Monday, November 28, 2011

Taking Control...

"God give me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change...the courage and strength to change the things I can...and the wisdom to know the difference" ~ Rev. Reinhold Niebuhr

On my desk there is currently a "to-do" list two pages long. There are several requests for proposals and/or quotes, budgets for next year, people to follow-up with, marketing projects, website fixes and up-grades, as well as a multitude of other assorted tasks that any small business owner may be responsible for doing.

If I so desired, I could work 16 hours a day, 7-days a week but in the end...I’d still have a two-page "to-do" list on my desk...

One might believe that because I have so much to life is full of stress. In reality, I’m really no busier than other people and in fact, most of time I am typically less stressed than many of my friends and colleagues.

Am I less stressed because I don’t care or because I do a lot of stress-reduction exercises like yoga and meditation?... No, not particularly (although I do attend a yoga class periodically just to get in some good stretching). 

The keys to stress reduction are found by examining the two main factors of stress creation.

The first primary cause of stress is the loss of control. We all want a certain amount of autonomy in our lives. We all want to control our own destiny and not rely on other people’s decisions or actions. When we feel that we have no control over a situation, it causes a certain amount of stress and fear within us. 

We worry about losing our jobs, our house, or our retirement accounts. We get stressed when our flight gets cancelled or when we’re stuck in rush-hour traffic. We get disappointed when we don’t make a sale to a customer who clearly needs our product or service. While it is true that poor planning may have contributed to our current circumstances, the solution is beyond our own control.

Unmet expectations are another form of control loss. We expect people to behave the way we want them to behave and when they don’t, we get angry. We worry about when our children make poor decisions and do things that they shouldn’t do. We get upset when our sports teams lose. We get mad at politicians, bankers, insurance companies, organized labor, and the legal system because we believe that they have betrayed the trust we have placed in them. We feel alone when our relationships end or our significant others don’t measure up to what we want or expect.

We have no control over other people...their thoughts, their behavior, their attitude, and their emotions are all individual unique to them. We can only control how we act and how we respond to others.

The second primary cause of stress is time (or lack thereof). It’s not the amount of work that causes’s adding the element of time and creating deadlines that creates stress in people.

I often found myself highly stressed in college because students were expected to learn and understand a subject within a specific allotted time frame. There would be a test given on a particular day and time. If you didn’t know the material by then, you would fail. It didn’t matter if you learned the subject matter an hour, a day or a week later...the test was over. The deadline had elapsed. Move on.

As I’ve gotten older, I have noticed that less and less things have true hard deadlines. Even when paying your taxes with a hard April 15 deadline, there are time extensions. And if you don’t meet the extension time frame...then you pay a penalty and some goes on.

If you remove the time and control components, then the stress simples melts away.

Which brings us to the holiday season...
The holidays can be extremely stressful to many individuals because...
  1. We simply cannot control all of the possible outcomes and we cannot control the thoughts or actions of other people.
  2. There are deadlines.
There is the turkey that is still frozen the morning of Thanksgiving. The late November snowstorm that cancelled or delayed flights throughout the Northeast. Guests arrive several hours late due to gridlock traffic and are in a foul mood. The plate of stuffing that was accidentally knocked over by children playing the kitchen. The belligerent relative who consumed too many adult beverages. A screaming baby who is colicky.

There is the lights to be hung, trees to be trimmed, gifts to be purchased and dinners to be planned all before the December 25th deadline arrives. There are packed shopping malls, where even finding a parking space is a challenge to most. There are toys to assemble, cookies to bake and school Christmas pageants to attend.

There are the last-minute travel arrangements that need to be made. 

There are 2012 budgets and the new product launch that need to be completed before the new-year. There are smaller than expected year-end bonuses due to smaller profits but seemingly more work. There are office parties and get-togethers at close friends both on the same night. There are babysitters to arrange.

Too much to do...not enough time...UGH!!

Stop!...take a deep’ll be okay...I promise.

Time to remove the stress elements...

