What Are You Doing?

I said I wasn’t going to put up a Friday blog post this week. I lied.

Granted, probably only four of you will bother reading it, since most Americans are out doing their Black Friday shopping. Stay hydrated and be nice!

Today’s title was prompted from my experience attending a recent open house put on at CEI’s brand new building on Federal Street, in Brunswick. It was also a Chamber of Commerce Business After-hours soiree, too. As someone that used to do these every month, I’m thankful that my life at the moment no longer requires my regular attendance.

I did run into a few former colleagues and partners. To a person, they asked me “what are you doing”? That’s never an easy, elevator-type question for me to answer. I don’t have just one thing I do, or I’m not doing the same old, same old that most people have been doing, forever.

My work gets me out of the office.

My work gets me out of the office.

Here’s one thing “I’m doing.” I rode over to New Hampshire in early November and completed two resort profiles for both Loon Mountain Resort and Gunstock Mountain Resort. These were done for RootsRated, an intriguing outdoor adventure portal. They were part of the site’s “An Insider’s Guide to the Best Northeast Winter Resorts.”

If you are really interested in what I’ve been up to (at least the writing), my website has all of my published work, from latest, dating backwards. Of course, I also know that people ask questions because they don’t know what else to do when they run into you, and I’m okay with that.

You Can’t Say That

Gen Y shutting down free speech.

Gen Y shutting down free speech.

Free speech and the right of Americans to speak their piece is arguably one of our nation’s most vaunted freedoms. Short of yelling “fire” in a crowded movie theater and a few other caveats, whether you agreed with another’s protected speech, the right to say it was sacrosanct for more than 200 years.

Leave it to millennials to fuck that up! According to Pew Research, our milliennial snowflakes are much more likely than older Americans to say government should be able to prevent people from saying “mean and hurtful” things about minority groups.

Millennials want to eliminate bad words.

Millennials want to eliminate bad words.

Continue reading

“D” is for Discipline

Discipline is an old-fashioned word. It belongs to the time before everyone’s shortcomings got filed under disease, disability—or better—blamed on someone else or a societal injustice. To use “discipline” in a sentence or conversation is a great way to get you branded as an anachronism.

That’s fine. There are some things that can’t be fixed without traditional approaches.

I was thinking about this as I was swimming my lengths in the YMCA pool, part of my twice-weekly routine that I’ve adopted to remain fit and flexible. I rarely am excited when I wake up at 4:30 to be in the car by 5:15 (that’s AM, not PM!) to do something that three years ago I considered impossible. But when I’m done, I’m thankful for the intrinsic motivation that got me up and out the door.

Discipline means having your own personal drill sergeant.

Discipline means having your own personal drill sergeant.

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News From Around the World

The past four days have been an interesting stretch. I’ve actually been down the rabbit hole for much of three of them, piecing together the most ambitious short-term freelance assignment that I’ve landed to date. The payout for giving up my weekend is about a month’s worth of income. After the year I’ve had, any ka-chingle at this point is welcome. I’m actually in the throes of a decent late-year rally.

Up from the rabbit hole.

Up from the rabbit hole.

While in the course of my work, a major international event occurred, too—a terrorist attack in France—but I literally couldn’t stop to ponder or pay much attention to it (save for about 5 minutes on Saturday morning when I checked my social media feed). I did see that many “friends” were acting like lemmings. Continue reading

Learning to Sprint

In January, it will be 12 years ago (in 2004) that I walked away from my Moscow Mutual cubicle and never looked back. Well, I’ve glanced over my shoulder periodically to take stock from where I’ve come from, and also to appreciate the occasionally bumpy terrain I’ve traversed to get to my current address in free agent nation.

Just the other day, someone I worked with at the aforementioned insurance giant emailed out of the blue. The exchange was an odd one, something akin to, “are you the Jim Baumer that used to work with me at Moscow Mutual? Seems like you are doing well. Kind of an odd question, I know.” Odd indeed. But yes, my former co-worker had tracked me down after 11 years.

My naiveté at the time knew no limits; it still amazes me. Long before I’d ever read a sentence of Seth Godin’s encouragement to ship, and poke boxes, I found some book by a guy named Bowerman, about making six figures as a freelancer. The story’s not a new one with me, but shucks—I practically starved that first year out of the gate. Better, my wife put up with my ignorance and lack of steady paychecks and supported me until I figured out that I’d better find something steadier and more secure.

Life on the cube farm.

I used to work in a place like this.

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Looking Ahead and Planning Today

Fashion dictates planning for the upcoming year on New Year’s Eve—that’s if your fashion sense tends towards procrastination. But, is the second week of November, especially a month dead set on maximizing the mildness of the season, the time to begin thinking about 2016?

If you’ve played the resolutions game with a fresh new calendar staring you in the face, then you know that the first six weeks of any new year is the duration of most people’s plan for success, and their implementation phase. How do I know this? Past experience. Also, I used to be a member of Planet Fitness in Auburn for a couple of years while working out of the CareerCenter on the other side of the river. I got to see firsthand that six-week spike played out with a flurry of new members crowding the gym during some New Year’s promotion. By the middle of February, however, people were falling by the wayside and by the end of the month, there was no more waiting for machines. Come March, it was the same old regulars grunting and sweating at 5:30 in the morning, another great anecdotal example that the wait-until-the-start-of-the-year approach has serious shortcomings.

