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 toÂ 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. â€œOn the way home (from the hospital), (we) stop and get ice cream,â€ said Baumann, a New York native now living in Louisville. â€œWhen I get home, Iâ€™m told that I donâ€™t have to go to bed at 7:15. Because of the possible concussion, I had to stay up â€˜til midnight. And my response was … â€˜This is the happiest day of my life!â€™ â€
Certainly an ironic declaration, but the statement is much more than that. Itâ€™s a prime example of Baumannâ€™s incredible ability to focus on the silver lining in the negative â€“ A characteristic thatâ€™s helped him cope with difficult obstacles, including his diagnosis with Parkinsonâ€™s disease more than 10 years ago at the age of 41.
Stricken with a degenerative disorder typically detected in people in their â€™60s, Baumann â€“ a former top corporate attorney â€“ chose to do something good with his diagnosis. Leaving the practice of law, he began a new chapter as motivational speaker and author, penning â€œDecide Success: You Ainâ€™t Dead Yet: Twelve Action Steps to Achieve The Success You Truly Desire.â€
Published in 2011, the book describes various episodes in Baumannâ€™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 Baumannâ€™s life unexpectedly unraveled. â€œI was playing short stop, and all of the sudden when Iâ€™m warming up, I was throwing it over peopleâ€™s heads,â€ Baumann recounted a moment during a softball game in 2002. â€œI was bouncing it to (my teammates), I had no fine motor skills, I had no more zip on my throws. I told them, â€˜I canâ€™t play anymore, I donâ€™t know whatâ€™s wrong. I probably have a sports mental illness.â€™ â€
Yet, Baumann recognized other strange changes with his body. His arm didnâ€™t swing when he walked, his voice grew lower and softer, he lacked energy and facial expression and his handwriting turned illegible. â€œI walked into the doctorâ€™s office and she said to me within seconds, â€˜You have Parkinsonâ€™s,â€™ â€ Baumann recalled. â€œI said, â€˜Hold on a second â€“ Iâ€™m 41 years old, Parkinsonâ€™s is something for old people. How can you possibly say I have Parkinsonâ€™s? You havenâ€™t taken blood, you havenâ€™t hit my knee with a hammer,â€™ … She said, â€˜Well the only way to confirm it is an autopsy,â€™ so I chose against the autopsy,â€ he smiled.
Just as heâ€™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 itâ€™d serve him best to place his declining energy elsewhere. â€œI couldnâ€™t qualify for social security disability right away, and I had to make a living,â€ Baumann said of his then-unemployment. â€œSo, I thought about it and I went through the same steps Iâ€™ve gone through, and I said, â€˜Well, Iâ€™ve always wanted to write a book, Iâ€™ve always wanted to work for myself, and Iâ€™ve always been out speaking to colleges, high schools.â€™ â€
While teaching part-time at the University of Louisville, Baumann began collaborating on a book featuring Deepak Chopra. Next, he published â€œDecide Success,â€ featuring short anecdotes that teach his 12 Action Steps, from preparing and practicing to maintaining a positive attitude and experiencing your end-vision. â€œI didnâ€™t try to niche it Parkinsonâ€™s-only,â€ he said. â€œI 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.â€
While writing, Baumann also booked more opportunities to speak on his experiences with adversity. But while heâ€™d fully moved on from his past in the corporate world, not everyone was sure heâ€™d made the right decision with his new career path. â€œ(My mother) â€“ always been full of wisdom â€“ said to me one day while we were talking, â€˜Everything happens for a reason, you know that, John.â€™ I said, â€˜Time out. Iâ€™m a lawyer, Iâ€™ve been a lawyer. I look at words, I heard that word change. … Youâ€™ve always said my entire life, everything happens for the best â€“ For the best. Now youâ€™re saying everything happens for a reason.â€™ â€
Johnâ€™s motherâ€™s reasoning was simple: â€œWell, I canâ€™t imagine your Parkinsonâ€™s is for the best.â€
Not to be dismayed, Baumann used his motherâ€™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. â€œMy mother (came up to me afterward and) said to me â€“ she didnâ€™t say it was for the best â€“ but she said, â€˜Now I understand why you left the practice of law.â€™ â€
The affirmation was gratifying, nonetheless. But, Baumann still believes his diagnosis is for the best. â€œWhat would I be doing (had I not been diagnosed)?â€ he posed. â€œI would be in an office with the door shut reviewing contracts, instead of trying to help people live well with Parkinsonâ€™s or live well with any life-changing event.â€
Had he not been diagnosed, heâ€™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. â€œExercise is the only proven therapy that actually reduces and can take away some of the Parkinsonâ€™s symptoms and slow down the progression of the disease and almost reverse it,â€ said Bernadette, whoâ€™s helped Baumann drop 25 pounds and live a more energetic, fuller life.
Today, Baumann still practices law on occasion in addition to writing â€“ his latest work can be found in â€œCSI: Courageous Stories of Inspirationâ€ â€“ and presenting lectures. In half a century, his life has unquestionably changed, still filled with its struggles. But itâ€™s clear Baumann is making the best of every moment. And, heâ€™s hoping he can inspire more people to join him in making the best of their lives, too.
â€œI think thereâ€™s so much that I can provide that (a crowd of) 20 people or 50 or 1,000 isnâ€™t enough,â€ Baumann said. â€œIâ€™d like to get on a higher stage. Not for my ego, not my fame, not for celebrititis. I donâ€™t have that. I donâ€™t care about that. I want to reach more people. … I want to inspire people in companies (or) organizations (to) go well beyond Parkinsonâ€™s to embrace life. If you feel like thereâ€™s something from your past thatâ€™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