Monday, November 30, 2015

A Helping Hand...

Sometimes I don’t know exactly how a person gets signed up to receive my weekly blog...

Such is the case of Ken Manchen... our guest blogger today...

Somehow Ken started receiving the blog... and a friendship was started...

Ken is doing some incredible one-on-one work with a young man trying hard to make a better life for himself...

It’s a journey that is not unusual for many of us... but gives us cause to be grateful for all those who have helped us along our life’s path...

Happy Thanksgiving,

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"You can’t have a perfect day without doing something for someone who’ll never be able to repay you."

                                   ~John Wooden

From those who have much, much is expected.

Meet Amar.  He is 12 years.  He lives with his single mom and eight siblings.  Together they live in a small Chicagoapartment in a high crime area of Chicago known as Cabrini Green.

I tutor him on Thursday nights in an after-school program for inner city kids.

Each Thursday, a school bus brings him and other kids to a church where they are fed a hot dinner. 

After dinner the students meet with a tutor for an hour or more.

This past Thursday, I got a call informing me Amar might not make it that night as his one-month old sister died unexpectedly.

I immediately thought back to last year, when Amar’s 16-year old brother was shot and killed by a local gang member, although he never much talked about it with me.

Last Christmas, my wife and I had the opportunity to take Amar and her own student to Dave and Buster’s for lunch and games.  

We drove that morning, over to Amar’s apartment, to pick the kids up.  Before leaving, Amar’s mother asked if we could take her to the local Target store.  

It seemed like a strange request as the store was just down the block and only a short walk on a relatively warm day.

When she saw the puzzled looks on our faces, she explained that the police had arrested and were prosecuting the gang member that killed her son.

She said she regularly visited the police to ensure they were bringing the arrested gang member to justice. Needless to say that the local gang wasn’t happy with her involvement.
Even a short walk a block away meant that she was vulnerable to a gang retaliation attack by those same gang members that had killed her son so it was best that she had a ride.

My wife and I were there just to treat two young men to lunch as a reward for studying hard and not missing a tutoring session... but now we found ourselves in the middle of a situation that was outside of our comfortable environment.  Would we now become gang targets too?

We took Amar’s mother to the store... not because we felt obliged... but because it was the right thing to do.

When we returned to Amar’s home, it was after dark.  As we drove up to his building, we saw a Chicago police cruiser parked at the curb. 

Thankfully, it was just a routine check and not something more sinister.  The police were just there to create a higher visibility in the neighborhood and deter gang activity.

We dropped the kids off and headed back to our comfortable suburban home, never so grateful for what we normally take for granted.

I have been a long term reader of Jim’s Friday blogs.

Last year when reading a column I discovered that Jim and I shared a common heritage. We are descendants of Romanian immigrant grandparents who first arrived in the Midwest and then gravitated to California.

I was moved by his story of his grandmother and how she long suffered from arthritis so I decided to contribute to his Arthritis Foundation charity bike ride down the coast of California. 

Later, I was informed that I had the great fortune to win the grand prize (Southwest Airlines Rewards miles) that year... although it was never about winning a prize but rather to support Jim, his grandmother and the Arthritis Foundation).

As we coordinated the transfer of the miles, Jim and I went from being strangers, to being acquaintances, to becoming friends.

This year I once again contributed to Jim’s charity bike ride and he in turn contributed to my charity running of the 2015 Chicago marathon.

My charity was the Chicago after-school tutoring organization I volunteer with (Citylights). It seems Jim and I both share a belief in the need to give back to our communities.

Is it really that important to give back to our communities? 

Does raising money for research or giving of your time really help to make a difference, or do we do it simply to make ourselves feel better and perhaps a little less guilty knowing that we have so much?

It is my sincere hope that offering up time and money truly makes a difference but I really don’t know for certain.

Does it make us feel good knowing that we have given back to those a little less fortunate?  Typically, when we give back we enrich ourselves in ways we never expected. I know that is true for me.

Let’s return to Amar.

I have been his tutor for 2 years now.  He is a kid with eight siblings and no father figure in his life. Understandably, it took a long time for him to learn to trust me.  I sense he has been let down by adults before.

During our first year together, I quickly realized that Amar, as well as the others in the program, didn’t need a tutor as much as they needed a trusted friend.  A friend who showed up each and every week... without excuse.  Someone who didn’t judge them, who cared about them, and someone they knew that they could rely on.  

