There is No Room for Negativity in 2017, Only Cheers, Beers and Puppy Ears

The only thing negativity ever supported was the creation of more negativity, but creating an environment of negativity was so 2016. Rather than thinking about the things that make you annoyed and passive aggressively posting about them on Facebook, why not actively do something to promote positivity in your community, at home and in all other facets of your life.

Positivity in the Workplace
As an example, just this week, I started a new company, hired 10 people and already laid off all of the employees. By doing so, I actively prevented these 10 individuals from having to deal with the “back to work blues” that most people are experiencing today after the holiday break. By taking action, the friends and families of my former employees do not have to view their negative posts and memes about going to work today, which will have broader network effects of creating positivity throughout the world.

Folks, I’m not a hero. I’m just a man, trying to make the world a more positive place, one day at a time.

Pay it Forward on Your Morning Commute
It’s no surprise that commuters in all major cities hate experiencing delays on their way to work. Washington, D.C. is no exception, especially with its Metro system that experiences systemic delays on a regular basis due to single tracking, broken doors and a whole host of other factors. People love sharing their negativity of Metro on social media channels. In the past, I have participated in this practice, which is why I took steps this morning to quash the morning commuting negativity for all D.C. Metro riders.

As a group of us waited for the doors to close while aboard a crowded train, an adorable group of kids approached the train car to board. They all appeared to be excited to be in Washington, especially on the first day back for Congress and many workers in the area. To remedy the situation, I turned to the wide gentleman next to me, nodded, and we both proceeded to block the train door and prevent the group of kids from attempting to board. Our actions prevented more overcrowding, which would have broken the Metro doors and cause the train to be offloaded, one of the biggest sources of negativity out there.

Sometimes we all have to make tough decisions for the greater good. You’re welcome, D.C.

Be the Positive Difference
I know that these messages about positivity can be so cliché. These are just a couple examples of how I have started off 2017 to prevent an environment of negativity, but there are many more stories to share. Be the positive difference in your social circles and communities this year and share your stories using #StevieDeepThoughts.

Yes, I was attacked by a bed frame, but it could have been worse. You should see the box spring.

Disclaimer: I did not do any of these things this year. Yet.

The Trump Presidency: How Many Licks Does it Take to Get to the Center of a Tootsie Pop?

The concerns surrounding a Trump presidency can best be explained by one of life's oldest queries: "How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop?" Like the sugary coating encompassing the chocolaty Tootsie Roll and its relentlessly debated girth, no one has any real clue what lies beneath the contentious orange frame of the president-elect nor how many tries it would take to get to his inner core beliefs. He was elected without any real vetting of his views, a detailed analysis of his expected policies nor his much-discussed finances. Despite the constant coverage of one-liners, sound bites and hot mics, the American electorate just selected a man that has yet to introduce himself to the country.

The campaign of Mr. Trump created an environment of hatred, xenophobia, racism, sexism and a host of other descriptors that are not representative of a commander-in-chief. Whether or not the man himself actually believes in these views or simply did not try hard enough to separate these sentiments from his campaign remains to be seen. Even the inference of accepting views of intolerance should have been enough to dismiss a candidate from being elected to the Oval Office, but sometimes reality does not always bring out the best in people. I certainly hope this view is a result of over coverage of a way-too-long campaign and not the beginning of a horrible nightmare for many groups across America.

So I go back to my original question: How many licks does it take to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop? My answer: It’s too late to find out.

What’s done is done, so it is now in the best interests of this country to work with and not against the nation’s interests all while constantly fighting back against policies and actions that give even a glimpse of promoting those views of intolerance and hatred seen throughout the campaign.

