Fuel Happiness with Random Acts of Kindness

We all want to be happy. According to the wise ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle, “Happiness is the meaning and the purpose of life, the whole aim and end of human existence.”

Sometimes the smallest things can brighten your day: the sales clerk that gives you a warm smile and asks how your day is going; the kind driver who lets you into a long line of cars; or the fresh bouquet of flowers you find on your front doorstep, just because.

Being the recipient of kindness is wonderful, but what’s even more satisfying is being responsible for it. Aristotle had a word for this too. When he described the four levels of happiness that humans seek to achieve, the first two, Laetus and Felix, are self-centered; the third level, Beatitudo, is the happiness one feels from doing good for others and making the world a better place.

We recently experienced this third level of happiness at Three Wire when we celebrated our own “Random Acts of Kindness Week” in each of our offices. Each day, for five days, we challenged employees to carry out five “nice” things that would benefit someone else.

If you want to try it, and spread happiness, look at our list of “random act” recommendations below. For about fifteen minutes out of your day, you can make an incredible impact on someone else in this world and hope that they too decide to pay it forward.

Day One: Leave a nice note for a friend, loved one, co-worker, or even a stranger.

Day Two: Write a letter of encouragement to a stranger who needs it.

Day Three: Register to become a bone marrow donor at https://www.giftoflife.org/page/content/steps-to-donation. If you are already registered, or can’t/don’t want to become a donor, donate to this or another cause that you feel connected to.

Day Four: Go to Free Rice and spend 10 minutes answering questions. This is a United Nations Food Program that will donate rice to hungry people for every question you get right.

Day Five: Purchase a five dollar gift card to a store or restaurant and give it to someone who could use a bit of a perk.

Keeping Yourself Relevant in the Workplace

Whether you just started a new position or you’ve been in the same position for 10 years, it’s important to remain relevant in your field for your own confidence as well as potential job progression. Here are a few ways to keep yourself relevant in the workplace:

  • Develop your skills: Stay updated on publications, technologies, and processes related to your profession.
  • Invest in yourself: If you aren’t willing to invest in yourself, then who will? Look for seminars, trainings, and books that will develop you as a professional but not break the bank.
  • Join a professional association: Professional associations allow you to network, provide you with training opportunities, send out newsletters with valuable information, and hold conferences.
  • Volunteer: Consider volunteering a few hours a week at an association that you feel an affinity toward. Volunteering can push you out of your comfort zone and help you to grow.
  • Network: Networking is not the same as job searching. Talking to other professionals in your field helps you to grow and remain relevant among your colleagues.
  • Hone your leadership skills: Never shy away from an opportunity to lead something. This not only helps you to develop and refine skills but also creates visibility in the workplace.
  • Challenge yourself: Seek out opportunities to step outside of your comfort zone and help you to grow- even if you can’t see how it relates to your career at the time. Any confidence you gain in your personal life will translate to your professional life.

Tips to Survive Holiday Parties

Holiday parties mean that it’s time to make small talk and catch up with people that you don’t see very often. If you are like most people, these conversations can sometimes be awkward or uncomfortable. Having a few topics that you enjoy talking about in your holiday party communication toolbox can be really helpful. Here are a few tips to remember as you step outside your comfort zone.

When adding topics to the list, it is always best to avoid topics that can get heated and lead to debate such as politics, religion, gossip, or anything depressing in nature.

Show genuine interest.

Show the other person that you are paying attention by nodding your head, responding appropriately, and asking related questions. It is important not to let them see that you are scanning the room for people you know, watching the food line, or planning your escape to move to the next mingling group.

Be aware of your body language.

To show someone that you are right there with them in the conversation you should face them, make eye contact, and/or lean forward a bit. Pay attention to your facial expressions and the position of your body. Having a blank expression and having your hips and toes pointed away from the person send the message that you are not interested and plan on moving away at the soonest opportunity.

Do your homework.

Plan on talking about a great movie you saw, a good book, plans for the holidays or your favorite vacation spots. These are topics that will make talking with people that you do not usually talk to on a daily basis much easier.

Listen.

Many of us are way too busy talking about ourselves or thinking about what we will say next. How many times have you been in a conversation and realized you just asked a question that someone else asked only a few minutes earlier? A good rule is to listen 60 percent of the time and ask questions the other 40 percent of the time.

Ask Questions.

Asking questions shows the other person that you are interested. Although many people can go on and on with good stories or witty statements to amuse an audience, this does not help the discovery phase of conversation. Bonds are formed during this stage of conversation. If you know that the person has children, ask “how old are your children?”, “Do they play any sports?”, ”What do they want for Christmas this year?”

Team up with your guest.

If you take a date or friend with you, stay with them. While you should not stick to your guest like glue, you do not want to let them wonder around aimlessly not knowing anyone and feeling very uncomfortable. If your guest is a sports fan and you are not, they can help break the ice with a fellow sports fan. Remember to always introduce your guest and include them into the conversation.

Practice the art of excusing yourself.

Some people get caught up on a certain topic and are blissfully unaware of others’ discomfort. If you have been trapped in a conversation for too long you can gracefully exit by making a brief summarizing statement followed by your exit statement, for example, “sounds like you really struggled through that stomach illness, glad you are feeling better. If you’ll excuse me I think I need to freshen up my drink”.

Do talk about the holidays.

This can lead to many different discussions from holiday travel, gift buying, decorating, holiday activities, and holiday traditions. It is an appropriate conversation for the season.

Don’t talk about work.

Although work is the one thing you have in common at events such as office holiday parties, it is not the time to schedule a meeting or finalize project plans. It is okay to briefly mention work news and developments, but not okay to complain unpleasant things about work.

Say Thank you.