Maybe this year you decide to spend your Thanksgiving and/or Christmas serving meals down at the local homeless shelter or spending it with an elderly shut-in...instead of hosting a dinner for 30 people at your home...your family will understand...and if’s their issue not yours...

Maybe this year you decide not to buy gifts to exchange but rather give a donation to "Toys for Tots"...maybe you family can "adopt" a local family who don’t have resources to exchange gifts this year...your kids might even learn a valuable life lesson in the process...and be a bit thankful for what they have.

No need this year to buy a tree or hang outdoor Christmas lights...but instead you plant a tree (or two or three) at your local park...for all to enjoy for years to come (you might even want to jazz it up with some bio-degradable tinsel).

Perhaps this year you accept that smaller bonus with a big smile knowing that you’re still employed while so many are without a job this holiday...and think how quiet it’ll be around the office with everyone gone and the phones not ringing...plenty of time now to finish those end-of-the-year projects.

Suppose this year, you stayed at home playing a classic board game completing a jigsaw puzzle rather than go out with friends, watching endless sports on TV, or traveling out of town to see relatives.

The holidays don’t have to be’s a season for giving thanks and spreading joy...not killing ourselves trying to make things perfect. 

We have the power to make our lives what we want...if we don’t like our situation...then we can change may be a challenge to many of us...but it’s our life...we demand better!

Thank you very much for your support of OptiFuse where we try to create peace rather than stress in people’s lives.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Life Interrupted...

"So much time and so little to do...wait...strike that...reverse it...thank you" ~ Willy Wonka

My girlfriend's daughter Mia is an alto in her school's choir.  This last weekend I listened as she intently practiced her part for an upcoming recital.  Over and over again she warbled out the chorus to the song "Seasons of Love" from the hit stage production "Rent"... 

Five-hundred twenty-five thousand six-hundred minutes...

Five hundred twenty-five thousand six-hundred moments so dear...

Five hundred twenty-five thousand six-hundred minutes...

How do you measure...measure a year?...

Perhaps since I'm a relatively young healthy person, five hundred twenty-five thousand six-hundred minutes sounds like a lot of time to me.  It probably seems that way to a lot of people.   

It is so much time, in fact...that we waste many of those minutes each year doing absolutely nothing productive.  Of course, there needs to be rest and relaxation, not everyone can be "on" all the time but how many hours are spent sitting in front of the television, playing video games, read trashy novels, or surfing the web looking for funny videos?

If you were only given a year to live...then five hundred twenty-five thousand six-hundred minutes wouldn't seem like so much time at all...

Time is a non-renewable resource...yet we wake up each day thinking that we each have another day to live...

This past September, I had the opportunity to go on a 630-mile bicycle ride along the California coast with five friends who despite their middle-age, would be considered to be in top physical shape.  For 9 days, we each awoke at dawn, rode 50-100 miles over the time-span of 5-10 hours (counting lunch breaks and numerous photo opportunities). 

Each evening the six of us met for dinner to celebrate our accomplishments of the day and plan our course of action for the following day.  We shared our photos, thoughts and experiences of that day's ride with the group.  We laughed about the pains in our joints and muscles, our sun-burnt faces, and our wind-chapped lips.  We rejoiced that we had safely completed the day's ride without major incidence.

After nine days, on October 2nd, we crossed the finish line in San Diego, celebrated with friends and family and went home to our families.  We had embarked on the journey as relative strangers but returned as compatriots filled with a lifetime of memories.

For about a week after returning to our "normal lives", the five of us would continue to talk, email or text, sharing photos and memories of the ride after the fact.  In only nine days, we had become best friends and comrades.

Then in the late afternoon of Wednesday October 19th, my mobile phone rang.  The caller ID told me it was Therese, one of our riders, so when I answered the call I was surprised to hear her husband's voice on the other end of the line. 

I tried to exchange some pleasantries with him but he quickly interrupted me by saying, "Jimmy...I have some terrible news for you"...