Election Day and the Market: What to Expect

I pretend to know what I’m talking about and give market-related predictions based on today’s election results

Despite all signs of the apocalypse approaching, we have finally made it to Election Day, and at last check, the sun has still not exploded; a win for humanity, perhaps. I won’t pretend to tell anyone how to vote (but yes, you should go out and vote). I won’t pretend to know how to tell someone how to invest/trade their money (I am not licensed to do so, nor do I know what I am talking about…), but it’s always fun to make some Election Day guesses and trades because of the associated uncertainty, volatility and imperfect information out there. At the end of the day, markets are just a clearinghouse for imperfect information, hence the constantly changing prices of stocks, commodities and many other financial instruments. If we all knew what Event A would do to Stock B’s price, it would stay at that price without intraday fluctuations.

Anyways, back to the elections. There are two (or three) significant events that “the market” is likely focused on during this election: 1). which candidate wins the presidency; 2). which party controls the Senate in the 115th Congress; and 3). which party controls the House (although Republicans are expected to maintain control of the House majority). For all intents and purpose, by “the market,” I mean the stock market, and more specifically, the S&P 500.

Looking at how the major stock indices have performed over the past week or so is a great indication that a Trump victory would likely be negative, at least in the short-term. When FBI Director Comey released the letter to Congress regarding the possibility of new controversy surrounding Secretary Clinton’s emails, the market was not happy and continued its sell-off for nine straight market days. On Monday, stocks rebounded significantly as a Clinton victory looked more and more likely, and markets are rather indecisive today, Election Day, as we all await the results tonight.

Despite the higher likelihood of a Clinton victory, investors are still waiting for clarity on the election results and what exactly a Clinton presidency would mean for policy, regulatory actions and many other investable items. This will also likely be a “sell-the news” type of event. I’d expect further strength into the close today as anecdotes of voter turnout and other reports come in, but the trader in me expects to see a 3-5% drop in the S&P 500 over the next week or two following the election as investors realize that a Clinton win was already “priced in” (as much as I hate that term). If Trump somehow pulls off a victory, the drop would likely be greater, in the 5-7% range.

Longer-term, if we still experience a divided government (Clinton in the White House and Republican control of Congress), the market will rebound rather quickly and likely hit new highs into year-end. If Democrats win control of the Senate, while still a divided government, stocks will likely not bounce back as quickly, in my opinion, but there will continue to be upside bias into year-end.

All that being said, never bet the farm on one event. Stay diversified, stay hedged. Trading on short-term events carries significant risk and only an idiot like me would pretend to think they can outsmart the market or make trades that are not already priced in, which also means that I am not an idiot betting everything on the election, but I enjoy sharing my opinions sometimes (which can be VERY humbling when I am 100% incorrect).

Steven Harris Election Predictions

  1. Clinton wins: 308-230 Electoral College votes
  2. Republicans hold the Senate: 53-47
  3. Republicans maintain control of the House

Steven Harris Election Impact: Predicted Ranges in the S&P 500

  1. Clinton wins; Republicans control Congress: initial overnight pop in equity futures, sell-off into the morning; S&P 500 retests the 2050 level before Thanksgiving (bounces back into year-end)
  2. Trump wins: market sells off hard; S&P 500 at 1950 becomes a reality over the next few weeks
  3. Clinton wins; Republicans control House, Democrats control Senate: similar to scenario 1 - initial overnight pop in equity futures, sell-off into the morning; S&P 500 retests 2000 (rises into year-end, albeit at a slower rate)

Deep Thoughts
This is a historical election, and I don’t mean to discount that by condensing it into a trade, but whatever change we see after today’s elections will have a real impact on our economy, our trade relations and many other areas that affect workers, companies and policies throughout the globe.

Disclaimer: Any opinions expressed here are for entertainment purposes and should not be considered investment or trading advice. All investing carries risk and you should talk to someone far smarter than me before making investment decisions.

The Art of the Compliment

Everyone loves receiving praise. Sometimes people just need to be assured that they’re doing a great job (even if such assurance couldn’t be further from the truth). It’s sad how some people take criticism so personally, when more often than not both parties are just trying to achieve the same goal.

That all being said, sometimes babies need their bottles, so I went ahead and drafted a few crowdpleasers to overcome those awkward moments when you just can’t think of the appropriate words of praise.

