February 2020 Update

Visiting the McDonald Observatory near Fort Davis, TX. Photo credit: Debbie Baker (Mom)

I’m still here! I’ve not been writing as frequently as I’d have liked, but rest assured that I am still on the earth and trying my best to live the good life.

A lot’s gone on in these past few months, so I’ll write briefly about the major things.

Website Facelift

The first thing you may notice, if you’re reading this on my website (MatthewRBaker.com), is that it looks a little different around here. I’ve spent the past couple months redesigning this site from the ground up, and I went live with the new look and feel in January. I’m just now getting around to writing about it.

The site design and layout is complete, though I may tweak a few things here and there as time goes on. In terms of content, I could keep word-smithing and swapping out photos, but I got the site to the point where it was ready to “ship,” as Steve Jobs would say—et voilà.

So please, take a look around and let me know what you think.

Self-Publishing Status

Last weekend I did my taxes, and for the first time I got to (well, had to) submit earnings from self-employment—in this case, self-publishing.

My book, How Computers Work and What to Do When They Don’t, didn’t make me a millionaire last year, but I didn’t lose money on it either. Let’s just say that, after writing off advertising expenses, I made enough to fill up my truck for a few months.

That said, the feedback I’ve received from the book has been phenomenal. Friends and family have raved about it. I signed a copy for a former teacher (also the first book I’ve ever signed), who said she keeps it by her computer at all times. I think that’s the best review that my book could receive.

I’ve enjoyed reading what Amazon reviewers (i.e., total strangers) have to say about it. Here are a few of my favorites:

The prose is good, it reads well. It’s factually accurate, even when it touches on matters of opinion and taste. Does a good job of defining terms. I think it could give someone dealing with their computer good guidance, and enough, but not too much, confidence; it draws a well positioned line explaining where the reader should go for expert help.

Good book that covers a wide range of basics. I was going to give this four stars but added the fifth because Matthew included an excellent list of resources and a valuable short list of what to do for common problems. I hope he follows up with a more technical book for those of us who want to go to the next level. Well done.

I’ve been teaching Intro to Computing/Computer Applications at the college level and to professional adult students for over ten years. This book is an excellent intro for anyone who might be learning how to computers for the first time. Most of my older students are embarrassed to be learning at what they consider a late date, and this book is gently reassuring while giving useful, readable, practical information. I will absolutely be using Matthew’s book in my private classes alongside our other materials.

Wow. Thank you. I’m humbled and honored by your words.

One reviewer mentioned a more technical book to follow this one. I’ve considered it; the only problem is that technology is changing so fast these days that anything I write and publish this year would need updating before the end of next year! Not to mention that there are dozens of other, more specific books that cover specific programs and technologies in greater depth than I ever could in one book. And even if I could, it would be an unwieldy tome!

That said, I haven’t written the idea off completely. So stay tuned.

If you’re interested in How Computers Work, please visit my dedicated How Computers Work page on this new site to learn more, read a sample, and purchase it on Amazon.

In other news, I’m working on a fiction project that I’m hesitant to say too much about. But suffice it to say, it’s going to be pretty unique if everything comes together as planned. More to come later this year!

Self-Employment Status

I’m pleased to announce that late last month I filed for an LLC with the great state of Texas, and am now officially a business owner! I’m still in the very early stages of business—opening a bank account, getting licensing squared away, and so forth—but I am open for business.

What kind of business, you ask? Two things: web and ads.

Firstly, web design. I’ve designed websites since high school for school projects, businesses, and non-profits. After redesigning a good friend’s business website last year, he encouraged me to file for an LLC so I could move from “freelancer” to “business owner”, and gain all the benefits and credibility that come from the latter.

And here I am, diving head-first into the world of self-employment.

A website is the digital world’s view of a business or organization. If the website looks old, cruddy, or dysfunctional (or if it doesn’t even exist), it is turning away visitors—without the site owner even realizing it.

If you or someone you know needs a website that’s designed to look good, work good, and generate leads for your company or organization—let’s talk to see if I can serve you.

Secondly, advertising—specifically, online advertising. If a business has a great offer but needs to get it in front of the market, this is where online advertising comes in. To that end, I’ve spent the past couple months learning the ins and outs of lead generation with platforms such as Facebook.

Advertising is how a business get eyeballs on whatever it’s selling. By creating an irresistible offer and coupling it with effective placement in the marketplace, online advertising will generate leads that turn into paying clients.

The neat thing about advertising online versus traditional media (print, billboards, etc.) is that a business can hone in on its target audience. This helps in pre-qualifying leads and prevents a business from advertising to people who would never be interested in the offer in the first place.

If you own a business, or know someone who does, and are interested in a monthly advertising investment to generate leads for your product or service—get in touch with me and let’s see if there’s a fit. (Plus, advertising and marketing expenses are tax write-offs. That said, I’m no CPA, so check with your accountant to be sure.)

Both websites and online advertising are investments because a business is spending money to improve itself. They will offer a fivefold or even tenfold return on investment if the investment is wise—whether that’s with me or with someone else. As my dad likes to say, “You have to spend money to make money.”

I know what you’re thinking…. “I didn’t come here to read all this sales stuff!”

Don’t worry. I’ll step off my sales-pitch box now.

As for the why of going into business, instead of maintaining a day job working for someone else: My first two jobs offered a great degree of freedom in terms of when I worked, where I worked from, how I got my work done, and so on. Both my first bosses were self-employed, and—to put it simply—the “be your own boss” bug rubbed off on me.