In considering the past year, I now realize how often and mistakenly have characterized it as an unsuccessful year in my own perception. I’m now recognizing that this hasn’t been an accurate frame. A better way of looking at the past 11 months might be one of gaining valuable experience and some new perspective. The key to maintaining a success mindset involves building on a foundation set on these essential learnings.

Seeking out the signpost of success.

Seeking out the signpost of success.

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Your Belief System

The person you are now was being developed many years ago. As a baby, people would smile at you and “coo” and you were already learning to perform for others, giving them what they wanted (and maybe more important, expected).

Over the years, all of those subsequent interactions formed the “print” of who you are; in essence, your self-image. The problem with that image is that it is based on the attitudes of others. The benefit derived for them is in who they think you are and the role that you’ve come to accept and play for them.

I’ve written often about reinvention here at the JBE. That journey continues, but I think I’ve arrived at a point where some newfound clarity was needed (and was missing).

My own lessons learned during the K-12 years and after—when I went off to college to play baseball, mainly—eventually led to a dead-end. At that point, I had to turn back, retrace my route, and find a different off-ramp, and a new road forward. that took place over a two-decade period.

There is a certain sameness that Americans crave and pervades life as we know it. I guess that’s why I’ve felt out of sorts for much of the past 10 months. The need for people I used to know to rush along with the rest of herd makes it hard to reconnect with most, if not all of them.

When my former boss died, I felt an obligation to reach out to former colleagues and people he knew in the workforce development world where I once resided, and where my mentor and I first met. Just like him, I’ve come to see that many of these former colleagues are pretty shallow; mere cardboard cutouts masquerading as human beings. I just shake my head thinking about some of the disingenuous email replies and responses I received.

I’ve intimated in this space that 2015 has been the most challenging year since I’ve been freelancing. It’s running neck and neck with a few other years back in Indiana, for most challenging ones in my life.

That being said, getting clear on some important things might just be the gift I wasn’t expecting from my year of adversity. As the dross has fallen away, I’m recognizing that I’ve gotten away from some basic values. I also recognize that there’s no value in forgetting the labor required to remove previous obstructions—I need to stay true to who I’ve become and not revert to the place where I was before.

So, can you define your core values? Also, are you where you want to be in your life? If not, why not?

It’s possible that you also have some work to do.

On Assignment

Looking for a story.

Looking for a story.

May was when the wheels seemed to come off the freelance bus. I lost a lucrative monthly client, and it caused a crisis of confidence of sorts. I’m sure there was more going on than losing a big chunk of ka-chingle. Who knows?

Six months later, I’m back on the horse. You can see I’ve been busy, with my byline showing up in a variety of places. The clip file has had some nice additions, including my piece on John Gould in the November issue of Down East Magazine.

If there’s one lesson I’ve learned as a citizen of freelance nation, it’s that when the roller coaster seems at the apogee of its ascent, don’t get too excited. It’s going to come rushing roaring down the incline to the bottom, sooner than you think. Continue reading

Stopping for School Buses

This means stop.

This means stop.

Let’s begin this week’s Friday blogging exercise with a little traffic safety review for you drivers. According to Maine Revised Statutes for Motor Vehicles, under Title 29-A,  §2308: Overtaking and passing school buses, it reads as follows:

  1. Stopping. The operator of a vehicle on a way, in a parking area or on school property, on meeting or overtaking a school bus from either direction when the bus has stopped with its red lights flashing to receive or discharge passengers, shall stop the vehicle before reaching the school bus. The operator may not proceed until the school bus resumes motion or until signaled by the school bus operator to proceed.
  1. Penalty. A violation of this section is a Class E crime which, notwithstanding Title 17-A, section 1301, is punishable by a $250 minimum fine for the first offense and a mandatory 30-day suspension of a driver’s license for a 2nd offense occurring within 3 years of the first offense.

 Most of you are probably wondering, “why is Jim turning the JBE into a blog on traffic safety and rules of the road?” What? Did you not see the WMTW-8 report by Katie Thompson, on idiot drivers passing stopped school buses in Cumberland? I guess those high-end, tony suburbs aren’t attracting civic-minded types any longer. No, just rich schmucks with “get the hell out of my way” attitudes that are always riding up on my ass when I’m simply driving the speed limit on rural backroads like Route 9, coming back from points south and headed back to the compound in Durham. Continue reading

Richness follows Loss

I know that not everyone who reads the blog is a writer, or aspires toward the writing life. However, over the past few weeks, a window of reflection has opened, looking backwards. What I’ve been able to see with uncommon clarity, has been much of the past decade or more for me. Writing has been at the center of this period of time, what I characterize as my personal period of reinvention.

Life dictates that we move on from grief and loss. Outside of the death of immediate family members—and even then, superficiality predominates how others respond, with platitudes, or worse—clearly demonstrating some sort of structural disconnect and a deep-rooted denial related to death and dying in our culture. “Get over it and move on” is what we’re expected to do.

Over the weekend, I went through some of Bryant’s books. A demonstration of grace from his son, when he offered me the opportunity to go through his father’s collection of books, at the funeral service. He followed up with an email and we spoke by phone during the week. I planned to meet him on Saturday at his father’s apartment in Augusta.

Bryant had taught at Colby-Sawyer, with Wes McNair. There were several of McNair’s books sitting on his bookshelves. Most of them ended up in the two overstocked boxes I lugged out of the apartment and put in my trunk. Continue reading