This trust relationship is something most of us take for granted.

So what are Amar’s chances of escaping his current situation?

To start with, he is smart and has the opportunity to make a better life for himself but he faces many obstacles most of us don’t.

His inner city school is poorly rated. He will have to compete against kids from better schools if he ever hopes to get into college. The high level of crime, drug use, and unemployment in his neighborhood will all pose hurdles that he will need to overcome.

Will he eventually join a gang or suffer the wrath of a gang?  Will he even want to go to college and if he is accepted to a college, how will he pay for it?

If he isn’t strong enough and supported enough, will he eventually become angry at the unequal opportunities that currently exist between haves and have-nots?

We never know for sure what the outcome will be... but I do know this... without our help, the people who are struggling to escape will be trapped in an endless cycle of poverty and destitution.  

At the very least, our contributions of resources can help to lower the odds and offer a helping hand to those who desire to improve their lives.

We don’t need to travel to far-off lands and remote locations to find people who need our help.  There are people in our own community who struggle each and every day to live a full and productive life... people who are looking for a hand-up rather than a hand-out... people who sometimes just need a trusting friend.

I truly believe that companies and individuals that give back to their communities create stronger, healthier places for their employees and associates.

I sense most of us reading these Friday columns have been fortunate in life.  

Many of us had loving parents, lived in a safe home, were well-fed, enjoyed a quality education, and had ample opportunities for a successful career.

There is no doubt that our own success is due to our hard work and sacrifices, but at the same time, we need to remember that most of us had a support system that isn’t always available to everyone...

Now is the time to consider giving back... those who need a little help... those a little less fortunate... those who simply need a friend that they can trust...  
Happy Thanksgiving!  

Ken Manchen

Friday, November 20, 2015

The Joy of Laughter...

Among those whom I like or admire, I can find no common denominator, but among those whom I love, I can; all of them make me laugh...  

                                      ~ W.H. Auden

In last week’s blog, I wrote about spending time in Las Vegas and watching a certain gambler go full-tilt...

This week I wanted to share another Las Vegas story, this one with a slightly different perspective.

To set the stage properly for those who didn’t get a chance to read last week’s blog, I was in Las Vegas a few weeks ago to attend the big automotive exhibitions, SEMA and AAPEX.

Each day, I found myself doing "booth duty" while each night Toastwas spent dining at fine restaurants with clients and vendors. 

Just after the close of the show on Thursday, my brother Jason and I met up with our friends John, Rob, and Kevin plus their friend Todd at a local pub to have a drink before dinner.

The six of us were fairly tired from the long week that had preceded us but we had planned this outing for months and a much anticipated dinner was awaiting us at one of the finest restaurants in Las Vegas.

As we took a moment to relax with a stiff drink after a long day, we began to slowly power down our invisible shields, those innate mechanisms that control our bodies and minds when participating in an environment where we spend the entire day trying to beg strangers to view our wares.

The six people sitting at the table at the end of the day weren’t vendors or customers as much as we were friends as we shared stories of the week and caught up on each other’s lives during the six months since we had all seen each other last.

After drinks, it was time to head to dinner, meeting yet another group of friends growing our dinner party to 12.

While at dinner, we continued to enjoy each other’s company while sharing stories of adventures and misfortunes among ourselves.

After a scrumptious meal, vintage wine, and a decadent dessert, it was time to head off to our respective hotels.

As our "gang of six" strolled down the strip, it was suggested that we stop at a local watering hole for a nightcap staving off any possibility of arriving at our hotel with time to further our work day.

After a quick search, we found ourselves on a private patio at the Wynn resort overlooking a lagoon featuring a different water and light show every 30 minutes. 

We ordered drinks and continued telling each other stories, jokes, and random observations.  We laughed, and laughed some more. 

Our contagious laughter soon attracted the attention of others on the patio who began to join in on our fun.  The energy of the group continued to grow as our group grew. After a short while, the wait staff was joining in the frivolity surrounding the table.

After four water and light shows the hour approached midnight and the outdoor patio was growing too cold to continue (at least for the California boys).

As Jason and I walked back to our hotel, I mentioned that my face and torso hurt from all of the laughter experienced that evening and he agreed.

