Really Love Your Peaches, Wanna Shake Your Tree

Tonight I’m thinking about how my career has progressed despite making many sub-par decisions in my personal, academic and professional life. It’s funny to me, because I’ve conditioned myself to turn my nose up to things that I think are below me, even if I really don’t deserve any better by most standards. I’m talking about going after sometimes simply because I want it.

I’ve done about every job you could imagine from cleaning toilets in state parks to selling polished up rotten vegetables to unsuspecting grocery shoppers. I’ve written dirt-paying SEO articles for content mills and done glorified data entry hour after hour, day after day, year after year… What did most of these jobs have in common that allowed me to make progress? They all really sucked and were mindless enough so that I could day dream for most of the day, do the bare minimum and think about what I wanted to be someday down the road. I also won’t do them again unless I’ve got loan sharks with baseball bats knocking against my door.

Funny enough… I think I just might be what I wanted to be down the road. At least part of what I had imagined professionally has manifested itself through me doing what needed to be done on the immediate term while I kept my head to the starts and using every bit of extra energy possible to get me there beyond what I needed to do to survive financially.

Now I find myself really having to challenge myself. I’ve been challenging people around me constantly lately by being a real pain in the ass and an over-chipper jobless bum. Have I shaken my standards and concepts about the world and myself enough? Do I need to kick this tree a few more times to see what or whom may fall out of it?

I’m actually semi-self employed as a contractor right now and have some truly exciting possibilities for full time self-employment and collaboration on the table. Or I might just get offered a job that meets all my current needs. I can say the former of those two options is going to be more difficult, less mapped out and stressful as hell. But, can I do it? Yeah, of course I can. There’s reason for me to believe otherwise.

Next week I’m taking a step in being location independent and flying out to Colorado to see my cousin and some friends. I’ve been out there once and thought it was beautiful and I’m going to try and look at it through a different set of eyes while I cook for her and her family, play with and walk her Pugs and drive around.

The flight was the right price (a.k.a. cheap as hell) and I’ve been wanting to go back and visit on a solo trip forever. For some reason I always put going back off since the last time I was there. Since I moved here, I always wanted to go visit Chicago and do stuff there or maybe even see other parts of the midwest. Now that I don’t have a desk job holding me to a single place for a set amount of time every day, I’m finally doing these things. I have to question myself… why did I wait? Can this be my life if I’d really like it to be? What do I need to do to make it happen like that? Maybe I can take off anywhere, anytime I want and have a home base wherever I choose if I manage my career correctly… and maybe I’ll continue to grow my career. What a concept!

Gotta keep shaking that tree and see what comes out of it. I think I see something up there that that I want.

Keep Your People Up

When shit hits the fan in life, and for risk takers it often will, I see the practice of keeping your people up as a tried and true way to keep your sanity, find inspiration and get through the hard times. I’ve heard the phrase “I need to just focus on myself right now” in the past and it kind of makes me sad. I always try to focus on myself and the levels of actual success with that intention vary greatly. However, when I withdraw into myself entirely, the results rarely yield anything but over-chewed thoughts with little to no input from the outside world. Taking action based off ideas that have no relative merit… that’s taking risk in a bad way.

Keeping my people up is something that I like to do. They might call or run into me and ask “how are you? Have you found a job yet? I feel so terrible about what happened.” I give them the briefest run-down of what’s going on possible, maybe bitch a little bit about the circumstances and then I follow up with, “I’ll be fine, don’t worry about me. But, how are you?”

People like to talk about themselves. I know I sure do. You want to make someone feel good? Ask them how they’re doing. If they don’t have a good answer, hit them again with a re-framed question until you can connect with them. This really pisses some people off, but that’s okay because I thrive off of the people who really want to break bread and talk about life. Input and output is a beautiful thing.

Here’s the thing… I don’t have all the answers in life. Some would say I have no basis for the advice I give to people. I even think that sometimes! But, what I really believe in is the fact that my ability to think objectively and apply that thought process to absolutely anything is what makes me fun and interesting to have around (in most, not everyone’s eyes). I get as much out of making connections with others as I do spending time on the solo tip.

Don’t just focus on yourself when times are hard. Look outward, open up, see how you can help other people and I promise you you’ll get back as much as you give out if not more.