Before leaving the party be sure to thank your host. Remember to thank you guest for attending. It is a lot of planning and work to throw a holiday party, let everyone know that you appreciate their efforts.

Being able to communicate at holiday parties will give you the people skills that you need to successfully survive the event. The communication skills developed at these events are skills that you can use all year long in your career, social circles, and family events.

Veterans Day Thoughts

By Dan Frank
CEO,  Three Wire Systems, LLC

America spoke, Trump is our next president. Where does he go from here on one of his key campaign issues of veteran support? Let me guide the way.

A recent Small Business Administration (SBA) study found that military service exhibits one of the largest marginal effects on self-employment, and veterans are 45 percent more likely to be self-employed than non-veterans. Historically, 50 percent of World War II vets went on to own or operate a business and that 40 percent of Korean War vets did the same thing creating millions of jobs for of their fellow citizens.

In stark contrast to these statistics, consider that since 9/11, only 162,000 veteran businesses have been creating 324,000 jobs. Hypothetically, using Korean War rate discussed above, our most recent veteran generation should have started 1.4 million companies employing in excess of 2.5 million jobs. Veteran entrepreneurship is on the decline. Why?

It’s complicated, but here is an anecdotal account: Last week I attended the Department of Veterans Affairs National Veterans Small Business Engagement conference in Minneapolis. As an old, bald guy, I noticed lots of other old people in attendance. Essentially zero millennials or Gen X in attendance.

Are the young vet guys/gals developing the next ride haling app and chasing venture dollars in Silicon Valley? Most certainly are not doing this. It simply appears that more vets now “get a job and settle” according to Joseph Kopser an Army veteran and co-founder the Ride-Scout app. He blames a lack of in-service mentorship opportunities for current military members. But is it DoD’s job to prepare transitioning service members for entrepreneurship?

So here is the Big Idea for a scalable veteran entrepreneurship program for President-elect Trump.

The Post-9/11 GI Bill is the Cadillac of all GI Bills and already encompasses rich benefits. Entrepreneurship training is covered, but only thru Small Business Development Centers (SBDC) run by the SBA.

First, let’s eliminate this rule and expand the options from government run facilities and programs. There are plenty of co-work spaces, non-profits, contractors and volunteers to create an eco-system of options for the budding vet entrepreneur. One option run by the government is ridiculous. Entrepreneurship is not a government core competency.

Secondly, for veterans not interested in a college education track, let them take the equivalent tuition and stipend funding they would have received for their college education and let them use it either fund their business or offset living expenses during their business start-up phase. This will require oversight to ensure that the vet is legitimately involved in their business, but program oversight is a government core competency.

Finally, let’s move upstream with entrepreneurship education within DoD as suggested by Army vet Kopser. There is a huge opportunity within the DoD/VA Transition Assistance Program (TAP). Every transitioning service member must attend TAP classes as they transition from the military to civilian life. For those soon to be vets interested in self-employment, a breakout class could be offered and designed to incorporate the details of my first two suggestions above.

With the right training and funding, I believe we can increase interest and change the downward trajectory of veteran owned businesses. President-elect Trump, Three Wire stands ready to serve.

Debt Management

You’ve decided to get out from under the debt that you have spent years building up. Credit cards, personal loans, and school loans all seemed like good ideas at the time, but now they have mounted to the point that they are having an impact on your ability to live your life the way you want and to save for your future as you know you should. There is no magical formula to good debt management, no quick solution. You have to get your mind in the right place and decide that you are going to change your behavior when it comes to your money. Then make a plan and stick to it.

First, establish an Emergency Fund. Life happens. If the car were to break down tomorrow, most folks would put the repairs on a credit card and add more to their debt. You need to have a cushion to absorb the bumps that happen to everyone. Start small: get $1000 into the bank as quickly as you can and KEEP YOUR HANDS OFF OF IT! It’s for emergencies, not a new fishing rod or shoes. Later, after all your debt is gone, you should aim for 3-6 months’ worth of normal expenses in this account.

Next, document every cent that you have coming in (income) and going out (expenses). Get yourself on a strict budget and determine how much you have available to work down the debt. When you put these numbers on paper it’s much easier to see where it all goes and places you can cut back…do you NEED that cup of coffee from the high priced coffee shop every morning?  You can brew your own for much less. Can you pack a lunch instead of going out each day? Have you talked to you cellphone carrier or auto insurance agent recently?  Maybe there are lower priced packages that can save money. At this point you should be able to determine how much money should be left over at the end of the month (Income$ – Expenses$ = Leftover$). For this discussion, let’s say you have $175 left over.

After you set your budget, take another piece of paper and list all your unsecured debt (credit cards, personal loans, medical bills, student loans, etc.) from the smallest balance to the largest. For each balance list the minimum payment from your most recent statement. Disregard interest rates, we’re only concerned with the balances. Now, let’s say the smallest debt on your list is ABC Bank Credit Card with a $200 balance and a $25/month minimum payment. You should be able to pay off this card in 1 month…your $175 left plus the $25 minimum payment = $200 and the first balance is gone! The next smallest balance is a doctor bill of $500 with $50/month minimum payment. Next month you are going to pay $250 ($175 + $25 + $50).  Notice we’ve included our monthly leftover and the minimum payment on the ABC Bank card that is now paid off and the minimum payment for the doctor bill.  That means we should have this debt paid off in 2 months. This process is known as the “Debt Snowball”.  Notice how your payment gets larger each time you pay off a debt. By the time you get to that $30,000 school loan, your monthly payment might be in the thousands.

Depending on how much debt you have, this process can take significant time, but remember it probably took years to build that debt mountain. And just think of the flexibility you will have when you are out from under that mountain and those thousands that you were paying to creditors can now go towards your emergency fund, your retirement, vacation or your kids’ education.