The events of that evening just reminded me of the power of laughter to heal and rejuvenate the body and soul.

LaughingSeveral studies have shown that a good dose of laughter promotes good health in several different ways:
  • Laughter stimulates the brain to release "pleasure" chemicals - such as endorphins, giving a person a sense of well-being and reducing muscle tension.
  • Laughter reduces blood pressure by reducing the stress hormones in our bodies. This in turn opens the body’s blood vessels and capillaries allowing for better blood flow in the body.
  • Laughter causes the respiratory system to process higher levels of O2 (oxygen molecules) in the blood providing more energy to the body.
  • Laughter promotes higher T-cell counts in the body’s immune system allowing the body to fight off germs and diseases including cancerous cells
The result of laughter is lower stress, better blood flow, increased levels of oxygen in the blood, a stronger immune system and a better overall feeling of well-being...

As I discovered myself, an evening of laughter also helps to improve our abdominal muscles as our stomachs expand and contract. Adding a big dose of laughter to our daily routine just might help us on our way to creating that six-pack without needlessly going to the gym to perform crunches.

Laughter makes us feel good about ourselves and the world around us. It gives us a feeling of euphoria and allows us to maintain a positive outlook and experience a sense of joy and gratitude. 

It helps us to love our neighbors, pay it forward, help others in need, and give back more than we take.

Beyond the health benefits that laughter brings, there are also the social benefits of being happy.

People want to be around others who are positive and happy, not around those who are constantly complaining about this or that (although I am still mystified as to why anyone actually listens to talk radio or the nightly news, where complaining is the norm).

Laughter is often contagious.

Laughing SceneI remember vividly, walking into a room and seeing my parents laughing hysterically at something they were watching on TV. Instinctively, I began laughing alongside them, not even knowing what I was laughing about.

And once the laughter begins, everything after that seems funny and humorous to a point where it becomes inane and stupid. Ask any stand-up comic if they want to be the first or the last comic of the evening and their response is unanimous (being last of course).

The reason for this is that laughter makes us forget... we forget about being stuck in traffic... or the customer that cancelled their order... or the phone call we got telling us our child was just suspended from school.

Laughter puts us in the moment and allows us the ability to find humor in the absurdity we sometimes call life.

Sometimes I wonder if the world wouldn’t be a better place if we spent as much time learning to laugh rather than trying to segregate ourselves from one another.

Laughter is truly what’s right in the world.

As we move into the holiday season, we should all try to find some humor to share as our gift to each of us...

Thank you very much for your support of OptiFuse where we believe that life is truly a laughing matter.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Going Full Tilt...

"You can’t blame anyone else... no one but yourself.  You have to make your own choices and live every agonizing day with the consequences of those choices"

                                     ~ Max Brooks
                                        World War Z
Last week I happened to find myself back in Las Vegas for the annual SEMA and AAPEX exhibitions.

Las Vegas is one of the most interesting cities in America especially 2if you like to watch people; people who come from all walks of life both far and near.

Like an anthropologist observing a tribe of natives, I find the behavior of people especially fascinating... especially when they are out of their normal element and perhaps slightly intoxicated.

As it often happens while visiting trade shows, the days are spent in a booth or walking the show, while the nights are reserved for fancy dinners and entertaining clients. Such was the case last Tuesday when I was hurrying to meet some people for dinner.

Since the restaurant was only a few blocks away from my hotel and I had some time to kill, I decided to walk instead of trying to find a cab during the after-show rush hour.

While strolling down the strip toward my dinner date, I was forced to duck into one of the larger casinos to avoid an unseasonable desert cloudburst. 

Once inside the casino, I immediately noticed that the casino was practically empty of gambling patrons.

It was a Tuesday night nonetheless, but I expected a fair amount of table play due to the large convention contingency (SEMA second only to the Consumer Electronics Show in terms of attendance).

While waiting for the rain outside to subside, I noticed a man playing blackjack alone at a $10 table. I watched him as he was dealt hands from a show in fairly quick succession. His chip stack was perhaps a few hundred dollars and while I sat there watching him, he appeared to play very methodical with two $5 chips in front of  him to start each hand, playing strictly by the odds... winning one hand while losing the next... seesawing back and forth between being up and down a few chips.

I stood there watching him for perhaps 20 minutes and then decided to head off to my dinner appointment.

