By: Mark Ford

I often dream about how fun it would be to bring someone who only knew the world as it was 50 years ago into the world we live today. Wouldn’t it be fun to show them how everyone has their own personal phone that they carry with them everywhere they go? Wouldn’t it be cool to show them the cars we drive and of course the heated seats! How would they respond when they saw the internet for the first time or asked for a road map only to find out they do not exist anymore? Would they be surprised to see that we have hundreds of channels to choose from on our televisions and not just three? Oh, and wouldn’t it be fun to see their faces light up when we were able to FaceTime with a distant relative in another part of the world? I personally think they would be surprised that there is a coffee shop on every corner and that we have so many “drive-thrus”! The world we live in is surely different than the world 50 years ago. In many areas, such as technology and transportation, we have seen the world make great progress. Nevertheless, have we as individuals progressed in the same manner?

Progress can be defined as the development of an individual or society in a direction considered more beneficial than and superior to the previous level. Considering that many people living 50 years ago were considered part of “The Greatest Generation”, I am mindful of the possibility that we have not progressed as a society as much as we would hope. However, what is more important is the personal question of our progress as individuals. As we take a look at our individual lives can we be confident that we are making progress in a direction that is superior than our previous level.

When I think of progress, I think of my good friend AP (his actual name is Anthony, but everyone knows him as AP). I have had the privilege of hanging out with AP for the past 7 years. He and I have become great friends and although he would say that I mentor him and invest in his life, I truly believe I have learned more from him than he has learned from me. AP has told me many times that “every day, I try and be a better version of the person I was yesterday”. In my eyes, that statement embodies true progress. When it comes to progress, AP is a credible source. When he was 10 years old his father passed away and then the very next year his mother passed away. As an 11-year-old, he literally lived by himself for a period of time until an older brother (in his early 20’s) came and took him in. Another older brother was sent to prison during this time. AP struggled through school. He was kicked out of Jr. High for fighting and was in and out of juvenile delinquent centers. He had a very stubborn heart that resulted in lots of fighting and lots of trouble. He was able to graduate from High School but then had nowhere to go so he found a bus and lived on this bus for over 2 years. He eventually made his way to Canada and met a friend who happened to be from Fresno. She saw AP’s potential and told AP that her Father owned a business in Fresno and if he wanted to move there, she was sure her Dad would put him to work. Well, AP took her up on this golden opportunity and moved from Canada to Fresno and was put in charge of washing company vehicles. His new family in Fresno brought him into their household and helped AP progress. He made the commitment to himself that he was going to break through the obstacles he had in life and become the best version of himself that he could possibly be. Today AP is the Executive Director of Neighborhood Industries whose mission is to reveal the value in people through their work and then help them breakdown the barriers that have prevented them from being the best version of themselves. AP’s biggest sense of progress was when he crossed the bridge from being a recipient to being a contributing member of society. He is passionate about his work because he is constantly helping people overcome the obstacles they have in life and progress to the next level.

I have another friend who is making great progress in life. Ironically, to make this progress he is actually losing part of himself. Literally! He has been a great friend of mine for over 15 years. He is also the one who keeps all of our technology running and up to speed on a day by day basis. You could say that it is his responsibility to keep our companies “technologically healthy”. He does an outstanding job at this. Unfortunately, this health did not cross over to his personal life. Monte would admit that he was not in a healthy place and was carrying so much weight that his heart was working beyond its ability and was on borrowed time. He knew he had to do something about it even though he was scared to death of surgeries. Nevertheless, Monte knew that if he were going to progress in this life, he had to go through with it. Monte had a bypass surgery and learned a new way of living. Everything about eating and nutrition has changed for him. He now measures out his food, drinks liquids continuously, and has committed to strict pathway for health. Day by day he is making progress. As of today, Monte has lost 115 lbs. That is progress! Every day he is literally a “better version” of himself. I am proud of my friend!

Progress is becoming a better version of myself than the day before. The beautiful thing is that this looks different for each and every one of us. It is easy to get caught in the trap of comparison. However, we must remember that God made us all different and we are all in different places in life. For one person it is progress to go another day without giving in to an addiction. Yet, for another person it may be progress to finish their first marathon. For another it may be progress to forgive their spouse. The thing I need to remember for myself is to be the best version of the person I was created to be. My hope is that you will be as well.

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