was pure BS.  There may have been a water plan, albeit not anything that was useful, but there sure as heck was not enough water for another fifty years at the present rate of growth and given the increasingly warm summers and lack of rainfall.

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It is widely accepted that the Southwest is hotter than ever and that drought conditions are widespread.  Both Lake Powell and Lake Mead are near disaster levels in terms of water supply.  Just a year or so ago, the Governor in Arizona sought to comply with a Federal order and mandated a commission to develop a DCP (Drought Contingency Plan).  A group of 30 or so “leaders” selected by the Governor hastened to cobble together a plan in time to meet the Federal order.  I attended one meeting with the Pinal County Economic Development Group to hear about the DCP.  I was surprised and astounded to learn that there was nothing, nada, not a thing in the plan about water conservation.  The majority of the plan was nothing more than a subsidy to local farmers to take less water from the CAP (Central Arizona Project) a pipeline bringing water from Lake Mead and subsidies to dig wells even deeper.  Digging deeper despite the fact that aquifer water is down in many places to below 1000 feet.

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I have since attended many meetings of the Pinal County Economic Development group.  The group is mainly led by and composed of real estate developers and contractors.  Despite their name, they care little about development and are only concerned with growth.  Growth for more real estate in private homes.  Growth for more business development.  Growth for more industry and manufacturing.  They have little interest in water conservation and are not concerned with helping the lives of Arizona citizens to get better.  They are foremost and primarily driven by a greed that is fed by getting bigger and bigger.  More and more houses, more and more businesses, more and more taxes to feed into the political coffers.  More and more money paid to build homes and industries.  These people would build homes on top of homes if they could convince people to buy them.  The fact that Arizona is suffering from higher than ever temperatures and less water than ever before seems to matter little as the dollars signs apparently blind these so-called developers to reality. They should be called “growthers” and not developers since they contribute little or nothing to the development of Pinal County.

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Polk County, Wisconsin:

About a year or so ago, we had just returned from Arizona to our home in Wisconsin.  Upon returning, I learned a new word or acronym.  It was CAFO.  This stood for Concentrated Animal Feed Operation.  I was totally ignorant about anything pertaining to this type of farming operation.  I was soon to learn more than I wanted to know.  A developer representing a large CAFO had come into our area to find a site for a Swine CAFO that would hold upwards of 50,000 hogs.  He had come promising jobs and tax money and income for local farmers as they supplied some of the CAFO needs such as grain and other products used in the operation.

A few of our local community leaders immediately embraced this siting of a CAFO.  Fortunately, many local citizens were aware of some of the potential negative impacts of a CAFO this large.  Possible soil, water and air contamination were potential impacts that had occurred in other areas of the country where CAFOs had been established.  Two sides soon emerged.  One side is highly supportive of CAFOs.  This side is mostly comprised of larger farmers in the county and many of our county supervisors.  The other side is comprised of residents who live locally on lakes that are potential areas to be degraded by a CAFO and just plain citizens who do not see how the county will really benefit from a 50,000 swine CAFO.  I fall into the latter group.  I do not live on a lake.  After learning of the many potential dangers posed by a CAFO to our environment, I am concerned that the CAFO ordinances are not strong enough to protect the county.

Many county board meetings have taken place in the last year.  Signs are up all over the county opposing CAFOs.  Signs say “Stop CAFOs” or “Support Family Farms Not Factory Farms.”  There have been numerous protests outside county board meetings.  At one we attended, over 175 people showed up to urge county supervisors to support a “moratorium” to study the land use ordinances in more depth and to support more research to make stronger ordinances.  Not surprising many of the county supervisors support less effort to control CAFOs.  They argue that state and local ordinances are strong enough already.

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Pigs in a concentrated animal feeding operation (CAFO) barn

County boards always seem to have a lawyer on hand to instruct caution and who drives fear into every meeting with warnings about lawsuits that could be brought against the county board for government overreach.  At the board meeting last week to extend the mortarium, it was voted down 8-7.  A second resolution to pass a weak ordinance in lieu of further study was passed by a vote of 11-4.  Even some on the board opposed to the CAFO voted for the resolution apparently cowed by the board lawyer or under the assumption that any ordinance was better than no ordinance.