I am blessed to have a good job at a good company in a good industry, and I could probably stay there for thirty-plus years and retire comfortably. But I don’t think that’s how God wired me, and I don’t think that, at the end of my days, I would be proud of myself if I didn’t at least try to do what I felt impressed on my heart to do—to start a business in order to serve other businesses.

Last month, the death of the great Neil Peart hit me harder than I thought it would. As one of the few men who I think I’d call a kindred spirit (he’d deny being anyone’s kindred spirit, just like I would), his life’s work was a major force in shaping me to be who I am today, and continues to shape me the more I appreciate his music and lyrics.

The common thread that runs through Peart’s work is authenticity. I wrote about this a bit last month in my tribute piece to him, but at the end of the day it comes down to this: Be true to yourself, be true to others, and don’t be afraid to follow your dreams.

Or as he wrote in the song “Mission”:

Hold your fire, keep it burning bright

Hold the flame till the dream ignites

A spirit with a vision is a dream with a mission

So, in a tragic way, Peart’s death has brought new life to my personal goals. I hate to think of it that way, but it’s true. And I think The Professor would be proud of that, too.

In pursing self-employment, the biggest enemy I’ve come across is the enemy within. Self-doubt, the imposter syndrome, and fear of failure wage guerrilla warfare against my lofty aspirations. They attack when I don’t make a sale, or when the legalese seems overwhelming, or when I come across some statistic about most small businesses failing.

The other big enemy is the fear of what others think. Starting a business means going against the grain. I think it’s funny that the United States is the “land of opportunity” and yet American society has been conditioned that the “road to success” involves taking out a loan, studying four years for a piece of paper, and then working for someone else five days a week for thirty-five years.

The Japanese have a saying that the nail that sticks out will be hammered down. Here in America, we’re not that conformist, but to some extent we still try to hammer down the folks who dare to stick out.

And guess what? The fear of what others think not only attacks you, but supplies the enemy within with more ammunition to use against you. The two have signed a pact to do everything they can to stop you.

Thankfully, I’ve found a weapon that I can use against each enemy.

For the enemy within, the weapon is courage. Courage doesn’t mean marching into chaos with certainty that you will win. No—it means living true to your convictions and marching into chaos even though you don’t know what the outcome will be.

I always enjoy reading stories about courageous people. Whether it’s Biblical heroes like Joshua and David, business greats like Donald Trump or David Ogilvy, or even everyday folks like the firefighters on 9/11, I recall the courageous things that seemingly ordinary people have done throughout the ages—how they have made order out of chaos and made the world a better place in the process.

I remind myself that there are only two things that separate me from being more like these kinds of people: skills and courage. The former I can pick up from books and experience; the latter I must cultivate daily. But skills will do me no good if I don’t have the courage to go out and apply them.

For the fear of what others think, the weapon is something I don’t think there is a good English word for, but what I’ll call self-definition. It exists somewhere in the midst of characteristics such as independence, iconoclasm, nonchalance, free-spiritism—and yet care and concern.

Most people in the world don’t want you to succeed. As the saying goes, “Haters gonna hate.” Forget about them.

Some people close to you don’t want you to succeed. Most of them are envious that you’re doing something they don’t have the courage to do. Props to you. Now don’t break off those relationships, but forget about what they think about you.

But there are those few people, perhaps you’d call them an inner circle, for whom you do want to care about what they think. They most likely want you to succeed, and they’ll be cheering you on, but—like a caring mother’s instinct—they also don’t want you to fall down and get hurt in the process.

One thing that anyone who sets out off the beaten path must do is learn when to care what others think about you.

I believe that if someone can do those two things—face chaos with courage and block out the naysayers—then in life one can reach his own end of Kipling’s fantastic poem “If—”:

Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,   
    And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

Or a Woman, if you’re a female.

All that to say… courage is the greatest weapon one can wield when setting off the beaten path. It takes courage to get up every day and not give in to the enemy within. It takes courage to adopt self-definition. And it takes self-definition to keep at something despite the storm of disapproval and criticism that rages around you.

You can choose to serve fear and live in fear, or you can choose to say, “You know, maybe my fears aren’t as justified as I feel they are, and I’m going to take a leap of faith anyway.” I think that’s where we start to live more fully and open the door to an adventurous life serving God and lived in faith.

In Conclusion

Well, now you know what’s been going on in my life and bouncing around in my head these past several weeks. The future is a bright one, I think. But we have to work to get there.

If you’ve made it this far, thanks for reading, and please feel free to write if this inspired you somehow. The comments section of the old blog didn’t directly translate over to the new blog, but there shouldn’t be any glitches if you want to read a comment.

Until next time,

Carpe Momentum et Soli Deo Gloria


2 Responses

  1. From reading your blog, I think this is probably the best road for you indeed. Imposter syndrome is pretty normal in your situation and is probably a good sign. Actually, I would be much more worried for you if you had no imposter syndrome because it would mean you have no idea of your limitations. And you need to know your limitations if you want to improve yourself and succeed.
    I am curious about your fiction project. I hope you write more about it soon.

    1. That is very kind of you to say! You’re very right about knowing one’s limitations in order to improve. We all have to start somewhere, but the key is to start.
      Rest assured that I will be writing more about my fiction project in the coming months, hopefully once it starts to take a final shape.

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