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Gary Horton: ‘Full Speed Ahead' for our lives

Full Speed to Port!

Posted: September 29, 2009 10:21 p.m.
Updated: September 30, 2009 4:55 a.m.
For the next five weeks, I will be posting "Full Speed to Port" all the way from U Penn.

I've been either battered enough, or motivated enough, to participate in what the university calls its five-week "Advanced Management Program."

This gig is a 10-hour-a-day, six-days-a-week, "throw you in the deep end" affair. Call it a spruce-up or maybe just a kick in the executive pants - after this grinding recession, I'm feeling need for renewal.

Too young to call it quits, too old to lose what I have; it's time to sharpen the ax to fight my way through the post-recession jungle.

I bet many economically impacted readers may feel some similar need for renewal. We have all been tossed and turned and buffeted.

The school already has us deep into readings in advance of our arrival.

First up, "The Road to Self Renewal" by John Gardner.

President Johnson's Secretary of Health and Human Services, Gardner did a million other big things and served as CEO of the Carnegie Corporation.

From his long and varied perspective he observes:

"A good life requires constant personal adaptation - because above all, life is about constant change."

Boy, has this recession brought change to our lives.

"It's a puzzle," Gardner muses, "why some men and women go to seed, while others remain vital to the very end of their days. And why some people stop learning and growing."

Gardner observes that some people live life as a game that has a defined end point, where collecting a certain amount of things or accomplishments designates a "win."

Often, these folks finally attain their peak only to feel they've scaled the wrong mountain.

Worse, when life throws them body blows, knocking them off course, they flounder, confused.

Thinking "this wasn't supposed to happen to me" paralyzes them.

But, "life isn't a mountain with a summit to be conquered."

"Rather," Gardener says, "Life is an endless unfolding. And if we wish it to be, an endless process of self-discovery and unpredictable dialogue between our own potentialities and the life circumstances in which we find ourselves. An endless opportunity to experience the full range of one's capacities for learning, sensing, wondering, understanding, loving and aspiring."

Age isn't a factor in our learning or discovery of talent or ability.

We're never too old to assume we already know or can do everything we can.

Motivation makes us close to ageless, and allows us to open doors to new abilities to meet changing times.

Gardner suggests we have to be open to what these hard times are teaching us.

And while the lessons to be learned might be different for every one of us, the need for renewal is likely common to all.

He tells a fascinating story of great human renewal about a man who, at age 53, had spent most of his life in a losing struggle against debt and misfortune.

This man's tribulations make ours seem insignificant.

In the military, he lost the use of his left arm.

He was held captive for five years.

Later, he held two government jobs and succeeded at neither. At age 53, he found himself again in prison.

But in prison, this man shifted course and decided to write a book. The book would become one of the finest ever written, enthralling readers for centuries.

This 53-year-old impoverished prisoner was Miguel de Cervantes, and his book is the famous "Don Quixote."

Renewal from the very depths of despair.

After the devastating "dot-com" recession, Apple's Steve Jobs said, "We chose to innovate our way through this downturn so that we would be further ahead of our competitors when things turned up."

Meanwhile, 220 million iPods, 30 million iPhones and 8.5 billion songs sold later, it's inspiring to know Jobs saw innovation and renewal as the path to Apple's greatest successes, despite the enormous challenges of that period.

So much will be different for us going forward.

Our assumptions about vocations, earnings and security are shifting fast in a world gone wildly global.

Adapt or perish; most must make career, savings and retirement changes to stay ahead.

Good news is, provided our personal motivation, we've got good shots at turning lemons to lemonade and challenge to achievement as we navigate and adapt to life's new, ever-changing course.

So confidently trim up your sails as promising and prudent, and set out full speed ahead into the new world before us.

Gary Horton is a Santa Clarita resident. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal. "Full Speed to Port!" appears Wednesdays in The Signal.


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