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Polk County leaders value growth at the expense of development.  The fact that major negative impacts on our land and quality of life are highly probable matters little to those blinded by the economics of growth.  More money, more revenue, more taxes, more business sales.  All of these “mores” in terms of economic growth blind our leaders and many others to efforts to balance growth with development.  It becomes a war between two opposing camps and not an effort to balance two extremes.  The future is sacrificed to the greed of the present.  A “my way or the highway approach” ensures that my corollary will hold true.

Anytime, one concept in a set of opposing concepts is allowed to dominate the opposing concept, extreme dysfunction will result.

With Global Warming, we have already set in place climate changes that are having profound negative impacts on the world.  How many more times will we resort to extremes that serve only to create more devastation and destruction on the environment?

Thanks for reading.  Please leave any comments or thoughts you might have on my blog site.  Or email me at persico.john@gmail.com

Creating a Twenty First Century Education System

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We no longer have an education system that works.  This is true for most people that need education.  A few people still find value in the current system, but it is no longer a system that works for the masses.  It is no longer a democratic education system.  It has become a school system devoid of the benefits and value that it once had.  We now are stuck with a school system designed for the nineteenth century that is expensive, inefficient and much less effective than it could be.  This is true not only in America but also for most of the world.

Times have changed.  Needs have changed.  Our education system has not changed.  It no longer meets the needs of a world economy that has gone from agriculture to industry to information.  A world that has gone from analog to digital.  Changes from the nineteenth century to the twenty first century are incomprehensible.  Changes in our education system have not kept up with the needs of a modern world.  Outside of growing larger and more expensive, our education system is still based on nineteenth century principles of education.

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Nothing is more important to a nation than a democratic education system.  A system that provides equal opportunity to all regardless of gender, age, race, ethnicity, income or religion.  Education provides the knowledge and information that is the foundation for all successful endeavors.  Whether it is a building a great company, finding a cure for a disease, writing a musical masterpiece, developing innovative technology to help people or even fighting a war to defend a country, nothing was ever accomplished without knowledge.  Knowledge may not always be developed in an education system, but an education system is the primary mode of transferal for knowledge.  From Caesar to Leonardo Da Vinci, from Shakespeare to Einstein and from Henry Ford to Mark Zuckerberg, it was education that gave them the knowledge to be successful.

school fundingToday we have an elite system of schooling whereby the children of the wealthy get to go to charter schools, private schools and high-priced universities that are beyond the incomes of the average person.  These schools may still provide a decent education, but they are “not open to the public.”  This morphing of schools from democratic institutions to elite institutions did not happen by accident.  It became all too clear to many people that the public-school system was collapsing.  Anyone who has taught in a public school today knows the chaos and bedlam that is called education in these schools.  Discipline has gone out the door and students terrorize each other and even the teachers.  The results of the decay of the public-school system has seen the wealthy shift their funding to private schools while those who cannot afford private schools often opt for home schooling.  The rise in home schooling parallels the decline of the public-school system.

Racial Disparities in School Infographic-AIR-hp-sm-01Teachers sit helplessly by as the school system they belong to sinks slowly but inevitably beneath the waves of societal change.  Like the proverbial fish, teachers are the last ones to see the water.  Asking a teacher how to fix the system is like asking a fish how to fix the ocean.  Adding to the general ignorance are pundits in both the business arena and the political arena who propose solutions based on what worked in the past or worse what they think has worked in the business arena.  Thus, we see proposed solutions such as:

  • More standardized testing for students
  • State wide tests for teacher competency
  • Pay for performance
  • Guards in the school hallways
  • More money for education
  • Smaller class sizes

None of these solutions will work.  None of them have worked.  That is why the rich and privileged have opted to destroy public education by under-funding the present school system.  Teachers all over are clamoring for more money both for salaries and also school improvements.  While teachers and staff certainly deserve a higher pay for the jobs they do, and students deserve decent facilities, none of the changes that money will bring will improve the school system.  There is a simple but profound reason for this and anyone understanding the concepts of systems change and paradigm shifts will clearly know why.