After a nearly 4-hour dinner, I found myself walking back to my hotel and decided to peek back into the very same casino to see if the action had picked up since earlier in the evening.

Imagine my surprise to see the same gentleman still playing blackjack at the very same table that I had left him some 4 hours ago.  

As I approached the table, I could plainly see why the man was still playing... he was winning big with several large stacks of black $100 chips in front of him.

Whereas earlier in the evening he seemed quite subdued and stoic, now he looked fully animated and full of energy... engaging the dealer and the two other players sitting at the table in spirited conversation... and instead of simply playing two $5 red chips, he was playing two $100 black chips on every hand.

I sat there watching him for several hands. I began noticing that he was no longer playing blackjack by the book but rather he was making riskier and unadvisable plays such as hitting a hard 14 when the dealer had a 4 showing.

I couldn’t help but think that maybe it was time for this guy to cash-in his chips or at the very least take a break to re-group.

On the next hand, the player was dealt two face cards against the dealer’s 7. When the dealer’s second card was turned, it revealed a 4 followed by a face card causing the player to lose.

This seemed to annoy the player who added several more black chips to his bet on the next hand. This time the player busted. Again, more black chips were added to the bet and once again the player lost.

It only took 15 minutes of bad luck for the player to lose his entire stake including an additional buy-in at the end for a few hundred dollars more.

For more than 4 hours, the man played disciplined and methodically and then went "full-tilt" losing everything and then some in a matter of minutes.

As I turned and walked back to my hotel, the look in the man’s face at the end of the night haunted me.  Had he just walked away... 

Back in 1999, I had a similar experience only instead of playing black jack in Las Vegas, I was day-trading during the great dot-com boom... using options and derivatives to leverage my buying power and multiplying my returns.

Within a 12-month period, I took a modest $25,000 investment (all the savings I had at the time) and turned it into a portfolio worth just over $500,000. 

Most rational people realized that the stock market couldn’t continue to rise at this amazing rate, but I wasn’t most people... I was smarter than all of them... this was a "new economy"... in less than two short years the Nasdaq rose from 1500 to over 5000 points much of the gains coming from new dot-com companies and technology companies providing internet infrastructure.

Then in March of 2000, the dot-com bubble burst. When the first sell-off wave hit, I saw my "investments" plummet by 50%, but I had seen market corrections like this in the past 12 months, so this great sell-off was for suckers. 

I looked at this as a great opportunity to buy additional options at a greatly discounted price. Surely the market would roar back within a day or two... and it did... the following day, the market regained about 20 percent of what it had lost the previous day... but the bubble had burst as the NASDAQ ultimately lost nearly 80% of its value by 2002 and 100% of my savings.

So what is it that causes normally rational people to abandon all common sense and discipline while continually to wildly double down on their losses? 

Is it greed?... is it ego?... is it a feeling of invincibility?

There is a great deal of difference between knowing what the right thing to do is and actually doing it.

This is the very reason I rarely judge a person by what they say or with what they know but rather what they do... especially in the heat of the moment.

Staying calm and focused during periods of crisis is something you can’t read in a book or learn in a classroom... it’s only something that we can learn from experience.

Gambling, be it in the casinos of Las Vegas or on Wall Street, is a losing proposition in the long run and should never be confused with the sound investing principles and the discipline to continue to make the right decisions.

Continuing to make good decisions will ultimately lead to good outcomes...

Thank you very much for your support of OptiFuse where we hope that you don’t gamble with your circuit protection.

Friday, November 6, 2015

A Continuous Path...

Today is the last in our guest blogger series from our new Millennial sales managers.

Sara Whyte, another recent graduate shares with us, her unique perspective about success - as told through the eyes of a Millennial.

I truly hope that you’ve enjoyed this series and perhaps gained a little insight as to what makes this new Millennial generation tick.

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Success is not the key to happiness... Happiness is the key to success...

                                   ~Albert Schweitzer

From an early age, we are told that we can be anything we want to be. 

When a class of first graders is asked what it is that they want to be when they grow up, you will often hear them Chemistshout out professions such as firefighter, scientist, doctor, astronaut, and/or professional athlete. They will readily make this pronouncement with such absolute certainty that it leaves very little room for argument. 
In reality, however, according to a LinkedIn survey, less than 25% of US professionals earn a living from their childhood dream job or a related field. 

