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Gary Horton: Change happens, so should you

Full Speed to Port!

Posted: November 3, 2009 8:58 p.m.
Updated: November 4, 2009 4:55 a.m.
So, it’s my last week away at Wharton. I’ve been away on a five-week immersion advanced management course in Pennsylvania.

Wow! Has this been a challenge for a 53-year-old contractor dude.

Carrie arrived here Tuesday. The school has spouses show up for the last three days — either to create a shared learning experience, or simply to carry back their dead.

This is a meandering column, friends. If you’re not into human interest or don’t want to hear about Wharton’s glowing U.S. economic forecast, just flip to the classifieds. Don’t mind me, I’m going rogue.

I chose to do this mid-life executive makeover about four months ago. My business, like many out there, was in the basement — if not outright in the economic crapper.

The housing crash had crushed us. I’d managed my company through good and bad for 28 years, but the overwhelming recession was taking its toll and I’d gotten tired, grumpy, overweight, high blood-pressured and really felt a need for a good scrubbing and three coats of paint.

Going back to college for five weeks seemed like just the “crucible” to relaunch an old man onto a new trajectory.

The good news here is that even oldsters like me can change. We may move slow, but we can do it. I did — and although it was tough and taxing, all the effort was worth it. Heck, I’m even going to miss my dorm.

Many are facing career choices, financial troubles, weight issues — all kinds of big life concerns. I’m not special, but when I saw I finally needed to act, I plotted out a course for the improvement I needed, and now I’m just a couple of days from tying the knot and coming back, ready to roll.

We can meet our challenges. We can overcome our adversity. At 40, 50, 60 — whatever. It isn’t too late.

This week also became the “fourth ring on the belt” week. Some will recall I wrote three months back that the doc diagnosed me with high blood pressure and commanded me to lose 20 pounds. So I stopped eating the morning Starbucks muffins, switched from red meat to chicken and fish, knocked off the after-work wine and I walked or jogged 30 minutes each day.

Voila! Three months later I’m down 20 pounds and on the way towards seven more. Yesterday, as I cinched my belt the latch slid past the third ring right into the never-before-used fourth. Oh, to feel young again. We can change and restore ourselves.

Focus, consistent determination and desire are what it takes. Recognized crisis helps too, as we generally embrace change only once we get into hot water.

That’s a bad human habit, by the way. We’re forever reactive rather than proactive. Note to all of us: fix that one.

But the doc said I’d croak without change, and my business was croaking, too. That was my crisis (we all have our own) — and today, it feels just great to achieve the milestones and honestly make forward progress in business and health.

If you’ve got a self-improvement goal, pursue it. There’s scant future in staying stagnant.

If I didn’t learn anything else at Wharton, it’s that competition at a personal, local and global level is only getting tougher, harder and faster.

Most Americans don’t likely understand how the world is catching up — and in some places, passing us by. Things are progressing and changing so fast that much of what’s relevant now may well be obsolete in five years or less. We’re going to have to change to stay abreast and just stay afloat.

Meanwhile, good news and bad news back here at Wharton. They’ve got the smart guys here — generally, they’re the ones writing the books that move the trends. So, Wharton’s senior economist lectured us, explaining the inputs and outputs of the financial crash and this current great recession.

“Yes,” he said, “without Fed intervention, things would have been way, even unimaginably, worse.”

Don’t begrudge the bailouts or the Fed action. On the other hand, the crash never did need to happen. Three years of leadership asleep at the switch did us in.

But the good news is, the aforementioned senior professor sees snappy 5 percent GDP growth in early 2010. Perhaps 4 percent this quarter. By March, folks will be feeling secure in their jobs and start spending their money, and finally we’ll all start to have blood in our veins again.

Too bad then, the previous day famed futurist Jeremy Rifkin laid out the science behind the global warming devastation we’ll see in the next 20 to 40 years. It didn’t sound rosy.

The “take away” between these two old professors? Make money now and head for high ground for the pending eco-tragedy. And when your politicians trash renewable energy and vote stupid, turn them out on their dumb butts for smarter ones with brains — who still might help before things go too far out of hand.

We’ve got to embrace change in all areas to steel for our future. Sometimes we don’t like the work involved, but the need still stares us unblinkingly in the face.

Gary Horton lives in Valencia. 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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