First, in a system all processes are linked, and each impacts the other.  To change a system, you must change the assumptions upon which a system is based.  A paradigm is a set of assumptions that govern how processes are developed and allocated.  As Thomas Kuhn noted in his book “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions” when a paradigm changes what worked in the old paradigm will not work in the new paradigm.  Paradigms change when the underlying forces of a society fundamentally change.  These forces include economic, social, technological, political, legal, environmental and even spiritual factors.

“In order to displace a prevailing theory or paradigm in science, it is not enough to merely point out what it cannot explain; you have to offer a new theory that explains more data and do so in a testable way.” — Michael Shermer

In lieu of a train load of data that would make Michael Shermer happy, would you accept that societal forces have changed rather dramatically from the nineteenth century to today?  Do you think that the type of business model that worked in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century would still work today?  Do you think Zuckerberg or Musk or Brin or Bezos could run their business like Ford or Carnegie or Rockefeller ran their businesses in today’s world?  I think the obvious answer to these questions effectively addresses the need for a paradigm change.

Yet we are not seeing a paradigm change in education.  Even as I write this, teachers are striking all over America for more money.  We are still trying to run our education system on the principles and assumptions that nineteenth century education was based on.  These include the following:

  • Schooling should not start until about six or seven years of age
  • Students need a standardized education curriculum
  • Students need to proceed in assembly line fashion one grade at a time
  • Students should take courses that match their age level
  • Students need tests and diplomas to ensure that they are qualified to go on to the next level of education
  • Students need to go to school in one place
  • Most education will take place in a classroom
  • The teacher is the expert and knows what knowledge the student needs
  • College is the best place to go after high school
  • Students should go to school Monday through Friday
  • Students should finish school and then go on to a career
  • Public education funding is only through high school

Now, what if all these assumptions were no longer valid?  What if they were valid in the nineteenth and even twentieth century but are no longer valid today?  What if we turned them upside down and built an education system on the opposite assumptions?

  • Schooling should start as soon as possible perhaps as early as two or three years of age
  • Students need a customized education curriculum
  • Students proceed according to their progress regardless of age level
  • Students take courses that match their interests and abilities
  • Students need tests only to determine their level of understanding and not for passing or failing
  • Students need to go to facilities that match their interests regardless of where they are in the community
  • Most education will take place in customized facilities
  • The teacher is a facilitator and has the responsibility to aid the student in pursuing their interests
  • College is not the best place for all students
  • Students can go to school on flexible schedules
  • Students never finish schooling and education is life long and career based
  • Public education funding is life-long as needs and careers change

Can you imagine if we designed an education system based on the above assumptions rather the assumptions in the first list?  You would have a totally different education system.  In some ways, it might be like the change in business models from mass production to mass customization.  We would still have a public education system, but it would be customized to meet the individual needs of each student.

“Given the rapid rate of change, the old paradigm of one-off education followed by a career will no longer work: life-long learning is a must, and it is up to governments and employers to invest in training and for employees to commit to constantly update their skill set.” — Alain Dehaze

student failureMany young people who are now either lost in the present system of schooling or who are ill-served by it would be rejuvenated and excited again. Classrooms would no longer be places where the concept of discipline permeated every minute of instruction.  There would be no such thing as failures or dropouts.  No such thing as staying back or not passing.  No detention or hall monitors.  Vocational education, music, art, and drama would be as important as reading and math and science.  Poor kids would get the same education as DISCPLINErich kids.  All kids would find joy and fun in their education since it would be designed to meet their needs and interests and unique abilities.  People from two to ninety-two would be able to receive the education and knowledge they need to be effective members of society regardless of whether they had yet begun to work or had retired.  Education would be for life.  Public funding would be provided throughout a person’s lifetime.

