The definition of hell: “On your last day on earth, the person you became will meet the person you could have become.” I stumbled onto this quote while working on motivational ideas for an upcoming business retreat. The thing blew through my head like a red-hot steel rod. Those of us who hope to be self-aware take frequent temperature of how we’re performing versus our personal goals. Still, that succinctness of “meeting the person you could have become” is staggeringly powerful. A person no less colorful than Mae West once said, “You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.” And she would have known. Love her or hate her, Mae West lived large and kicked open doors all around her. But generally, we don’t get second chances. Tonya Harding begged for one – and got it, but the moment had already passed and now she’s a by-word and a sad snicker. Oh, when she meets the person she could have become versus who she became. That’s a morality tale for the ages. This, “meet the person we could have become” challenges us to push our boundaries to the best we’re able. To learn more, forge ahead more, risk more, help more, mentor more, teach more, love more. Far less dawdling, and far more building toward goals we’ve developed through careful pondering of potential. Yeah, it sounds like hard work and is – but for most, the benefits are boundless. Ask most kids who’ve worked to get themselves through college into interesting careers and most will answer, “the pain was worth the gain.” Perhaps we should focus more on what might be the rewards of our best efforts rather than the perceived “sacrifices” to get there – personally, in our families, and even nationally. Imagine this: “As our last day as a sovereign nation the country we became will meet the country we could have become.” Countries rise and countries fall. Not many make it in one piece for more than a couple of hundred years. The U.S. has already beaten the odds – and already had a close call with the Civil War. We do have a lifespan and that will be determined by the decisions we made yesterday, today, and the decisions we make in the future. Are we headed in the right direction? Are our hearts, goals, and national effort pointed in the right directions? How we address social justice, economic viability, health and welfare of our human resources, husbandry of our national resources. Decisions on all this – decisions happening right now – are determining the country we will become in the future – vs. what might have been. “What might have been…” There’s cost and benefits to our decisions, and lately it seems we’ve made bad trades. What had we put that two-trillion we lost in Iraq War II into American infrastructure and American educational excellence? How would our freeways, bridges, public transportation and children look today, versus how they actually are? We made bad investment choices and have already downgraded the “who we are, versus who we could have become.’ Heading into 2018, I hear of no actual grand plans for making America great. Slogans and MAGA hats, yes. But real blueprints for building a nation that’s truly a beacon to the whole world of the best mankind can strive for – no, not at all. No grand plans for building the best infrastructure. No grand plans for making our K-12 educational system the best in the world again. No grand plans for restoring our fiscal prudence and longevity. No grand plans for at least getting competitive with other modern nations regarding health care for all citizens. There is lots of talk about shutting the world out of our borders, about spreading even more guns inside, about “getting tough on crime” again, about eliminating public health care, and of cracking down on welfare” – basically, class warfare against the poor. We’ve achieved a new tax scheme that creates trillion dollar gains for our nation’s very most wealthy. And this, while we empty out the treasury and further expand our deficit. We’ve just made a very real choice to trade our future national wealth to guild a very select minority of super rich today. While some of the .01 percent may applaud this lofty achievement of upwardly wealth-transfer, I doubt this whole tax gambit will make America the country she could have been. It’s akin to a father stealing from his kid’s college fund for use as a down payment on a new boat. These are bad, bad choices. It’s heart-rendering to view the callousness of Washington – and to hear this recent action called, “great.” China passes us in infrastructure. Scandinavia in education. But no one beats us in incarceration and war. Real time, we’re witnessing a bad trade-off of the country we became versus the country we could have become. We’ve got real challenges pressing to be addressed, but instead get tax cuts for the super-rich while, for good measure, kicking the knees out of public health care. As with our personal lives, our nation must aspire higher and perform better – for America as a whole, for our entire people. For, to look back in twenty or thirty years and see entire generational opportunities squandered – that would indeed be hell. Gary Horton is a Santa Clarita resident. “Full Speed to Port!” appears Wednesdays in The Signal.