  1. "You're the best kicker in the fantasy football draft."
  2. "Your radio audience will just love that outfit on you today."
  3. “Happy birthday!” – This one works best when their birthday is months away
  4. “My brother would really like you.” – I don’t have a brother
  5. "You’re going to be just like Michael Phelps in Tokyo!” – Out of the competition at age 35
  6. “Millennials would totally hashtag that.” – What?
  7. “You’ve just thought of the next Uber!” – They literally just stole the idea of Uber
  8. “Have you ever thought of starting your own blog?”
  9. “You remind me a lot like how I was at your age.” – Works best when you’re younger than them
  10. “I’d love to hear more. Can we schedule a meeting next week?” – You’re on vacation next week

The Power of Words

We all use words in some manner or another.  These might be spoken words, written words, signed, sung, babbled or whispered, but we find ways to use variations of words to communicate.  These words stem from hundreds of different languages communicated from hundreds of different countries across the globe.  We “speak” words to express love, to tell tasteful (and tasteless) jokes, to orate great tales of new and old; and sadly, words are sometimes used to express hate or worse.  Regardless of the way in which words are used, they play a significance role in our lives.

The same set of words can be formed to narrate a best-selling novel or to complete a hilarious set at your local comedy club.  These words can compose a historical inauguration address or be the framework of a heartbreaking best man’s speech at a wedding party.  In 10,000 years, whether technology is exponentially advanced or non-existent, we can rely on some form of language to survive beyond our years.

We use language and words for so many significant and trivial reasons that we can often take them for granted.  I am not an etymologist, nor do I play one on TV, but the history of certain words often tell a more impressive story than the ones written from those words.

You might be familiar with the pangram, “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog” from your early days of typing (a pangram is a phrase that contains all letters of an alphabet at least once = gold star word).  From a subset of those same set of letters, you could tell a special someone, “I love you so much.”  You could also spell out a not-quite-as-romantic proclamation, “I love your butt.”  One could also express, “I hate your blog on words.”  With only very minor adjustments, our words can be full of love, fetishes or criticism…

My hope is that society continues to evolve, both technologically and socially, and we embrace our language to help further this evolution.  This year’s political environment has shown both sides of the equation on the impact of words; I’ll let you be the judge on which side comes out on top.

And let’s not forget that words can be used to make money.  I strongly encourage you to buy my book when I get around to writing it.

Word.

I Once Wrote A Poem About Nothing…

I once wrote a sonnet about nothing at all,
I narrated a story that no one could recall.
I even penned a novel without a plot.
And yes, I did produce a movie about squat.

Amazingly, I created a poem that lacked a verse,
I directed that play for which we forgot to rehearse.
I coined a phrase that had no meaning,
I designed an animation without a screening.

But why construct an abundance of content without consumption?
Like neglecting a finale after a sweeping introduction?
Our failures teach us to build on our shortfalls,
And recreate thoughts and overhaul protocols.

So go create your “thing,” no matter the missteps or unconnected dots,
That’s the whole point of #StevieDeepThoughts!

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I have too many thoughts in any given day, many of which would make for amazingly horrible novels and equally terrible products, but that’s what makes creativity both challenging and rewarding.  As we approach the half-way point of 2016, I look back and would probably say that I am behind schedule on the mental checklist stored in the back of my head, but that’s ok.  I continue to write down new thoughts and ideas every day to help get me to where I want to be… eventually.

P.S. I’ll try to refrain from more poetry, at least for another month or two.

The Rationality of Irrational Fear

The brain is a bizarre and extraordinary organ.  The human brain serves as the body’s command center, and for better or for worse, it is responsible for so much of how we conduct ourselves and how we perceive those around us.  Without its unique and often unexplainable attributes, we would be a dull and uncreative species.

The brain is also responsible for many of our so-called irrational fears; those phobias and sources of anxiety that we struggle to explain and overcome.  Irrational fears can range from things like mild anxiety about visiting the dentist or a fear of heights or snakes; we can logically explain to ourselves why these things should not generate distress and yet the brain emits a contradicting signal.  Personally, I have dealt with a debilitating irrational fear on and off over the years, and I will be the first one to explain why irrational fears should very much be ridiculous but are very much real and hard to explain to someone who has never experienced it.