“Education is not preparation for life; education is life itself.” — John Dewey

Some will read this blog and call my vision either Pollyannish or unrealistic.  I have spent many hours arguing with people over the need for change in our education system.  There is nothing unrealistic or even idealistic about my vision.  It does not represent an ideal.  It represents a decision.  Either we are going to have an education system that benefits all of our citizens or we are going to have a system that only benefits a few.  It is not an ideal.  It is a choice we can make.  Do we have the determination to change a failing system and to look beyond the norms of the past?  Can we take our mental model of education and exchange it for a new model of education?  Either we are going to progress, or we are going to decline.  The direction we go will be based on what we do with our education system.

Time for Questions:

The Socratic Method was based on what?  Why did Socrates feel his method was a better one to instruct his students?  What is “Critical Thinking?”  Do we teach “Critical Thinking” in our schools?  Do you know?  Do you think we should?  Why or why not?

Life is just beginning.

“The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.” — Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

 

Endless Horizons:  How We Learn and Develop

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I have a theory about life and about how we grow as individuals. I call this my theory of “Endless Horizons.”  I developed this theory through experience and observation.  I would like to share it with you this week.  It has been a big inspiration in my life and provided a great deal of motivation for me in my journeys.  It involves the ability to accept the unknown but with a difference that is important.  Whereas many theories posit an “unknown and unknowable,” my theory says that what is unknown may just possibly be “over the next horizon.”  Let me explain more.

Once upon a time, I believed that what we see, feel, taste and smell was all that there was.  It did not get any better or worse than what I was already experiencing.  I was usually a very angry guy.  I was ready to physically fight at the drop of a hat or some perceived slur or insult.  My temper and lack of anger management got me into a lot of trouble.  I was arrested for assault and battery.  I had more fights than I can remember.

“Those who improve with age embrace the power of personal growth and personal achievement and begin to replace youth with wisdom, innocence with understanding, and lack of purpose with self-actualization.” — Bo Bennett

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Perhaps worse was the constant state of fear that it kept my first wife and daughter in.  I never realized how hurtful my temper and lack of anger control was to them.  From my throwing things, to yelling and punching walls, I was like a volcano that might explode at any moment.  Even my sleep time was violent.  I was constantly having nightmares of someone chasing me and trying to kill me.  I would wake up drenched in sweat with my pulse racing a mile a minute.

My first wife and I divorced after sixteen years.  My daughter who was fifteen at the time eventually cut off all contact with me.  I have not seen or talked to her for over twenty years now.

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“Building a better life for every child is a lot harder than becoming a world champion. Both goals take dedication and commitment.” — Kim Yuna

I knew I needed some help and I joined a treatment program for violent and abusive men.  About ½ of the men were in treatment voluntarily and about ½ were court ordered.  It was sponsored by the Wilder Center in St. Paul, Minnesota.  I completed the program (which met weekly) for about 16 weeks. After that I continued with a support group for another two years or so.  The support group also met weekly and was restricted to men who had finished the regular treatment program.  I had a buddy (Jerry) whom I could call if my temper flared up.  Jerry was part of my process or control plan for dealing with my anger issues rather than acting out.  There was more to the plan that included walks and other means of cooling off. 

I do not know whether my marriage would have been saved if I had gone through this program earlier.  I do know my wife would have been a lot happier and my daughter would probably still be speaking to me.  Another thing I know is that my nightmares went away.

Getting back to my “Endless Horizon Theory,” I first observed it in the anger support groups that I went to weekly.  Before coming to these groups, most “angry” men were in denial.  It was always, “they or she made me do it.”  “It was not my fault.”  The horizon of most men in terms of their awareness of themselves was very short.  After they went to treatment, they made it to a new horizon of sorts.  From this new horizon, many men could now understand that it was their fault not the fault of others around them.  If they chose to, they did not have to go through life angry, violent and abusive.  Standing at the horizon of having accepted their responsibility for their anger, they could see a new horizon.  This horizon was one of equanimity and if not happiness, at least not misery.  The support groups offered a way to get to this next horizon.  As they say, “Rome was not built in a day.”  Well, dealing with anger problems involves a trip of years.  It would not be an easy journey for many of these men.