"Lori (another of our 5 riders) was at the gym this morning working out with her trainer when she felt a bit dizzy.  She sat down for a spell and then passed out.  The paramedics were called to the scene and she was taken to a local hospital.  After being examined by the doctors in the emergency room she was flown to the a major hospital in Salt Lake City where she was pronounced brain-dead due to a massive intra-cerebral hemorrhage."

I immediately thought he was couldn't be.  Only two weeks ago she was riding her bicycle down the coast of California.  She was in phenomenal physical shape.  Now she was lying in a hospital bed waiting for her organs to be harvested.

After discussing some more of the details surrounding Lori's death, I hung up the phone.

I slumped in the chair behind my desk and was emotionally numb.  I reflected for a moment about her smile and incredibly positive attitude along the ride.  She often talked about a cookbook that she was trying to publish before the holidays with 500 or more recipes.  I remembered our conversations about her flying lessons and about her children.  Each day along the ride she would amaze me with her extensive knowledge about the cattle (she and her husband were ranchers in Wyoming), business philosophies, geo-politics, and the media.  She was a talented musician and we chatted about jazz (Dave Brubeck's decision to compose his famous tune "Take 5" in a seemingly complex 5/7 time) and popular music of today.  Lori was an active outdoors woman who ran marathons, skied, bicycled, rode horses and hunted.  

She was extremely active in her church and devoted much of her time promoting philanthropic causes but was respectful of other's beliefs, refraining from attempting to convert people to her particular views.

Lori Barney was a true renaissance woman who lived each day to its fullest but it was her infectious smile and humility that made her stand apart from the crowd.  She listened intently to people and found ways to make everyone around her feel special.

She was an extraordinary person who I had only known for a few short weeks but who made such a positive impact on my life as well as the lives of others. 

When she awoke that Wednesday morning she had no idea that fateful day would be her last but I suspect that if she did, she would have been comforted by knowing that she gave life all she could give.

I suspect Lori would have forsaken all that she had or had accomplished for another five-hundred twenty-five thousand six-hundred minutes on this earth...or maybe simply another twenty-five...just so that she could tell those whom she loved the most...I love you and good-bye.

Thanks to all of you for your wonderful support of OptiFuse these last ten years.  We truly appreciate your support as we try to make a difference in an otherwise mundane world of circuit protection.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Death of a Salesman...

Our greatest glory comes not from never failing, but in rising up every time we fail. ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

When I was growing up, music was a big part of my family’s life. I suppose this was the reason why, at the age of 10, I asked my parents to allow me to take guitar lessons.

Although we didn’t have many financial resources, my parents bought me an old second-hand (or perhaps it was even third-hand) acoustic guitar and enrolled me in a guitar class taught by our local YMCA. The group consisted of one teacher and about 35 beginning students.

The teacher did her best to teach us some basic notes and chords, but in the end, I didn’t learn too much other than the fact that I didn’t have any real natural talent for music.

I explained to my parents that it must have been the large class size that limited my progress (not the fact that I rarely practiced anything that was taught in class).

My parents, not wanting me to give up so easy, enrolled me in private lessons at our local music store. I attended a 30-minute private lesson for nearly two years and by the end of this time, I could just about play Twinkle-Twinkle Little Star by heart. The lack of practice and dedication proved my downfall.

The primary problem of mastering an instrument is that learning is very slow in the beginning. Certain basic techniques need be understood and mastered before any real music can be played. Holding the pick, positioning the hands and fingers, and even learning how to tune the strings are fundamental skills that need to be learned before the first note is even played on a guitar. There aren’t really any shortcuts in learning these skills, it just takes time and consistent practice.

I still had the guitar and from time to time over the next 5 years, I picked it up and tried playing a few chords and notes that I learned in the first group class. Although I really wanted to know how to play the guitar, I still wasn’t prepared to devote the time and effort that was needed so I never did.