Why is this, you may ask?

I suspect that there are several factors that one could cite. 

When I was younger my heart was set upon becoming an attorney based on several TV role models depicting a strong woman out to defend right and wrong. However, after completing a high school research project regarding the legal profession and some of the realities of what I might actually be doing, day in and day out, I quickly changed my mind.

My original career choice of becoming a lawyer was made without the benefit of all the information needed to actually make an informed decision (scripted TV shows aside).

Another reason that we may opt for a different career path is that we simply may not possess the required skills or natural talent, no matter how much effort we put into it.

The odds of becoming a professional golfer are micro-slim... and even slimmer for a person suffering from ADHD and needs to practice the same motions for hours on end. 

Or perhaps the real reason why the majority of people do not earn a living from their dream job is because they aren’t willing to put in the work and effort it takes to become successful in that profession. 

Successfully becoming a medical doctor requires a minimum of 8 years of post high school study (but more likely 10-12 years for a specialty area of practice). The cost of becoming a psychiatrist is 22-24 years of schooling typically accompanied by mountains of student loan debts.  One cannot become a psychiatrist without being fully dedicated and committed.

While it’s interesting to learn why professionals do not end up in their dream jobs, I think it’s much more beneficial to look at how the 25% who did realize their dream job set themselves apart and made their dream a reality. 

Was it luck, people they knew, and/or outside role models?  Perhaps it was a culmination of all of these things.  And if it wasn’t luck or the people they knew or saw, how did they become so determined and dedicated? 

These smaller questions tend to lead to a bigger question: Are successful people born or made? 

Before we can answer this question, however, I believe another question must be answered: What exactly is success? 

It is my humble opinion that "success" is completely individual and cannot be defined by a strict code or measured by any tangible scale, be it the size of one’s financial net worth, the number of hours contributed to charitable causes, or their scores on standardized tests.

What I might deem a success, others may not think twice about or vice versa. 

Back in high school, my sophomore English teacher asked our class to write a short essay answering a simple question:  Where did we hope to be in 10 years.

Most of my fellow classmates wrote about having a family, obtaining college degree followed by a good paying position, or perhaps owning a modest home in a nice neighborhood. 

One boy in my class, however, started his essay with the idea of simply "being alive". 

At the time, the majority of my classmates, myself included, thought this was absolutely ridiculous.  Of course we all wanted to be alive; that was the most basic fundamental requirement for all of our other goals and aspirations. It was a given, not something we would bother writing down.

As he continued reading his essay to us, we soon came to understand was that this particular boy’s father had passed away before ever reaching his 40th birthday, so for him, "being alive" didn’t seem like an obvious assumption. 

Instead of seeing "being alive" as a given, something not worth writing down, he saw "being alive" as the most important element to eventually achieving all of the other things he so much wanted to do in his life.

Each day we are bombarded with the media’s version of success, all too often equating success with wealth. For a lot of people, wealth has nothing to do with success. 

A woman having fertility issues may think of having a baby as her greatest success. An immigrant coming to America and striving to obtain citizenship through hard work and due process, may define this as a success. Another success could be something as simple as happiness, such as the woman who left her six-figure finance job in New York City to scoop ice cream on the island of St. John in the Caribbean.

Although these are not my particular goals and aspirations, I can fully appreciate that they are all fueled by passion... a passion to raise a family, to have means to a better life, or a passion to simply enjoy life day by day.

Often times success if not simply the completion of a goal or dream. 

Having just graduated college earlier this year, success for me might have been when I scored high on a difficult exam. The grade in and of itself wasn’t the success, however if gave me validation that I was mastering the subject matter and increasing my base of knowledge. It gave me the confidence to continue forward in my education and ultimately walking across the stage with a diploma. 

My diploma was the end result of years of hard work which lead to many smaller successes (and sometimes failures) along the way.

It’s important to remember however, that success isn’t necessarily about achieving a singular goal, but rather a process that builds upon everything we’ve accomplished in the past. It’s a culmination of decisions, hard work and passion.

Finding success isn’t the end point... it’s a new beginning to yet another journey along the continuous path we call life.

Thank you for your support of OptiFuse, where we hope to help you along your journey.

Sara Whyte
Regional Sales Manager