I stayed in the group for nearly two years.  Many of the men I met during these two years were also long-timers.  Our support group seemed to grow together as friends and comrades along the journey.  I think many of us made it to the next horizon.  When I arrived there, I saw another horizon just beyond the one I had reached.  We had all assumed that the best we could get would be a life without being constantly angry and explosive.  When I came to this new horizon, I began to understand that there was more that I could accomplish.  The next horizon promised happiness and a positive outlook to life.  Many of us had gone from a negative outlook on life to a neutral outlook and now saw a horizon that promised a positive outlook.

“We must let go of the life we have planned, so as to accept the one that is waiting for us.” — Joseph Campbell

Unfortunately, the Wilder Center did not see that as the role of these support groups.  They saw their mission as helping to curb domestic abuse.  They did not see their mission as helping men grow and develop beyond their ability to control their anger issues.  With the lack of support and even hostility towards our new goal, many of the long-termers in my group simply quit and went away.  I kept in touch with a few men, but the years have melted these relationships away. 

“Growth is painful. Change is painful. But, nothing is as painful as staying stuck where you do not belong.” — N. R. Narayana Murthy

I realized that when I reached one horizon, I could now see beyond it to a new horizon. It was clear to me that there was possibly an infinite number of new horizons.  If one has the tenacity, discipline and determination, there is no end to the development that we potentially can reach.  Another experience gave me more proof for my theory of “Endless Horizons.”

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My second wife Karen and I have both been to two Marriage Encounter weekends.  We went to our first Marriage Encounter weekend about five years into our marriage.  The second weekend was about ten years after the first.  Both weekends had very positive impacts on our marriage, friendship and lives.  My horizon theory was further strengthened by events that happened at both weekends.  I will relate the events at the first weekend.

I was long past worrying about anger issues by the time of our first Marriage Encounter weekend.  I had been trying to be more tolerant of Karen and some of the things that she did that annoyed me.  I had reached what I will call a Horizon of Tolerance.  I thought I was doing pretty good when I could practice tolerance.  When I could not, I would be sarcastic, rude and frustrated.  We went to the first weekend as a means of improving our marriage.  I will forever be grateful to the organizations and volunteers that put these weekends on.  We have found that both these weekends helped us to be better lovers, parents and friends.

Well, during the first weekend, we were having some discussion about the issue of tolerance.  I was pretty pumped up because I thought I was doing pretty good with dealing with this issue.  I made the remark that I thought I was very tolerant.  The response I received caught me by surprise.  It was something to the effect that tolerance falls short of respecting the other person. The speaker explained that tolerance simply accepts what is.  Respect on the other hand sees the benefits and appreciates the value of what is.  There is a significant difference between respect and tolerance.  For instance, we can tolerate minorities or people who are different than we are but that is not the same as respecting them.

I was confronted with a new horizon for my relationship with Karen and our marriage. Again, I realized that this new horizon further supported my “Endless Horizon” theory of growth and development.  I had finally accepted (and thus my theory was born) that there is an endless number of horizons.  Each horizon presents a new possibility for growth.  We cannot see beyond our present horizon, but we can be sure that something new will await us once we reach it.

“Strength and growth come only through continuous effort and struggle.”  — Napoleon Hill

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What does it take to reach a horizon?  I said earlier that you must have determination.  It helps to have support and coaching along the way.  As the song says, “I get by with a little help from my friends.”  It also takes commitment to keep trying.  There are lots of potholes along the way. There are dead-ends.  There are large crevasses, boulders and obstacles to overcome.  There are no straight flat highways to the next horizon.  It is not a straight-line journey.  There are times when you will get lost and times when you will go backwards.  But the journey is not to the fittest but to the ones who are most determined.

Time for Questions:

What horizon are you at in your life?  What new horizons have you found in your life’s journey?  What obstacles have you had to overcome?  Have you given up on finding new horizons or are you still searching for new horizons?  Why or why not?

Life is just beginning.

“The journey is never ending. There’s always gonna be growth, improvement, adversity; you just gotta take it all in and do what’s right, continue to grow, continue to live in the moment.” — Antonio Brown

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