Some years later, I left home to go to college in San Diego. One of my two roommates, David, was an accomplished guitar player who agreed to give me some lessons for free in return for two promises: 
  1. That I will practice at least one hour each day
  2. That I would someday give free lessons to someone else if asked
I agreed to his two demands and he spent an hour each week teaching me to play.

At first there was little music coming from the instrument, but this time I was truly committed to learning how to play. Each night I practiced the lesson of the week as well as continuing to practice the lessons of the previous weeks. Every day I got incrementally better than the day before.

After a few months a funny thing happened, there was actually some music coming from the instrument. I started playing with other friends...learning some new skills and techniques. My skills continued to grow after a few years and eventually I found myself playing with friends in a band playing for beer money at local clubs. The band experience was short-lived as it became more work and less play.

After 30 years, I still continue to play my guitar several times each week learning new songs and playing old favorites, mostly just to entertain myself. People who hear me play often tell me that they too wished that they could play.

Learning and mastering new skills take three things:
  1. Commitment
  2. Practice
  3. Perseverance
Learning a new skill is hard because in the beginning, there is so much failure. Trying really hard and still failing is a recipe for people to give up and stop trying altogether. Those people will say that they gave it their "best shot" after attempting something only once or twice. They are quickly discouraged and quit shortly after starting.

This tends to be the main problem with new sales people. They see the potential earnings of the top sales people and decide that they want to share in those riches. They start out full of enthusiasm as they attempt to make a few appointments but find that cold-calling prospects is hard work. They have trouble navigating voice mail and email systems designed to keep out sales amateurs. Even if they eventually do get an appointment and are able to make the sales call, they try to shortcut the process by trying to immediately sell a product and/or service rather than trying to uncover and solve customer problems. They end up with no sales and lots of rejection despite some initial efforts.

After a few weeks of this type of rejection, they just stop making sales calls altogether and soon announce that a sales career isn’t for them as they leave the company.

Professional sales people earn a lot of money because they have continually worked hard toward honing and mastering their sales skills over a long period of time. There is no such thing as a natural born professional sales person. Professionals just make it look easy... but it is really a culmination of years of commitment, hard work and perseverance that brings them success.

In the coming year I hope to begin a new journey to learning yet a fresh skill. After many years of wanting to speak Spanish, I am finally ready to make the commitment to doing so. Like first learning to play the guitar, I expect it’ll be very difficult at first, but I am dedicated to making it happen. Finding time in my busy schedule to go to class and practice what I’ve learned will not be easy but that’s what it’ll take to become proficient and so I’ll find a way to make it happen. Most importantly, I won’t give up. I’m fairly sure that I’ll never really master a second language but I hope to continue to improve a little each day, each month and each year. After a while, I hope to be proficient enough to be able to hold a conversation with native speakers.

Recently a young friend of mine asked me if I could teach her to play the guitar. Remembering the second promise I had given to my former roommate, I’ll probably agree to give her free lessons...provided she of course that she agrees to my two conditions...

Thank you very much for your continued and unwavering support of OptiFuse where we vow to never to give up trying to serve our customers better.

Can You Hear Me Now?...

This week I found myself once again in my least favorite city in America, Las Vegas, for the SEMA and AAPEX exhibitions. My visit to the show this year was only a one-night / two-day excursion, so my time was compressed as I met with an assorted group of customers and vendors.

Car week is one of the last big shows that engulfs Las Vegas and stretches the resources of the normally abundant supply of taxis, restaurants and hotels. Traffic near the convention center is gridlocked as thousands of attendees make their way to and from the exhibition halls each morning and night.

As I was being ferried back to the airport in the shuttle van, I felt a sense of relief that I was able to get into town, finish my business and leave without much incidence.

After a brief encounter with the friendly TSA agents guarding the gates, I found myself in the waiting area a good ninety minutes before my flight. With the extra time and free Internet access, I decided that it was a good time to return several days of e-mail and perhaps begin writing this week’s blog.

Lady luck was smiling upon me as I found a seat near a vacant electrical outlet so I could charge both my phone and computer.

