Ahead of the Curve?

A year ago, my life was filled with uncertainty. The nonprofit where I’d been for six years laid me off—not for performance issues or anything related to not doing my job—but because they no longer had the money to support someone who was really good at business development, partnership-building, and managing multiple projects.

One year later, my present situation is a bit like a patchwork quilt. I am now a part-time director for a nonprofit affiliate focused on making the case that hiring people with disabilities makes sense for Maine’s businesses. That’s a 20-hour-per-week gig, so I spend the rest of my time contracting myself out as a free agent. It’s been working since last August, but sometimes I wonder why no one’s beating down my door to leverage the unique set of skills I’ve developed over the past six or seven years. I hear the talk about a skills gap. How about plugging some holes where you’re at with my skills?

Yesterday was my life in a microcosm, with a small dose of melancholy mixed in, or better, a reflection on knowing what I know and yet, standing outside what I know could be so much more.

I attended an early morning business breakfast. This was the second time I’ve been at one of these. Once again, I was given barely a minute at the end to make my pitch for the affiliate I’m leading. Personally, I don’t think having the final minute at the end of a 90-minute meeting does much to convince business leaders that hiring people with disabilities matters. What they’re thinking about at 9:00 am is getting out and getting to the office. Granted, I’ve honed my elevator speech and I deliver it with enthusiasm and hope to nab a leader or two on their way out the door, but it’s not terribly effective.

We all do what we need to do to keep ourselves in the game. That’s a tactic that I wasn’t always a big fan of. In the past, I probably would have said something and confronted someone about tacking me on the end of their meeting. Everyone knows how well that would go, right? I’d be labeled a malcontent.

Two MPBN items caught my ear around noontime, as I was sitting on the Eastern Promenade waiting to meet someone who had sought me out for advice and what I know about reinvention. The first was a news clip of the Maine Development Foundation’s Ed Cervone, talking about the need for Maine to embrace soft skills in enhancing the quality of the state’s workforce. The second was Wednesday’s topic on Maine Calling, about self-publishing; the interest in it and some advice on how to do it effectively.

I’m no Johnny-come-lately to the topic of soft skills. I wrote this post five years ago citing the importance of soft skills. Around this time, I was taking a soft skills-based program no one knew what to do with and was promoting it across the state. 

I pitched WorkReady with the zeal of an evangelist. That passion and some great partnerships with Maine’s adult education community, CEI, the LWIBs, and some of Maine’s businesses helped grow WorkReady to where it became a program offered across the state. As far as I know, it’s still being offered through adult education.

Hearing Cervone talk about soft skills, and lately, sitting and listening to others talk about workforce development reminds me again about these past frustrations; knowing what Maine’s workforce needed, but finding others mainly interested in talking about the issue, rather than joining our small band of believers in supporting WorkReady.

It was my belief at that time that if WorkReady could have garnered a bit more funding, greater support from groups like MDF and a few others, and having a champion or two in the statehouse, we might have been able to really address the issue. Perhaps if MDF gets behind this initiative  it will finally take off. Sadly, I’m not sure that this revival of interest in soft skills will ever move beyond talk, or maybe worse, the reinvention of a new wheel.

The publishing piece was also a bit disheartening. I listened to a handful of guests speaking with Jennifer Rooks about self-publishing, or what I prefer to call what I do—independent publishing—and I didn’t hear anything that I didn’t already know. You see, I’ve been in the indie publishing game since 2004. I have done three books via my small micro press, RiverVision Press, and I’ve also had a book published by Down East Books (now owned by Rowman & Littlefield).

Not only do I know about publishing, but I’ve walked others through the process, serving as a consultant, helping them get their ideas into print. What I bring to the table is experience that comes from doing it, rather than theorizing about it.

While the guests on Maine Calling provided some good information, the topic was too general, in my opinion. Of course, it is a 30-minute program, and as an introduction, it was ok.

Two years ago, I developed my own Publishing 101 Boot Camp program that I’ve been delivering through some area adult education programs. In March, we incorporated it into Lewiston’s Super Saturday curriculum and we’re going to do it again this fall, in October.

I heard the guests on Maine Calling talk about how self-published authors need to know how to market their own books. I concur. In fact, marketing your book is part of what I talk about and it’s an area where I’m particularly strong in. It’s why my own books have been successful and why my next one will be, also.

At the end of August, I’ll also be teaching a writing class on how to write a book in eight weeks. While provocative, and perhaps a bit of a stretch, there is real value in both of these for anyone who wants to move beyond mere contemplation and jump into doing.

Sometimes I wonder if I’m just a bit too far out in front of the rest of the crowd.