5 Months or 5 Years?

I don’t believe in anything linear. People who assert they they have linear lines in their life are typically full of shit. I’m more a believer in symmetry and patterns, which can include flat periods of growth or ridiculously fast upward curves of development.

After the last week of taking some time to think of what’s gone down recently and what my options are, I think it’s safe to say that the last 5 months have been more formative than the last 5 years of my life. I’m kind of doubting that statement as I type it, however, I’m seeing within my personality, skill set and network that things are happening at exponential rates as of late. I also suspect I’m on the verge of another growth spurt too.

But, those flat periods are not to be looked at as write-offs. Just because you’re not growing in any sense that you care to acknowledge or record, your senses are working around the clock whether or not it’s translating into inspiration and action. All that latent downtime, interaction and miscellaneous, unsavory emotional purgatory was in fact being taken in, indexed and analyzed by that big, powerful brain of yours.

Translate this into career development and it’s easy to see why people get intimidated by the “required” number of years experience in any particular area in job descriptions. It’s total crap! Why? Well, before I came to Madison, I was a copywriter, project manager and someone who was well versed and used social media proficiently. All of that turned into a community management job at Brazen Careerist. The transition wasn’t hard for me because I had all the pieced together from previous years of working and freelancing. When I put it all together, I was suddenly working with all cylinders firing at once. 5 months later, I get laid off and I know I could jump into a full scale community and brand management job for any company in the world.. or even for myself!

Yes, I grew THAT fast and I have no lack of confidence in my skills. So the only questions are where do I want to go. Where do you want to go? If you predict huge periods of growth and not so much time in your plateaued state, do you try and always re-evaluate where you’re pulling the direction of your development? Or, do you just see where it takes you?

J.R. Phone Home

I’m getting asked quite a bit in the past few days about what I’m going to do and where I’m going to go. All I can say for sure is that I plan to do something and go somewhere outside of Madison, WI. My friends here know and have known for sometime that Madison wasn’t on my list of places to settle and I knew that after spending only a little bit of time here. It’s kind of amazing that I’ve been here only about 5 months. Seems like it’s been a lot longer.

In the past few days, despite battling a stomach virus that won’t quit, I’ve had an outpouring of support and job leads from people within my network that I can only say is beyond amazing. Honestly, I am so grateful for all of the emails and blog comments. It’s giving me strength to keep on with my positive outlook and grab this situation by the horns and make it work for me.

I see big things happening for me in the next couple of weeks. I’ll be keeping people updated too. I don’t know if I am moving or where I’ll be moving yet, however I may just wind up in your neck of the woods. Be prepared! 😀

My Life and Career After Brazen Careerist

Today I am sad to announce that I am no longer an employee of Brazen Careerist. While I consider the circumstances wholey unfortunate for both parties, both Team Brazen and myself have separated happily and are more than satisfied by our shared experiences over the last 5 months.

So, here I am.

While the fact that I don’t have a job anymore is slowly and uncomfortably sinking in, I’m realizing a few things with a bit of enthusiasm.

  1. Despite getting laid off, nothing about my time at Brazen Careerist would be considered un-successful. The reasons I no longer have a job there are beyond my control there and I have to say that I had an amazing, albeit short run at it.
  2. I learned more about the ways startups REALLY work than I would have at most other places. Priceless knowledge that you never really can understand until you see up close.
  3. I managed the single best young professional social network on the web today. I cannot say how proud of that fact I am. To every person who got a job or lent a hand out to a person in need within our community, thank you for inspiring me to witness what the power of social media and human kindness are all about.
  4. Despite being a bunch of chatty, rambunctious, profane and ADD having 20-somethings, I am really happy to say I found a unique friendship with each one of the crew that I worked with day-to-day in our Pee-Wee’s Playhouse-esque office.
  5. Somehow I wound up 1100 miles away from the place I called home for 25 years and I don’t consider Madison to be the place I’ll call home for the long term. Am I bitter that I moved out here for a stint at a company that was so short? Absolutely not. Like I alluded to in the previous points, the amount I gained since moving here in late September far outweighs the situation I’ve found myself in. I feel incredibly lucky for that.

So, I want to thank Ryan Paugh and the other co-founders for taking a chance on me and bringing me out here. I want to thank the community for making this be the best job I’ve ever had by a long shot and I want to thank all my friends and family that have given me the support I need but often shun all along the way.