I sat down to begin writing when I heard an announcement over the loudspeaker that my flight back to San Diego was over-booked and that the airline was offering $200 in future flight credits to volunteers wishing to take a later flight.

I stopped my writing to ponder the idea of taking a later flight and collecting the reward. Remembering that the next flight was only one hour past my original departure time, I went to the podium to volunteer my seat to the gate agent. After a short wait, I heard over the intercom that no more volunteers were needed at this time so I returned to my seat to continue writing.

After a brief time, I glanced over at the wall and a wave of terror quickly overcame me.

My phone was gone!!

I immediately looked around try to find a culprit quickly fleeing the scene of the crime but observed that airports were indeed full of people quickly scurrying about. I frantically asked people around me if they had seen anyone take the phone and they all replied "no". Anger swelled in my cheeks as I surveyed the crime scene looking for a potential suspect.

My anger quickly turned into fear and panic as I thought of the information that was stored in my lists... stock positions... appointments... shortcuts to Facebook and LinkedIn accounts... and of course passwords for bank, brokerage, and credit accounts. All of this information was now in the hands of a criminal.

I consoled myself with the knowledge that at least my phone was protected by a password...but it was only a 4-digit pin which could be broken within a short time.

Thoughts were pouring through my head like a waterfall when It suddenly dawned upon me that I had installed an application called "Find my Phone" which allowed me to use my laptop computer to locate and disable my phone. If I could locate my phone, I could permanently erase its contents.

Using the airport’s Wi-Fi system, I logged onto the website allowing me to locate my phone. I attempted to locate and disable the phone but a message came back telling me that the phone was now turned off so those services were not available at this time.

Not only was my phone taken by a thief...the thief was a smart thief with knowledge of how IPhone tracking systems work.

After a quick assessment of potential losses, I decided it would be best to begin the task of changing passwords for my bank and brokerage accounts (this would be the most immediate source of funds for the would-be cyber-criminal). It was now a race against time...the thief trying to break the code and me trying to change important passwords.

Soon boarding announcements were being made and I needed to suspend my efforts.

During the relatively short plane ride back to San Diego, I couldn’t help but think that I allowed Las Vegas to rob me yet again. I was a victim of my own doing, trusting people to do the right thing but becoming disappointed when I discovered that this was just not the case.

Upon arriving at my destination, I continued the task of converting passwords for my frequently used websites. The remainder of the changes would need to wait until the next day when I would have access to my back-up database at the office.

When I got home, I reported the phone stolen to my service provider so the thief will never be able to ever activate it (or so I am told). Perhaps he/she will soon realize this fact and dispose of the device in a dumpster or perhaps he/she will continue to try to unlock it by trying all 10,000 possibilities (the experience has actually given me a good idea for a new smart phone get only 3 times to unlock the phone...after which time the phone is permanently locked until certain security questions are answered).

This experience has also given me fresh perspective as to how much I’ve come to rely on my tele-computing device.

As I drove to work the following morning, I realize that I don’t even own a watch thanks in part to the reliance and typical close proximity of my phone.

Even when I traveled to Europe this past spring, where my CDMA phone was unable to connect to the European GSM system, I was still relied on my phone to perform a variety of tasks using the applications on my phone. I had an alarm clock, an electronic notepad to write myself reminders, games to play during the long plane rides, a place to store and recall phone numbers, addresses, frequent flyer numbers, hotel reservations and appointments. I also had a high quality camera, a compass, and Internet access when a Wi-Fi connection was available.

A phone today is so much more than a phone. It is an umbilical cord that connects us to the world and our data. No longer are we burdened down with multiple’s now all available to us in one small unit.

In the end, I ended up losing some time and a little money (the phone was insured but carried a $200 deductible). I am fortunate that my losses were thus far measured and relatively minor but still feel victimized by my own negligence.

Yet another tuition payment to the school of hard knocks...

Thank you very much for your support of OptiFuse as we all continue to live and learn...