Last night, I gave a talk at an induction to an honor society, and the speech that I wrote was pretty cathartic for me, to say the least.
One of the people who rebuilt Europe after World War II was a real moving target, a gifted statesman, and remarkable leader, named Konrad Adenauer. He wrote something that seemed fitting to remember: “We all live under the same sky, but we don’t have the same horizon.”
Many people are defined by their horizons, or those boundaries that have been put there for one reason or another. For a leader like you, the horizon is a challenge, a beacon, to explore the world, and I don’t think there is a better time to explore! In every academic field, there is a need for people who know how to think, to lead, and to pursue ideas and make them reality. Technology advancements have become a new horizon, too, and the advancements in technology have holistically changed almost every aspect of our lives, except for one. This one aspect, often a missing ingredient in many people’s plans for their future, is persistence.
Whether you call it tenacity, the ability to stick to it, diligence, or determination, there is no substitute for persevering in reaching your goals. Louis Pasteur, the scientist who revolutionized medicine and food preparation in France, then the world, felt that his success was due to his ability to work through ideas to the end. Thomas Edison, the radical inventor in America, created over 3,000 theories on the light bulb, and only 2 of them ended up being true and valuable, but those two ideas have changed everything. B. C. Forbes commented that “diamonds are only lumps of coal that stuck to their jobs.” Each of these leaders understood the value of persistence and the differences a long-term effort can make in the world.
Let’s make it more personal. As mentioned earlier, I lead sea turtle research in the summers on a barrier island off the coast of Georgia near Savannah. Every year, we have hundreds of loggerhead sea turtles, along with the occasional other species, on our beach to lay eggs and then return to the water. Each nest takes around 80 days to incubate, and then hatchlings emerge and return to the ocean. With a definite ‘AWWWWW” factor, the hatchlings dash to the water to survive, and only a small fraction live to adulthood. In 25 to 35 years, sea turtles reach maturity and start reproducing, and return to the area of their hatching to lay their own eggs. That means that the nests that I saw being laid when I was an obnoxious high-schooler are only now returning to lay nests of their own. The persistent efforts of teams like mine have protected the habitat of an endangered and protected species and actually increased the number of hatchlings and nests where other nesting beaches that are developed and populated have seen sharp declines. For almost 40 years, this program has been quietly making a difference and teaching others about the value of environmental conservation and cohabitation for both humans and fragile species.
Your persistent efforts gradually, but effectively, change the horizons for all of us in a way that is transformative of the environment, but most especially, of you. Here’s a little known secret: diligence to a task is not an additive process, but a multiplier that makes changes occur in ways that nobody can predict effectively.
Persistence also works your goals into realities. Don’t be shy about what your dreams include, whether that involves having a steady job as an automotive repair specialist in Athens, Georgia, or a volunteer veterinary assistant in Costa Rica. You can make all the goals you like, but until you start putting forth effort into reaching one goal and moving to the next, you simply have a goal, not an accomplishment. About two years ago, I had the opportunity to create a new goal and attend a residency in Spain. I met the goal, attended the residency, and have decided that my goal and my horizons are enlarged. In July of 2013, I plan to move to Valencia, Spain, to start a new adventure. I have always wanted to live in another country, but other things, such as raising my three daughters, made it more important to stay where I was. Now, every action I take is weighed in the perspective of my future, including everything from retirement plans to buying a new toaster. Don’t be afraid to set exciting or unexpected goals, but remember that you will have to be persistent in many things to reach that goal.
The final “secret” that I can share with you is that when you have persistence to accomplish something that you moves you greatly, you are able to change your world. Some people call this passion, and I call it engagement. When you are engaged, you are committing to the long and short term consequences of your actions, and you are able to reap the benefits of your persistence that is multiplying your efforts. Whether this engagement is in your personal life, such as a wedding engagement, or your work life, such as completing your degree to set yourself forward in your career, or your private life, where you spend time recharging your enthusiasm and energy levels, engagement is all about pursuing a higher calling. Your horizons are blown further out, because your potential to make a difference in your world becomes an unstoppable force, regardless of the bumps along the way. And please don’t forget that if you are feeling bumps, then it is because you are actually moving.
In closing, let me encourage you to consider your horizons, your persistence, and your engagement, in the days and weeks to come. Stretching your horizons means that you seek to outgrow the boundaries that are in place in your life, and the only way to do this is to continually set meaningful goals and reach and learn to accomplish that goals. The next idea, persistence, means that when you reach one goal, you immediately set another that continues to challenge you and forces you to grow. The third concept, engagement, means that you put your effort where your heart is, and that you are sticking to a path of making a difference in the activities that are meaningful to you. As I said at the beginning of our time together, you are filled with potential, but that is nothing compared with what you can do when you seek your goals until they become a way of life that is as meaningful as possible to you.
You’re here now, so what will your next goal be to create new horizons in your life?
“We all live under the same sky, but we don’t have the same horizon.” Where is your horizon calling you?