My grandmother came to this country as a teenager, leaving Romania.  She did not have a high school diploma (I don’t even know how many years of schooling she had).  She had no family in America, other than her sister who came over to the US at about the same time.  She did not have a job lined up.  She was an Orthodox Christian, but not one of any of the “established” religions in the US.  However, in the early 1910’s, World War I was looming over the continent.    Her to-be husband left sometime earlier in order to avoid being forced into the Austria-Hungarian Army.  He did not want to fight someone else’s war, for a country he was not a citizen (Romania was a conquered territory of the Austria-Hungary Empire at that time).

Like so many others, these immigrants came to the Land of Opportunity, to start a new life.  Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty beckoned, and they made it through.  Eventually, my grandmother settled in Ohio, got married, had a family, and became a widow at a very young age.  She became a US citizen in time.  The family survived and thrived.  Somewhere along the line she became a house mother and cook at a local fraternity.  She even learned to speak English.

In the end, I am here because of her.

I tell that short story because I always think of it when I hear discussion of immigration policy.  There is so much talk about not letting “outsiders” in.  We don’t want the “trash” of other countries coming over here.  “They will just take our jobs”.  They represent a changing America.  They don’t speak our language.  They are not the same religion as us.  They threaten the American way of life.

Back in the 1910’s, many Americans did not want to let in “outsiders”.  Eastern Europeans were darker skinned, spoke different languages, had different religions and were not necessarily advocates of democracy.  Some who came were anarchists, believing in no government.  Some were people kicked out of their country for various reasons.  But many of them got into America.  We did the same thing with Irish in the 1840’s and 1850’s (we can’t let those Catholics in!).  Italians faced a similar dislike after the Civil War (they are all being sent here by the Pope to take over our country).  Russian Jews were thrown out of their country in the late 19th Century (the Czar needed someone to blame for bad conditions).  If you are interested, look at this short article about an anti-Catholic magazine from 100 years ago (

But you know what?  That “trash”, those immigrants, are now our country. And many of us would not be here if not for them.  They were just trying to make a better life for themselves.  Where they lived in Europe was hazardous, and in some cases, dangerous.  They came here and became part of our fabric.

So what makes today different?

Try to think about this post the next time you read about immigration rhetoric.


Shifting your focus from the problem

In his book (It’s not about the Shark), Dr. David Niven writes about the flaws in focusing on the problem rather than focusing on the solution.  His point is this.  When we focus on something, our attention is drawn to it.  Often this leads to a single-minded thinking that may be counterproductive.  We make ourselves unable to see past that problem to alternatives that might be the answer.

Another way of looking at this is to say a better way to address problems is to focus on alternate solutions rather than simply the problem.  Focusing on the problem tends to make us myopic.  We are a hammer and everything looks like a nail.  Our minds seem to be wired to the fact that if we try NOT to do something, we are compelled to do it. Focusing on the problem, trying to solve that problem, means we only think about the problem.  We miss all of the opportunities to look at the situation in different ways.

Niven cites an example in his book that gives it is title.  In the movie Jaws, the mechanical shark built for the movie is a total disaster.  The shark keeps breaking down. It keeps sinking rather than floating.  When it is finally put into the ocean, the salt water corrodes its mechanical parts.  The cost of the shark is way over budget. The movie is falling way behind deadlines. Getting the shark to work is the problem.  Numerous people on the movie set are working on solving this problem, but they can’t.  Their focus on the problem – the shark won’t work and it is the star of the movie – is making this movie a potential bust. In desperation, Stephen Speilberg changes his focus.  Let’s not fix the shark.  What if the movie features a shark that was not seen (until near the end), but becomes a creature the audience creates in their own minds?  Now Speilberg doesn’t have to fix a malfunctioning shark.  The solution doesn’t fixate on the problem (the shark won’t work!) but becomes allowing the audience to use their imaginations.

Let me provide an example from my own life.  I am trying to build a coaching business.  I have decided that my interests and skills center around people and their careers.  The problem I face right now is I finding enough clients.  I am focused on the problem that I do not have enough clients.  The end result of that focus?  I think about “finding clients”.  I get frustrated when I think I have a prospective client but nothing works out.  My efforts are fits and starts. I get discouraged.  Counter-intuitively, sometimes I find things to do other than try to build my business (ignore the problem for a while).  I make excuses.  I “decide” things or form opinions not built on facts, but built on my limited experiences.

