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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Corporate Dropout Rediscovers Self... and Life

Having recently transitioned out of a 9 to 5 corporate job, Mike has been aggressively reinventing himself, not only career-wise but also in how he approaches life (and work) in general. The metamorphosis drove him to write the following piece, aptly titled "Caution: Adults At Play", which sums up his opinion about what a work environment should truly be. Enjoy...

Caution: Adults At Play

By Mike Lauterborn

© 2010. All Rights Reserved.


A marketing, advertising and promotion executive for the past 25 years working 9 to 5 posts at various agencies, Mike Lauterborn decided it was high time for a change and to pursue some of his own interests and passions. On February 23, 2010 – a date that Lauterborn now refers to as his own personal “Independence Day” – the beaten, dissatisfied 45-year-old professional quite suddenly made up his mind and walked away from a VP job with the goal of reinventing himself.

The decision was tough at first and doubts that he'd made the right decision lingered -- particularly with an unsteady economy and a nationwide unemployment rate hovering at over 10%.

As a first step, Lauterborn busied himself with home projects he’d long neglected and had had no energy for after the daily grind. Then he began cleaning, and turfing out, and carting away, all the old clutter of life that had accumulated throughout his house. And then he began to write... and write... and write… returning to a craft that he had begun at a very early age and honed and polished through teachers and creative writing classes and early employers and his father… but had set aside like an old favorite plaything, figuring that writing would never earn him the money he needed to start a family and one day have a house.

And as Lauterborn looked at this outpouring of writing, this unleashed creativity, a flame was rekindled… and a new direction and beginning of a plan determined. Lauterborn decided to officially become a full-time “Freelance Writer.”

His writing was freehand thought flow at first, then very defined typed pieces as his creative synapses started to reconnect and spark, like a cold engine turning over. And as this mental engine started to heat up, thoughts flowed like oil through his system and filled pages and pages of writing tablets and Xerox paper. Ideas began to come so fast and frequently that he began to carry a pad around and keep one beside the bed as middle-of-the-night inspiration visited.

Then the thought: could he gather these mental offspring into some defined assemblage of thought on a current event or topic for which a magazine and/or newspaper would be willing to pay? And so he started pitching to editors… and getting hits… that resulted in checks.

But what about all his marketing skills? Would those just go dormant? Why not offer those out there, too. So he designed a website, hired a web designer to bring it to life and sent a flurry of emails to agencies and accounts… and hits and appointments started to happen there, too.

What about teaching writing? Folks had always told Lauterborn he had the right personality and patience and interest to pursue the profession… so another, different batch of emails and calls went to that set… and appointments and plans were made and Lauterborn created an 8-week course plan to present to deans at local universities.

What of that old biz idea to run a local tour service? And why did it just have to be local? It could be franchised. Meetings and calls and one-sheet designs and financial discussions followed with great expression of interest all around.

Of course, there was the book project and manuscript that had long slept in a binder on Lauterborn’s coffee table. Back in 2003, Lauterborn had been inspired by John Steinbeck’s 1960 “Travels with Charley” road trip around the U.S. to replicate the journey, see what the author had seen, follow his path and write about it. The result – after spending 66 days traveling solo over 16,000 miles of road, interviewing 225 people, snapping 665 photos, visiting 35 states and four provinces of Canada, securing the support of 10 national sponsors and self-promoting himself to newspapers and magazines to get press pick-up all over the country – was “Chasing Charley”, a 250-page manuscript. But the publishing houses Lauterborn approached either didn’t have time for a first-time author, took eons to respond (as Lauterborn’s funds dwindled) or had stringent requirements for manuscript submission. All had been for naught it seemed and he limply surrendered to the call of the corporate promotion world, taking the plunge back into the agency world.

In the intervening years, friends, neighbors and local residents who knew about Lauterborn’s trip would repeatedly ask, “Is the book out? Did you write it? Can I get a copy? I always thought it was a good idea.” All Lauterborn could do was hang his head and make excuses, bewildered about how all the initial fanfare had withered and been muted.

It seemed too good a project and too much of an investment of time and money to just let it go. An agent, it seemed to Lauterborn, was just what was needed to resuscitate the book and the buzz.

And so he reached out to Weston agent Bob Diforio. A seasoned exec and clever marketer, Bob had an associate agent read Lauterborn’s manuscript. “This is absolutely beautiful prose, and recreating Steinbeck’s journey was a brilliant idea, well executed. You definitely want to read this one,” she trumpeted. In turn, Diforio relayed this to any and all publishing execs for which he thought the book would be an appropriate fit… and they’ve started to bite… and bite… and bite.

And as these publishing empires chew on Lauterborn’s manuscript, the writer/marketing consultant/entrepreneur is busy developing a second book that involves a journey to Jamaica, an excursion that he (and this time his wife, boys and even father-in-law) will make in late June, spending 2 ½ weeks combing the lush island and uncovering both its sweet treasures and painful, violent past.

And Lauterborn will work to develop yet another business concept to support other entrepreneurs… all the while continuing to reinvent his life, approach to work and guiding mantras. As he remarked recently to his new personal assistant, Cynthia “C.C.” (like “Chasing Charley”) Licenziato, “I want to have fun doing what I do. I never want it to seem like work. I want to go out for ice cream in the middle of the day, or take a dip in the ocean, or take the day off completely, whenever I feel like it… and not be bullied and pushed and held back by anyone ever again… No day should be average. No two days should be alike. THIS IS A REBELLION OF THE MIND AND SPIRIT!! Are you with me comrade?!!!”

Mulligan Stew A Rival of Egg Phooey

Foregoing a local parade and puttering in the kitchen trying to decide what to have for lunch on a beautiful St. Patrick's Day, Mike fondly recalled a dish called Egg Phooey that his Grandad Lauterborn liked to whip together. This was typically scrambled eggs as a base, with last night's leftovers mixed in. Often, the additive was spaghetti. With some cheese sprinkled in as well, this was hearty fare.

Inspired by the memory, Mike rummaged in the refrigerator extracting a potpourri of leftovers with which to "build" a stew. The latter included ziti, a chopped up yellow onion, diced potatoes, brown rice from a Chinese take-out order, the contents of a can of chicken noodle soup, a small portion of some other leftover soup and water to thin it out a little. The result? In honor of the day, he called it Mulligan Stew. The mish-mash of ingredients, incidentally, was often how the writer often ate on the road during his "Chasing Charley" adventure. Simply delicious.

A Toast to Julia Marie O'Brien

The toast that Mike had planned to make later in the day to his dear grandmother "Julie" was moved up in scheduling, to first thing in the morning on St. Pat's Day, around 6:30am. After brewing up a pot of good strong coffee and being joined in the kitchen by his elder son Evan, Mike decided the moment was right to pay tribute to the departed matriarch. He and his son filled their mugs (green in color of course) with java and tipped in a little splash of spirits. Ideally, this should have been some Jameson's, but some Warre's Warrior Special Reserve Port would have to do -- and added a nice raisin-y flavor to the concoction to boot. So it was that they raised their mugs, clinked them together and toasted, "To Julia Marie O'Brien, wherever you are. Happy St. Patrick's Day."