Well isn’t that a depressing state of affairs?  No, it doesn’t have to be.  I am not discounting the very real phobias and associated panic attacks that people experience, but these abnormalities (for lack of a better word; they are “not normal” by definition but are not “flawed” as often depicted by the connotation of “abnormal”) are also a result of the complexities and superiorities of our brains.  Humor, innovation and creativity are all constructs of a brain that operates in varying capacities from person to person and often in different manners for each individual at different times of the week.

Without a dynamic thought center, our society would not be filled with great minds, diversity and new developing perspectives.  We often only focus on the sources of our distress and anxiety because they are so intrapersonal and immediate, but accounting for the context of why our minds might be playing these little tricks on us can help overcome some of these hardships.

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Or maybe this is all just optimistic bullshit… but sometimes that’s the reality I like to envision.

Don't look now... my noggin is showin'!

The Presidential Election Will Not Help Your Health

This presidential election has been kind of like that rash you found on your ankle last fall.  It was sort of interesting from afar for a while; then a little bit tedious, back to interesting and then you kind of forgot about it for a month or two.  Now, we’re currently in the stage of, “Maybe I should have been more careful with my decisions early on, and what do you mean amputation?”

With this weekend’s surprising announcement from the Cruz-Kasich campaigns about a coordinated alliance, we have moved way past the regularly occurring crazy political thing to a whole new amazing political thing.  The campaigns announced that they would attempt to divide the remaining state primary contests with the hope of stopping front runner Donald Trump from reaching the 1,237 delegate threshold to win the GOP nomination.  The odds of an open convention are rapidly increasing by the hour, especially with new coordinated efforts and targeted campaigning to stop Mr. Trump from getting the nomination on the first ballot.  Cleveland in July should make for an interesting few days of political theater.

The moral of the story: Please go to the doctor soon.  That ankle rash is really getting pretty bad, and it won’t get any better by following the latest shenanigans of the U.S. primary elections.

The Compensation Conundrum

There is no perfect formula or science to compensation, but with most things in life, context is important.  Executive compensation is often chastised in the media and on the campaign trail, and sure, many of those cries may very well be valid.  CEOs are typically paid handsomely due to this high risk, high reward scenario.  If a CEO or other executive is not performing their job in a manner that is providing an added value to the company, shareholders, employees, etc., then they should be held to a higher standard than someone in an entry-level position.  They should be taking responsibility for a company’s shortfalls in the same way they gladly hold on to the spotlight during a period of productivity.  

That being said, I also have no problem with executive compensation that generously rewards those who provide invaluable insights and effective strategic management.  A good boss or senior leadership is often an underrated variable when evaluating a company.  A company needs to have a sound business model and quality product, but these are usually built on a company’s environment where employees feel that they are in good hands (and are directly or indirectly incentivized to stay with that company).

Looking at a recent filing, I could see firsthand that the highest quality employees are regularly not the highest paid ones and decisions surrounding salary compensation at lower levels are made in a vacuum.  The $5,000 raise that was denied to the hard-working manager (who might soon take their breadth of knowledge elsewhere) would have made a world of difference to them in terms of quality of life compared to the $25,000 raise to someone already in the highest tax bracket (otherwise known as marginal benefit).  These are theoretical scenarios that play out in companies of all sectors on a regular basis, but we don’t often talk about compensation as transparently as we should because of the associated stigmas and contention.

I wholeheartedly believe in market forces and labor markets are no exception.  I will leave the issue of minimum wage and living wage for another day; this issue is about those who already have somewhat well-paying jobs.  Compensation is a dramatic issue because it is the easiest way for someone to think they can view their perceived worth; on a historical level to their own salary and with their peers.  However, there are many factors that go into one’s annual base compensation numbers: previous salary history (anchoring is the worst); years on the job; other benefits; bonuses and quality of life/work-life balance; so even straight numerical salary comparisons are not as black and white as we might think.

