By ASHLEY ANDERSON
At the age of 10, John Baumann was playing outside with his best friend when a sudden brawl with his brother led to a trip to the hospital.
Hit in the head with a rock, Baumann received 10 stitches and a heap of pain, but the injury left him neither bitter nor angry at his brother. In fact, it did the opposite. “On the way home (from the hospital), (we) stop and get ice cream,” said Baumann, a New York native now living in Louisville. “When I get home, I’m told that I don’t have to go to bed at 7:15. Because of the possible concussion, I had to stay up ‘til midnight. And my response was … ‘This is the happiest day of my life!’ ”
Certainly an ironic declaration, but the statement is much more than that. It’s a prime example of Baumann’s incredible ability to focus on the silver lining in the negative – A characteristic that’s helped him cope with difficult obstacles, including his diagnosis with Parkinson’s disease more than 10 years ago at the age of 41.
Stricken with a degenerative disorder typically detected in people in their ’60s, Baumann – a former top corporate attorney – chose to do something good with his diagnosis. Leaving the practice of law, he began a new chapter as motivational speaker and author, penning “Decide Success: You Ain’t Dead Yet: Twelve Action Steps to Achieve The Success You Truly Desire.”
Published in 2011, the book describes various episodes in Baumann’s life that shaped him as a person and the intense visualization behind every goal that led him to achieve tremendous success, such as gaining admission to Cornell Law School and a 25-year career representing Exxon Corporation and Steel Tecnologies.
It also illuminates the moment Baumann’s life unexpectedly unraveled. “I was playing short stop, and all of the sudden when I’m warming up, I was throwing it over people’s heads,” Baumann recounted a moment during a softball game in 2002. “I was bouncing it to (my teammates), I had no fine motor skills, I had no more zip on my throws. I told them, ‘I can’t play anymore, I don’t know what’s wrong. I probably have a sports mental illness.’ ”
Yet, Baumann recognized other strange changes with his body. His arm didn’t swing when he walked, his voice grew lower and softer, he lacked energy and facial expression and his handwriting turned illegible. “I walked into the doctor’s office and she said to me within seconds, ‘You have Parkinson’s,’ ” Baumann recalled. “I said, ‘Hold on a second – I’m 41 years old, Parkinson’s is something for old people. How can you possibly say I have Parkinson’s? You haven’t taken blood, you haven’t hit my knee with a hammer,’ … She said, ‘Well the only way to confirm it is an autopsy,’ so I chose against the autopsy,” he smiled.
Just as he’d handled any other setback, Baumann looked for a solution to the problem. He took medication and continued to practice law until 2008, when he decided it’d serve him best to place his declining energy elsewhere. “I couldn’t qualify for social security disability right away, and I had to make a living,” Baumann said of his then-unemployment. “So, I thought about it and I went through the same steps I’ve gone through, and I said, ‘Well, I’ve always wanted to write a book, I’ve always wanted to work for myself, and I’ve always been out speaking to colleges, high schools.’ ”
While teaching part-time at the University of Louisville, Baumann began collaborating on a book featuring Deepak Chopra. Next, he published “Decide Success,” featuring short anecdotes that teach his 12 Action Steps, from preparing and practicing to maintaining a positive attitude and experiencing your end-vision. “I didn’t try to niche it Parkinson’s-only,” he said. “I felt the lessons applied to students, professionals, people doing hobbies, anyone with a life-changing event or caregiver to a person with a life-changing event. This gives you the guide book and it has exercises in it.”
While writing, Baumann also booked more opportunities to speak on his experiences with adversity. But while he’d fully moved on from his past in the corporate world, not everyone was sure he’d made the right decision with his new career path. “(My mother) – always been full of wisdom – said to me one day while we were talking, ‘Everything happens for a reason, you know that, John.’ I said, ‘Time out. I’m a lawyer, I’ve been a lawyer. I look at words, I heard that word change. … You’ve always said my entire life, everything happens for the best – For the best. Now you’re saying everything happens for a reason.’ ”
John’s mother’s reasoning was simple: “Well, I can’t imagine your Parkinson’s is for the best.”
Not to be dismayed, Baumann used his mother’s statement as motivation. Now a highly-sought-after speaker, Baumann has delivered inspirational lectures all across the U.S., from Phoenix to New York, Hawaii and Cincinnati, where his mom first heard one of his speeches. “My mother (came up to me afterward and) said to me – she didn’t say it was for the best – but she said, ‘Now I understand why you left the practice of law.’ ”
The affirmation was gratifying, nonetheless. But, Baumann still believes his diagnosis is for the best. “What would I be doing (had I not been diagnosed)?” he posed. “I would be in an office with the door shut reviewing contracts, instead of trying to help people live well with Parkinson’s or live well with any life-changing event.”
Had he not been diagnosed, he’d likely have never met his now-wife Bernadette, either. On Jan. 7, Baumann was introduced to the fitness and nutrition enthusiast on his quest to become healthier. “Exercise is the only proven therapy that actually reduces and can take away some of the Parkinson’s symptoms and slow down the progression of the disease and almost reverse it,” said Bernadette, who’s helped Baumann drop 25 pounds and live a more energetic, fuller life.
Today, Baumann still practices law on occasion in addition to writing – his latest work can be found in “CSI: Courageous Stories of Inspiration” – and presenting lectures. In half a century, his life has unquestionably changed, still filled with its struggles. But it’s clear Baumann is making the best of every moment. And, he’s hoping he can inspire more people to join him in making the best of their lives, too.
“I think there’s so much that I can provide that (a crowd of) 20 people or 50 or 1,000 isn’t enough,” Baumann said. “I’d like to get on a higher stage. Not for my ego, not my fame, not for celebrititis. I don’t have that. I don’t care about that. I want to reach more people. … I want to inspire people in companies (or) organizations (to) go well beyond Parkinson’s to embrace life. If you feel like there’s something from your past that’s affecting your future, deal with it. Take the steps necessary.
For more information on Baumann, visit theinspiringesquire.com.
Photos By CHRIS HUMPHRIES | The Voice-Tribune