By focusing on the problem (“I can’t find clients”), I am taking my resources away from potential solutions.

Talking with someone the other day, without me really articulating my situation, they helped me see that I need to focus on the solution.  He asked, “what is my success plan”?  By this he meant, “What does it mean to be successful?” Once I get busy, my business becomes too successful, what am I going to do about that situation? What do things look like when I am doing great?

See how that switched my thinking?  I moved from “discouraged about not finding clients” to “trying to figure out what I am going to do when I am successful”. If you think about it, that is focusing on the positive (or at least the proactive) rather than focusing on the (negative) problem or some elusive target.  It got me thinking more creatively. It provided me a new vantage point.

Is there some problem in your life you are focused on that is holding you back?  Do you have a shark that is not working?

Did it and Didn’t

I felt like wrapping up my year by evaluating how I have done against what I wanted to do.  The best way I could do this was to measure myself against my values.  I am a firm believer that if you are not looking to accomplish things, while measuring how you did against those goals, you are probably not serious about them.  I take my goals seriously

So here goes.

#1 Work/Education.  Be a life-long learner  – to challenge myself mentally .  In work, be present in service to others

I completed my classes to achieve certification as a coach through the Gestalt Institute of Cleveland.  This was a life-changing event for me.  I learned so much about myself and how to work with others.  I am so glad I took the time to invest in the classes.  I also completed eight on-line courses through edX on a variety of subjects.  I learned a bunch and had fun experiencing what it is like to take an on-line course.

I consider work my biggest failure for the year.  I have just not figured it out.  Part of it is I have not completely nailed down the niche I want to serve.  Another part is my unwillingness to sell myself.  I severely underestimated how hard that is for me to do.

#2 Leisure.  Travel and ensure that I set aside time for reading and blogging.

I read 47 books this year.  A couple of them were among the best books I have ever read.  They challenged my thinking, told me a good story and added to my knowledge of history.  I am glad I took the time to read.  I read 98% non-fiction and don’t really want to expand beyond that for now.  Some people might say I am limiting myself a little bit, but I have a long list of books I still want to read.

I created 43 posts for my blog this year.  That is about what I would like to do.  I am happy I kept up with this blog.  I don’t have a lot of followers, so I really do it for myself.  And I think that is the right reason to do it.  I enjoy writing.

I traveled to to the beach at Hilton Head and Emerald Isle, NC.  I ran half marathon races in two more states that I had not run in before – Marshall, Michigan and Shepherdstown, WV. Nate and I traveled to Colorado Springs, Co and did a couple cool adventures.  Walking up the Manitou Incline tested my endurance and physical ability.  I need to find a way to get to Texas to see Luke and NYC to see Courtney.

#3 Relationships.  Be a person with a positive attitude, encourage others and recognize the good in others.  Be the kind of person that radiates positive energy.

I am doing pretty well with this.  Not working, I have less opportunity to directly influence people I  might see daily. Thus I am looking for other ways to accomplish that.  I am comfortable at the Fitness Center in being positive with other people who are working out.  I am making a concerted effort to engage the people I might encounter while in a store.  I am getting better in social situations engaging others.  But this is an area of growth for me.  I am generally a positive person, I just need to put myself out there more.

I still can improve on my willingness to engage others – especially social sessions with people I don’t necessarily share a known interest with.  I also could have done a better job staying in touch with extended family on a more regular basis.

#4 Personal Growth/Health.  Be active and fit so that I can continue to run and be able to enjoy physical activities.

This was an interesting year.  I ran my fastest time for a 5k race and a 10k race in six years.  But I also ran my slowest times ever for both of those races this year.  I learned something from each of those – and also acknowledge that age sometimes catches up with me.  I ran what I consider one of my best half marathon races in West Virginia.  While it was not my fastest ever, given the toughness of the course, it was nearly perfect.  I modified my fitness plan to include one day of rest a week.  This reaped great benefits in recovery from exercise and made me feel consistently better.  I realize that fitness is my #1 personal passion.

Overall, a good year.  But I have some ideas to make 2016 even better.  Best wishes to all for a great 2016.