By Dale Peterson, MD Building Health


One morning I surveyed my yard after a rainstorm.   Water had come down not in drops, but in solid ribbons so that objects just a few feet away had been obscured as though partially hidden by a series of shimmering sheer curtains. Since no winds had accompanied the rain no branches had been lost. The lawn was free of debris. The pets had weathered the storm and were in their usual high spirits. All appeared well with the world.


As I was about to return to the house I happened to glance up. There atop a silver maple tree was a lone branch extending toward the sky. It had obviously taken the brunt of the driving rain. Many of its leaves had been stripped away. A tuft of leaves remained at the tip, giving it the appearance of a freshly groomed poodle’s tail.

That slender shoot, waving gently in the breeze, struck me as a metaphor of what it means to grow – to spread one’s horizons. If that branch were not reaching for the stars the tree would no longer be growing taller, no longer expanding the area encompassed by its shade.

The branch benefits from being on the leading edge. It is the first to receive the sunshine in the morning and the last to be darkened at night. It moves freely in the breeze without bumping into other branches. It is guaranteed to receive moisture from the lightest shower.

As the recent storm showed, however, there are some distinct drawbacks to being out in front. It is battered by the changing winds. If it were not for its flexibility it would be broken off in an instant. It is going to be assaulted from time to time and yes, as the rain proved, it is occasionally going to be hurt.

As I reflected on that thin shaft supporting the few remaining leaves I asked myself, “Would I rather be like that branch – growing, reaching new heights, experiencing the sunshine and the rain, taking on the storms of life – or would I rather be like one of the central branches, experiencing relative safety within the surrounding foliage?” It is a question each of us should ask ourselves and our children.

Growth requires courage. In his book, “Man’s Search for Himself,” Rollo May makes an astute observation. “The opposite of courage today is not cowardice,” he writes, “but conformity.” Going along with the crowd is nearly always the easy way. It is rarely the bravest.

I see examples of courage on a regular basis. The young person who refuses to give into peer pressure to try tobacco, alcohol, or drugs. The young man or young woman who chooses abstinence over condoms or contraception in a society bent on promoting the joys of promiscuity. The individual faced with a chronic or life threatening disease who says, “I will not accept the prognosis given to me by medical statisticians. I will find a way to control this disease rather than letting this disease control me. I will live my life to the fullest and if I am going to go down I will go down fighting!”

I recently interviewed a young woman on my radio show.  During her high school and college years she was severely limited by generalized anxiety and chronic back pain.  She found herself taking multiple drugs, which numbed her fears and pain, but also left her going through the motions of life without really living.  She was tempted to give up, but instead she chose to grow.  After learning how to control her anxiety and pain through exercise, she was able to wean herself off all drugs.  Today she is a premiere personal trainer helping others succeed.

Growth requires flexibility.  It requires us to keep an open mind so that we are able seek out answers to the challenges life throws our way.  Successful families are open to new concepts and able to adapt to the changes that come across their paths. An old proverb says it well: Change is inevitable – growth is optional. It is never too early to begin teaching children to view challenges as opportunities for personal growth.  It is never too late for parents and grandparents to do the same.


Dale Petersen MD

By Dale Peterson, MD- Building Health

Dr. Dale Peterson is a graduate of the University of Minnesota College of Medicine. He completed his residency in FamilyMedicine at the University of Oklahoma. He is a past president of the Oklahoma Academy of  Family Physicians. He had a full-time family practice in Edmond, Oklahoma, for over 20 years and was a Chief of Staff of the Edmond Hospital. He was active in teachingfor many years as a Clinical Professor of Family Medicine through the Oklahoma University Health Sciences Center.

Dr. Peterson left his full-time family practice in 1999 to consult with individuals who are seeking ways to restore and maintain their health through improved nutrition and other lifestyle changes. He founded the Wellness Clubs of America to give people access to credible information on supporting and maintaining their health.  His monthly wellness letter, Health by Design, and his Health by Design E-Newsletter provide helpful information to individuals interested in preventing and conquering health challenges.  His book Building Health by Design:  Adding Life to Your Years and Years to Your Life was released in December 2010.

Dr. Peterson speaks regularly on subjects related to health and nutrition. He hosted a weekly radio program,Your Health Matters, on KTOK in Oklahoma City for five years. For the past nine years he has addressed questions from across the nation on his Your Health Matters weekly teleconference.He offers a free video LifeXtension course at

Latest posts by Dale Petersen MD (see all)

Dale Petersen MDBuilding Health Medical ColumnEmotional and Social Well-being,Health    By Dale Peterson, MD - Building Health   One morning I surveyed my yard after a rainstorm.   Water had come down not in drops, but in solid ribbons so that objects just a few feet away had...Parenting Support | Family Fun Activities for Kids