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

Color Me Eclectic

As much as some people tout that we’re becoming a free agent economy, if you’re the one living that life, it often seems like everyone else is still doing the 9 to 5 corporate (or nonprofit) thing. Maybe it’s just in Maine that most people found their dream employer right out of high school (or college) and has been with them ever since.

When I look back over my own career, it’s the equivalent of a cat’s nine lives. By that I mean that there’s the “Indiana era,” “the CMP years,” time served at “Moscow Mutual,” etc. Work relationships from each one of these periods in my life have fallen away and seem to be forgotten by everyone but me. Oh, a few people from my past are on Facebook, but I don’t consider social media the reality-equivalent that everyone else does. There are a handful of people that I remain connected to and actually spend some time with periodically. I treasure these relationships and the qualities represented by true friends.

Probably the most meaningful period during my pre-freelance career journey were four of the six years that I spent working for the Local Workforce Investment Board (LWIB). Our nonprofit organization was housed at the Lewiston CareerCenter, a place that elicited mixed feelings. I’m not a huge fan of government bureaucracy, and the Maine Department of Labor certainly operates like one. Then there were the other nonprofit partners also housed there. I won’t bother to name them. 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.

Continue reading

Keep on Tri-ing

I’m entering my third year as a triathlete. Most of the triathlons I’ve entered are of the sprint variety—the distances being 750-meter (0.47-mile) swim, 20-kilometer (12-mile) on the bike bike, and finishing up with a 5-kilometer (3.1-mile) run.

After competing in three sprint triathlons at Point Sebego in Naples the past three seasons, Miss Mary and I are off to the Cape and Hyannis/Craigville Beach for our first out-of-state event, and a good early season test.

My spring hasn’t been my most memorable. Thankfully, training with an eye towards this weekend’s event, and my umpiring, have kept me on an even keel most days, and allowed me to push through some adversity.

Seth Godin would be proud.

Sunrise at OOB, Rev 3, 2014

Sunrise at OOB, Rev 3, 2014

Some ‘Splainin to Do

I’ve been putting up regular content here at the JBE since 2012 when I first launched this site. The primary purpose of creating this WordPress platform (my first time designing my own website, btw) was launching my personal brand. At the time, given what was happening—basically, getting down-sized—plus, I was reading Seth Godin, Daniel Pink, and others; personal branding seemed to be the proper exit ramp to free agent nation.

The most important aspect of the JBE now looks like it’s been centralizing where I blog. That’s one reason why I chose to include one as part of the website in the first place. At the time, my plan was to write about reinvention and other things central to my personal brand.

With all that’s transpired over the past three years, the blog remains the primary reason I keep the site up and running. My efforts the past year to reinvigorate my own freelance writing is the reason why I also maintain another site where I post my freelance writing clips and keep my online portfolio up-to-date—something that seems like it would be a requisite for a free agent writer these days. The personal brand thing—I’m not as bullish on that anymore. Continue reading

You’re Out!!

After seeing my blog stats crash and burn over the past week, it might be time to get back to bread and circuses. Seth Godin says blog stats don’t matter, but I’m not as self-actualized as Seth is. I guess writing about education, post-industrial collapse, and even food is way too controversial for most people. While I don’t plan to start tackling certain kinds of pop culture subject matter—like zombies and meth-dealing science teachers—baseball is a sport, and one of the circuses I’ll still buy a ticket for and write about.

Longtime readers and old friends know that I played the game, coached it, and even ran a semi-pro college league for five summers—heck, I even wrote a book about baseball. What many don’t know is that I once was an umpire and given the nature of the free agent lifestyle, I’ve decided it’s time to get back behind the plate again.

The boys in blue.

The boys in blue.

I was a member of the Western Maine Baseball Umpires Association (WMBUA) from 1998 to 2001. After four years, I had worked my way up from 7th and 8th grade junior high games to getting some varsity high school action. Then, Mark graduated from high school and I wanted to see him play college baseball at Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts, a three-hour drive I got used to making two or three times each week; when he came home in the summer, I started coaching a team in the Twilight League and it wasn’t long before I was running a team, running the league, and even writing a column on the league for the local weekly newspaper. Umpiring got pushed aside. Continue reading

Selling Cookies

Being able to sell is important.

Being able to sell is important.

It’s been a while since I posted on an “off” day (an “off” day, in case you haven’t noticed is any day that’s not labeled Tuesday or Friday).

I just got to Seth Godin’s Wednesday blog post on Girl Scout cookies. I wanted to weigh-in because what he wrote was that important and resonated with me.

The lesson of his blog post was universal (don’t ask “no” questions, especially in sales), but he picked something that most everyone was familiar with—selling Girl Scout cookies. Good God! Who doesn’t like Girl Scout cookies? Continue reading

Sochi Games Shrouded in Fog of Fear

The Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia have officially begun, although the “opening ceremonies” will be broadcast tonight on the TeeVee. Every four years, a narrative develops about each subsequent Games. The story of the 2014 games seems to be fear.

The original intent of the Olympics, we’ve been told, was to promote competition and goodwill among nations around the globe. We all know that’s a bucket of horse puckey, don’t we? The archetype for our modern Olympics began in ancient Greece, taking place in the context of a religious festival; all events were held in honor of Zeus, and included the sacrificing of a hundred oxen in his honor. The athletes all prayed to the gods for victory and gave gifts of animals, produce, or small cakes in thanks for their successes. Today’s oblations are to the corporate sponsors that make the world go round, including international sports competitions.

Playing both the fear and financial angles.

NBC–cashing in at Sochi

The worship now centers on how much money can be extracted from the entire process. It’s commercialism run amok, with geopolitical tensions and propaganda thrown in for good measure. Continue reading

The Work of Writing

I led my third Publishing 101 Boot Camp on Saturday, the second time it’s been offered during Lewiston Adult Education’s Super Saturday format. This six-hour time slot (which also included lunch for attendees) is the right amount of time to walk prospective publishers through the nuts and bolts of independent publishing. This followed closely on the heels of my fall writing class, Let’s Write That Book: 8 Weeks to Writing and Publishing Your First Book. Five of my writing students sat though Saturday’s workshop. Continue reading