The bottom line is that you should work hard and push for competitive compensation, but you should not be blindly motivated by salary alone.  Companies should also not be blindly motivated by titles alone; reward those who deserve it most and the company’s resulting outperformance should make everyone happy in the end.

BEWARE: The Worst Horror Story Ever

Darkness.

The house was flooded with a midnight gloom.  The wind outside blew tree branches along the window, like thin bony fingers running down a spine.  She thought she heard footsteps coming from the living room.  “How cliché,” she thought. “The babysitter in a horror film, really?” Slowly, she walked to the nearby light switch to illuminate the room to check if she had really heard a noise.

Nothing.

“Great, now the lights are out?” she whisper aloud.  She took small steps through the kitchen to look for an alternate source of light.  She found the switch and lightly lifted her hand to try her luck.  Success!

With the light as her guide, she moved toward the living room to check on the suspicious noise.  As she timidly peered into the other room, she saw it: the complete 9-disc Blu-ray set of HBO’s The Newsroom sitting by the Miller family TV.

She ran out of the house screaming.  She would not be babysitting the Miller twins ever again.

Why Paul Ryan IS Running. Maybe.

Whether he knows it or not, Speaker Paul Ryan is running for the GOP presidential nomination.  This afternoon, he will say that he is – without a shred of doubt – not running.  He will say that he does not want to be president now.  He will make references to the hundreds of candidates that ran or are currently running for the GOP nomination.

Yes, it sounds similar to the path that brought Speaker Ryan into the speakership in the first place.  And it would make for a great fan fiction series/conspiracy plot stemming back from the early days of the 2014 primary loss for then-Majority Leader Eric Cantor.  But the situation surrounding the speakership was different in that the Speaker of the House is not directly elected by American voters.  The party basically chose Paul Ryan to be speaker, and he accepted (with conditions).  Delegates and party leaders would need to be behind a Ryan presidential nomination in Cleveland, but there would be more voter involvement than during the speaker election, which could very well put the decision out of his hands during the convention proceedings.

But that almost sounds like confirmation that he IS NOT running, right?  Wrong.  He might very well not be actively running, but that is a different story than actively NOT running.  What?  My head hurts.

  1. He says he does not want to be president “now.”  That may be true, but he also ran for Vice President in 2012, which would have set his path to the White House for 2020 (assuming two- terms under Romney).  Four years is rounding error.
  2. He believes the nomination should go to someone that ran for the nomination.  15 or so Republican candidates have suspended their campaigns, meaning they did not want to continue the fight for the nomination (as unrealistic as the path may have been for them). Trump and Cruz, well they should not be the frontrunners. Plain and simple, they are scaring the children.  Kasich would be the one candidate that would fit this argument as a counterpoint to Ryan “running” because he has continued forward despite the delegate math.
  3. Polls and electoral analysis show that he would lose in the general election.  …because election polling and analysis has been so reliable this cycle.  Remember when Trump’s rise faded six months ago?  Remember when Bernie’s campaign was showing signs of burning out last November?  I respect everyone’s insights, predictions, etc., but my point is that there has been nothing but unpredictability this year, and I don’t expect that to stop during the general election.

So is Speaker Ryan running?  Maybe. Despite the articles and speeches this week saying that he is not running, nothing is as straight forward as a yes or no answer this presidential election cycle.  I’m not ruling anything out this year except maybe the launch of a new political book series, “The Donald Who Should Not Be President.”

P.S. I am fairly moderate in my political views and am not registered with either of the major political parties.

You’re Entitled to Nothing: Earn it

No one is entitled to a raise, a promotion or even a particular job (I believe people should have access to work, equal opportunity, fair wages, etc., that is not my focus here).  There is often confusion over the belief that the often-cited vague “experience” is reason enough for someone to be elevated to a higher place in the company organizational chart.  Experience is not expertise and that logic helps motivate me to learn new things every day because I don’t believe I should be rewarded simply for contributing to the daily status quo.