I’ve currently got some options on the table for freelancing and potential jobs, but I’m open to all comers right now and look forward to keeping forward progress on the cutting edge of social media marketing and community management no matter where I land.

Onwards and upwards.

Who The Hell Are YOU?! (and where’s Waldo?)

A test I found today and didn’t get to take because I had too much to do at work… let’s see how accurate or useful it is.

I love these tests because every once in a while they confirm what I really always knew about myself OR they shock the hell out of me and make me question certain assumptions I have made.

This is one of those tests that kind of confirms what I already knew, to a degree.

So apparently Madison isn’t the right place for me on the long term. Not hugely surprised at that. But considering I moved out here for a job, I’m relatively content with that fact.

From how I answered the questions, it seems like NYC or San Francisco are on the lists of places I should really consider checking out the next time I relocate, along with Portland Oregon. My love affair with Portland, Maine however was a false one when I answered the questions honestly.

To tell the truth, this test kind of sucked and I’m not that excited about the results. I’ve heard a lot of this Florida fellow’s books, so I may still check them out, but I really don’t see this test as being anything more than a SWOT analysis.

Anyways, I’m curious about what you all thought about this test and if you got any interesting results. It’s probably hard to get anything too unexpected due to the fact that you’re working within parameters that you choose.. but let me know either way.

Running All Over This Country Chasing Something

Sometimes this boy gets too big for his britches, but I think a lot of people do. I’m the type of person who lives in my head and I’m consciously doing my best to live in the moment more before things get too stuffy up there. I’ve often had big ideas about living all over the world and how the people and places all over this planet seemed much more interesting and hospitable than where I’m from. Probably a naturally immature perspective, however I actually acted on it back in September and packed my shit to move cross country for what would become my dream job.

All due warning would be true about Wisconsin being this cold ass place, which a far different culture than what I was used to. While I consider myself highly adaptable, the pure ambition and idealistic image I had for a job doesn’t levitate on it’s own against the backdrop of a city in the southern part of a pretty white, rural and stereotypically midwestern state.

Whatever… nothing’s permanent. Jobs, location, lots of things… they come and go, right?

Well, what if this wanderlust inside me never goes away? Do you have a wanderlust? Do you have nomadic tendencies? Did your cave men ancestors look at the agriculturist fragments of your tribe like they were fucking nuts for deciding to grow beans and goats?

Yeah, well I think that wanderlust is a big part of me. I fulfilled it to a point. Moving to Wisconsin was and has been one hell of an adventure to satiate the my desire to be shaken and stirred.

However, the part where your family calls and tells you someone’s sick or dying or that someone’s having a baby or that someone’s having a really hard go at it and could use you around to talk to.

When you place a big part of your self worth into being there for the people you care about and making new friends scares and exhausts you, does it make sense to keep moving? I mean, sometimes I sit and look the situations I put myself in and at the type of person I am for face value and I think “well James, I’m completely certain you are either a masochist or brain damaged.”

But what if my character isn’t fatally flawed in the Shakespearean sense? There is an ebb and flow associated with pretty much all aspects of life. Happiness, sadness, death, birth, success and failure…

The tendency for me to push this and other envelopes as far as I know to push them and then continue on until I find great success or get burnt out seems applicable to finding happiness continually through life. I’m not actually unhappy right now either, I just worry too much. I dwell on the past sometimes and how I could have done things differently so that I can learn my mistakes and make them better. Then once I’m content with understanding how I screwed up in the past and learned, I dwell on the future and harass it until it reveals some tangible thing for me to chase around like a cat after a moth.

I find my strength from within and outside of myself and that’s really something that I continually surprise myself with. Even at times when I feel like I’m in an echo chamber where nobody understands me, not even myself, the right thing pops into my mind and it’s like that life line that I need to grab onto once more to pull myself along.

Where do you find your strength and inner will to push on when you constantly find yourself outside of your comfort zone? This is a question to the relocators, the job changers, the people looking to find love again and the people who break rules and take toys apart just to see what they’re really made of.

My First Video Blog About Thinking Too Much, Minimalism and Starting a Business

Tonight is one of those nights where it’s a perfect storm of being tired yet motivated when getting home from work. Add on top of that the interesting, yet pleasant feeling of knowing that people in your past are doing okay… well, it’s enough for me to look past this grisly bear look I’ve got going on and share some ideas with you… via video!

