Validation

How often do you affirm other people? I mean, honestly recognizing qualities and positive traits—some amazing skill or ability they have. I’m guessing not very often.

Yesterday, I spoke to two friends. One of them I’ve known since 1988 when we were both new meter readers at our local power company. The other one, I met in February, the weekend we held Mark’s Celebration of Life at Brown.

The former knew Mark from the age of five and saw him grow into his teenage years. We’d lost touch as Mark got into college. But with true friends, a sabbatical isn’t a deal breaker.

My old friend was crushed when he learned Mark was killed. I’d called him the next day because I knew he’d find out and I wanted him to hear from me. He’s been there for me over the past eight months.

My newer friend and Mark were colleagues at Brown. Both navigated the school’s Literary Arts program together, earning MFAs. They are also poets.

We’ve been calling every other week and have deep and meaningful conversations about life. Yesterday, we were talking about how rare it is in this life to receive validation.

It’s interesting that our current president is a man who has made his way to the top by doing the opposite—tearing down others and seeking to destroy them. That says a great deal about the value that Americans place on catching others doing good and authentically recognizing that. Continue reading

A Good Coach

I’m not sure if the best coaches are the ones who everything came easily to, or maybe the better ones are those who had to struggle a bit and figure some things out. There are examples from both categories, so relying on the anecdotal won’t deliver the definitive on that question.

Coaches are important; that I do believe. They can identify some minor flaw, and get you to focus on positive assets while dialing down your liabilities. I’m sure we can all name essential coaches and mentors who helped us along toward success at key times in our lives.

Sometimes our lives simply get choked full of weeds and debris, and we need someone objective (bringing necessary “distance and space”) to help us unclutter, refocus, and even breathe deeply and regularly. Sort of like what Mainers and others do coming out of winter, when we rake up the yard, and clear out the detritus from winter, tidying up our flower gardens.

I was on the radio this morning, on The Breakfast Club, talking about publishing your own book with local writer, Linda Andrews, a coaching client of mine. Linda did an awesome job, talking about her amazing new book, Please Bring Soup To Comfort Me While I Grieve.

On the radio with Linda Andrews, talking indie publishing.

On the radio with Linda Andrews, talking indie publishing.

Sometimes a coach can make all the difference for us. Continue reading

Most People Don’t Follow Through

The road to hell is paved with good intentions. You’ve heard that one before, haven’t you? While clichéd for sure, it speaks to a universal truth—people like to talk, but they’re even more enamored with procrastination. But intentions by themselves don’t result in success.

Even though my blogging has been consistent over the years, I don’t always feel like putting up a post. Since I’ve selected Tuesday and Friday as days for fresh content, I have a commitment to making that happen. I’ve self-imposed these deadlines to ensure that my blog doesn’t end up like so many other vacant storefronts out there by bloggers who thought it would be cool to blog and then got waylaid by boredom, or difficulty, or the myriad of excuses that people use to not do what they need to do.

James Altucher mentions the importance of being consistent and persistent. He’s speaking about podcasts in his case, but I think those traits are applicable to just about any task-oriented endeavor. You’ve got to commit to making it happen, and then you need to follow it through—not once, or twice, or for a week—but time after time, for a year, five years, and even longer.

Practice makes perfect.

Practice makes perfect.

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Routines

Success is often attributed to developing certain habits. I think there is something to be said for developing traits that are replicable. That’s what we know as discipline.

There are a host of books that serve as guidelines for developing these routines designed to lead to successful outcomes. Here’s a recent one that comes to mind. Then there are the standards that have stood the test of time.

In my own life, certain rituals have evolved and have become ingrained. I rarely vary from them.

Getting up early is one of them. If I’m not up by 5:30 every morning, something’s certainly amiss. Many mornings, like Mondays and Fridays (my swim mornings), I’m up at 4:30, if not earlier. 5:00 a.m. is my preferred alarm clock setting.

Here's someone who was an advocate for routines.

Here’s someone who was an advocate for routines.

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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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The Way We Talk

Communication fascinates me. Speaking well delivers advantages to the speaker. Good to great speakers are often in demand.

We are living during a time when the speed of communication has accelerated exponentially. We’re awash in information. Most people are struggling to render heads or tails from the onslaught. Speaking (and writing) clearly about your subject can help diminish confusion.

For the past decade, I’ve been actively engaged in helping to create messaging about a diverse array of topics, from workforce and economic development, to aging in place, and of course, my own publishing ventures. I’ve learned to be intentional about the information I’ve been tasked to develop and disseminate. My experience regularly reminds me about the power of words, and how they’re arranged in order to make points.

Interestingly, just this week, I stumbled across an older article that I remember reading when it initially ran in The New Yorker, back in 2001, 14 years ago. It was about PowerPoint, as a communications tool.

PowerPoint corrupts, and absolute PowerPoint corrupts, absolutely.

PowerPoint corrupts, and absolute PowerPoint corrupts, absolutely.

Continue reading

Life’s Lesson Plan

This has been an interesting week. No two days were the same. Come to think of it, the routine and boredom that were part and parcel of the days occupying a seat in a cubicle farm are long gone. I also don’t miss working for people I couldn’t stand.

That’s not to say that life always comes up roses in the free agent economy. August began with a great deal of optimism and the herald that things were trending in the right direction. Then, a major car repair on Tuesday chewed up a week’s worth of income and I was reminded once again that life (at least the life of a freelancer) is always going to present a bumpy ride now and then.

This is what I tweeted on Tuesday.

A successful #freelancer becomes comfortable with ambiguity, is able to juggle/prioritize, remaining the same during feast/famine.

I felt like I captured 2015 from my perspective in less than 140 characters. Twitter-rific! Continue reading

An Honest Conversation

So you want to talk about the road to success, eh? Seriously? Success often masquerades as Lady Luck. Finding the pathway that leads to the doorway of success isn’t simply maintaining the status quo, either.

How are you at managing adversity? Let’s talk when your prospects seem hopeless, and the light coming from the other end of the tunnel is most likely a train. That’s the kind of conversation I’m interested in having.

It’s never easy going through a rough patch. I think it becomes more difficult during these social media-influenced times, when it seems like everyone else is having a ball, and you’re sitting at home, alone, with a can of cheap beer and some second-rate movie from 1937 on the idiot box. When the losing streak stretches out for weeks and then months, being resilient is a requisite, but it sure as hell isn’t easy getting up each and every day and turning your frown into a big fat smile for the doubters to see.

And just like that, someone throws you a bone—or two—and the funk comes to an end.

Life’s funny like that.

Keep Doing What You’re Doing

I have a tendency towards impatience. If some new idea or project doesn’t take off immediately, I’m ready to rate it as a failure and run off in a new direction. At least that’s what I used to do a lot more often. I’ve learned from past mistakes.

Novelty and hoping that if you throw enough mud (or some other substance) up against the wall, some of it might stick isn’t always the best formula for success. Being entrepreneurial does require being somewhat risk averse, however.

When you release a new book, propose an investigative story to an editor at a publication, or pitch new projects hoping to keep enough work in your freelance pipeline to stay afloat, it’s easy to think nothing’s happening. Sometimes the phone doesn’t ring today, or email seems like it’s broken. Tomorrow’s sunrise always offers new possibilities. Continue reading