1.  Get angry (sort of): No, don’t yell at me for being too handsome.  And don’t complain because you like to complain; but expressing your frustrations in a constructive manner is healthy and a good barometer for determining the type of environment that you’re in.

If your views are ignored, or worse, punished, then you have your answer: find a new job.  If you feel validated that your opinion matters and your concerns are being addressed, you’re probably at the right place.  Get excited about what you’re doing.

2.    Education is important (not a source of entitlement): I cannot overemphasize the importance of education, but education comes in many shapes and sizes.  Going to graduate school for the sake of going to graduate school is not (a worthwhile) education.  It might look good on your resume for a few months, but it does not entitle you to anything over your peers because you pushed off work for a couple of years.

That being said, going to graduate school or enrolling in a certification program or some other technical or vocational course because you want to learn and apply these new skills, that is a worthwhile use of your time and resources.  If the new education is an effective addition to your resume, your career path and opportunities will present themselves very quickly.

3.    Make friends (sounds more fun than “networking”): Networking is a fancy word for expanding the base of contacts that you can rely on for various things: project collaboration, employment searches, learning, talking, laughing and finally: loving.  (I don’t suggest jumping right in to the “loving” part, but in due time, you might get there with the right set of people).

You can’t effectively build your network without really knowing the people in your address book (that’s a paper book that used to hold contact information for people).  It should not be a chore to meet new people and learn new perspectives.  I have met so many great people through the various pockets of my life, and I can rely on many of them for both professional and personal advice.  When I finally get my act together and start a business, I know whose opinions and validation I will seek.

If you feel like you have no professional friends, you might need to reevaluate how you present yourself.  Most people are very nice and are not out to get you.

Remember that.  Most people are very nice and are not out to get you.  Go out and make some friends.  Everyone likes friends.


Life can be unfair.  That does not give you the right to feel entitled to anything.  I have been fortunate in many ways, and I never forget that, but I feel that I have earned most of my achievements, especially given certain events along the way.

Go get excited, learn new things and make some friends.  I’ll see you out there.

Also: Don't listen to me, I'm just me. Do your homework and apply new perspectives to you.

Help Make a Person’s Day, Change the World

Everyone comes from a different emotional place each and every day.  On my commute this morning, I noticed how varied the emotions of my fellow commuters appeared; some smiling and bubbly while others were visibly upset. The happy days are the ones we like to share and the sadder days we like to bury, but each day brings people together in some fashion.  Our emotions are important; they help craft the elements that make each of us unique.

On a micro level, connecting with just one person can change that person’s day for the better.  On a broader scale, we can be more engaged, more productive and even funnier if we can overcome our own personal fears and anxieties and put them in context with everything else going on at that point in time around the world.

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Why is he sad?
Weak, emotional and unsure why, he moves through his apartment with a feeling of unease.  What was once a feeling of joy is now backed by an overbearing sense of sadness.  He racks his brain for an explanation of this emotional shift and finds none.

He buries this feeling for a moment and opts for a shower to rinse off the night’s unrest and the morning’s unease.  They say that cleanliness is next to godliness.  But why is he still sad?

Why is he laughing?
A joke.  A compilation of words and stories that makes him open his mouth and exhale with an unpreventable uproar.  The girl made him laugh.  He was downbeat and unengaged, and then she turned everything around.

Her anecdote was nothing extraordinary, but it changed everything. She smiled at his laughter. She knew she had made a connection, but she did not know the magnitude.  She had changed the world.

Why is he hopeful?
Upbeat, excited and optimistic about the day, he walks down the sidewalk with a smile.  A new sunrise shines light on a rested city emerging from its much-needed slumber.  A new day is a new opportunity to fix the problems in the world.

He channels this confidence and brightness and proceeds to his next stop on the railway of life.  He is a citizen of the world.  He can do anything.

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I am feeling optimistic.  I am confident. I can do anything.