Enjoy and don’t pull any punches! 🙂

I’m A Rich Kid

The unfortunate passing of J.D. Salinger as of late has got me thinking about why I liked The Catcher in the Rye so much. I’ve re-read the book several times after high school when it was originally assigned and found myself laughing at the lead character Holden Caulfield’s continuously jaded view of the world and himself. I laughed because Holden was the embodiment of what I once thought myself to be, regardless of social or economic stature, I loved that Salinger so accurately and beautifully depicted the angst of a young man too big for his or anyone else’s britches.

I’ve heard and read a lot of harsh criticisms of The Catcher In The Rye from some people because they feel it’s Salinger simply indulging the rich, white man’s plight. Indeed, Holden Caulfield was a rich kid from New York City who really had a nice life afforded to him by his parents. But he had bitterness towards the world and most people he knew and met. Even the few people that said were “alright” throughout the book usually were folks of a more modest personality or background, but never too modest because then they’d illicit disgust from Holden for making him feel bad for being wealthy.

What I liked about The Catcher In The Rye was how I thought back to the days when I was growing up and going to a rather wealth-driven private school in the suburbs, unless people knew me personally, they didn’t know I was one of the city boys who got to go there because of his grades and a single mother who was damned if her song was going to get tangled up in the local trouble he so loved to indulge in. I really integrated as far as one possibly could into the private school lifestyle that at some points I stopped noticing the difference in background I had from so many of my new friends.

When I turned 16 and lots of my buddies started getting their first cars, it was definitely easy to notice which kids came from which types of families. Some of the kids in my grade rolled up in new BMW’s, Mercedes, some had modest but nice Toyota Carolas and others, including myself had rust-buckets (mine happened to be a 1988 Jeep Comanche).

Regardless of which way I looked at it at the time (probably looked at it quite jealously), all of these piles of metal, bolts and pistons were to some degree hand me downs. I bought mine with birthday and Catholic confirmation (HA!) gift money I received. Others simply got theirs given to them. It didn’t matter and still doesn’t.

My point is that I still always felt the same ways Holden did. I was an un-grateful little prick at times even with all the amazing love, attention and support my mother and family gave me and still was determined to strike it out, make mistakes and get my ass kicked by life on my own terms. It transcended the idea that our backgrounds make us up entirely but more like  there’s something inside that makes us feel more alive when we’re lost in a city or dark country road, judging, being humbled and still learning continuously.

To go on the record, I was a cheater in high school. I cheated on more literature tests that I remember. I never read a full book in high school  and always, always, ALWAYS read the Cliff Notes version to get by. Not because I hated reading, but because I was a real Holden Caulfield in the flesh who was too damn stubborn to something he was told just on principal. I smile when I realize that part of me is still very much alive. I also like to think that Holden grew up to be a little bit like me… because I did in fact go back and read every single book that I was ever assigned in high school, in full, non-Cliff-Notes and loved it.

Thanks J.D. Salinger for making me feel a little less like a stubborn ass!

My Reaction To This Fear and Frustration

**This post is super personal, confessional and somewhat of an “oh shit, I probably shouldn’t share this” entry. So please read on with care. I’m still working out this being-me-and-living-life thing…**

As I talk a mean game about the things I want from life and from myself there are serious short comings in the approach I’ve taken time and time again. By putting myself through the ringer with hard work and rewarding myself with things that hurt me, I become utterly frustrated with my lack of respect for  myself and in turn, the lack of respect I’m showing towards those I care through my actions.

This repressed frustration has been simmering for some time now, but came to an uncomfortable head very recently.

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I got a call from my uncle while I was finishing up work yesterday. I missed his call and I checked my voicemail shortly before I went out to happy hour with a friend from work. The message he left wasn’t normal. He just said that he wanted to talk to me and that I needed to call him back. My phone wasn’t working well in the office so I figured I’d call him later.

When I was out having a drink and appetizers at the bar, my mom called. She said my uncle went to the doctors and found out he had a large tumor on his esophagus and that he was really scarred and wanted to talk to me. My stomach dropped and I felt myself getting upset. We decided to leave the bar and head back to my coworker’s apartment and then go out to get food and drinks with some other friends. I decided to call my uncle on the drive to the apartment but couldn’t get a hold of him.

