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.

I was on my way, and as I found out, I was accidentally skating along the cutting edge back before guys like Pink and others made it seem rad and possible. I was finding success, one failure at a time.

One of the major issues not recognized by me at the time—success freelancing requires a reasonable payout for articles and work delivered. I didn’t know that unscrupulous publishers that promise one amount for an article, and then employ the ole’ bait and switch like my first regular client I wrote for (a good liberal, btw, and likely a Hillary supporter these days), put me behind an eight ball after six months of work and I never fully recovered. That and never paying on time was another strike that eventually forced me out of the freelance game for a few years.

But here I am at the end of 2015—back with a vengeance and equipped with some actual skills and writing chops. I also now understand in an  experiential way the value of diversification. Not depending entirely on just my writing is probably a positive. There’s less pressure, for one thing. Also, when writing gigs dry up, there are other things I can fall back on to keep the train on the tracks. and the decade-long slog has presented me with this unique package of abilities that not every freelancer has. I can market, sell, pitch, schmooze—some days, I feel like I could do brain surgery if I spent a little time with a YouTube video. But, perhaps not.

That being said, work for me is no longer akin to distance running, where I pace myself for the long haul. Since I don’t work a 9 to 5, 40 hour work week like most, I often am out of sync with the rest of the world that does. No, my work now feels like a sprint most of the time, with periods of recovery time, only to rev back up to 60 mph from a standing start.

Right now, after having more rest than I needed, I’m doing some crazy end-of-the-year dashing around.Oh, and I’m doing it for a publisher that seems to respect writers enough to pay them well for the standards and expectations set forth.

When your work feels like sprinting. (Brit, Richard Kilty)

When your work feels like sprinting. (Brit, Richard Kilty)

One thought on “Learning to Sprint

  1. My children get tired of me when we go to the base. “I think I know that guy from somewhere,” but usually don’t. A Navy SEAL and I stood in the commissary quizzing each other. We both swore we knew each other, but simply couldn’t figure out where our paths would have crossed.

    I walked out of the pool store the other day and a short, bearded man came after me, “Hey, Sir, Major Prop.” WTH? Don’t you remember me, we were together (in a little trailer with about 22 of us day in day out 16 hours a day) in Iraq? I copped out that I couldn’t recognize him with the beard and pony tail, but when he filled in the details I remembered well who he was. Retired now, still raking it in from the war machine.

    Working phones for LL Bean was the oddest. Old high school classmate here, old college friend from across the hall in the dorm there. On the phone, took an order from an address right next door to a woman I had been deeply in love with, literally the house next door. But strangest of all, I was taking a long Christmas order when the woman asked me, “Is this Loosehead Prop?” Um, yes. “I thought I recognized your voice and remembered you once said you were from Maine!” She had been one of my students in Washington, DC, now graduated and back in Cleveland waiting the next big thing. I was amazed she recognized me based on my first name, my voice and one clue. We violated LLB protocol and chatted for about fifteen minutes just catching up on what had happened to all her classmates.

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