So, we went out and had more drinks before dinner and while we were waiting for a table my uncle called and I stepped outside to take the call. He told me about what the doctor said and how if he hadn’t quit his last job for a new gig and needed a physical before starting that he would probably not have found out about the tumor until he starting having symptoms and it would have been too late. I asked him to keep me up to date with the surgery and how he was feeling.

He asked me how I was doing I told him about some of the frustrations I’ve been having lately and how regardless of it all, I’ve still never once regretted making the biggest career and geographic move of my life. As always, he reminded me and re-assured me that I was doing the right thing and that moving forward I would continue to do the right things as long as I stayed true to myself.

After hanging up the phone I took a deep breath and went back inside to have dinner. We stayed out for a bit having a few more drinks and then I went home around 1AM.

On the way home, I picked up a pack of cigarettes. When I go out drinking I have always liked to have cigarettes because it always feels soothing to smoke and feel buzzed. Plus the social aspect of stepping outside to smoke with people has always been something I didn’t have to think about. I just did it.

I’ve battled with a lot of demons in myself since I was a young person. I think I had my first cigarette when I was around 13. I probably had my first drink around that time too. I make excuses to why I’ve drank and smoked pretty much my entire adult life and even as an adolescent and the fact of the matter is that I haven’t ever been able to respect myself fully for doing these things.

I’ve gone months or even years without having a cigarette or alcohol and lost a whole bunch of weight and gotten healthy in the process. I’ve worked my ass off physically and mentally to get to certain points and suddenly when I feel like I accomplished something, I reward myself with the things have hurt me and always have hurt me. It’s a ridiculously vicious cycle and I hate it. I truly hate it and sometimes I even hate myself for falling into it repeatedly.

I get frustrated with myself and the people I surround myself with because I think back to the days when I was at my best, or what I considered my best and I was more or less a self-motivated person going to the gym, eating healthy and withdrawing myself from the social circles that I continuously found myself battling to escape.

The lack of mental and physical balance and the persistent extremes that I put myself through are what I feel continuously make me veer of course further and further. When I completely remove myself from my friends and the situations that influence my poor behavior, I’m sealing myself off from a lot of the good things that sustain me as well.

I feel like my family and friends won’t expect much out of me at any point unless I throw up a façade of extreme changes that don’t really seem sustainable in any reasonable regard. I guess I don’t expect much out of myself either. I don’t understand the lines between where I go so wrong and where my best intentions are.

I read somewhere once that when you’re trying to break bad habits, the key is consistency. Whenever you commit to something and give up on changing your ways, you’re essentially lying to yourself and letting yourself down and in essence entrenching yourself in your bad ways even more.

I want to quit drinking, quit smoking and I want to become healthy, forever. I’ve used alcohol, cigarettes and food to comfort and reward myself for the hard work I’ve put in elsewhere in my life and they essentially decrease my ability to be my best self for myself and the people I love. When I decide to punish myself and withdraw as I crumple up a pack of cigarettes, pour the remainder of a bottle of wine down the sink and throw out junk food laying around my house, I become this broody bastard and resentful of all the external forces that I feel like are trying to sabotage me from enjoying my life. My friends call and want to go out and I resent them for trying to put me in a position where I’ll be tempted to drink, smoke, eat shitty food and spend money that I should be saving.

The difference that I’m feeling now compared to the other times I’ve tried to kick my habits is the sense of obligation to honor the people I love and the things that I love about myself. My uncle is very sick right now and he took a big part in raising me when I was young when my father wasn’t around. He’s always been better to me than he needed to be and the sobering (no pun intended) encounter with his mortality has made me suddenly too aware of my own.

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I’ve heard around the way that you shouldn’t ever publish a blog post unless it makes you a little bit scared before you hit “publish.” Well, I am scared right now. I’m very scared of losing my uncle, I’m very scared that the positive things I do in life will be outweighed by the negative and I’m scared of how hard the future is going to be. However, I’m not scared of being judged. No one reading this could judge me as hard as I’m judging myself and nobody can make me change the way I’m living better than I can.

So with that said, I’m dedicating this blog post to my Uncle and everyone who has ever held higher standards and hopes for me than I have for myself. Thank you and I love you.