“Sunrise, open my eyes, no surprise.” The Notorious B.I.G. refers to his time in Belize in the track, “Breaking Old Habits”
I’m about 1 week away from my 20 year high school reunion and it has me reflecting a little bit. There are many strands swimming around the old duder’s head these days – what’s next, how have my peers fared over the years, am I a good father and husband, will I ever be satisfied by my quest to capture fish around the country, etc.? One question that recently started nagging me is, “When did I become a creature of habit?” Over the past 5 years or so, I’ve prided myself on avoiding this trend that is so prominent among my fellow adults and found that most times, when I challenged conventional paradigms, I was profoundly rewarded for doing so.
I hope that nobody takes offense to what I’m about to say but I think both men and women can relate to this. When I was a teenager, I had one goal that I’m willing to bet all teenage guys have shared since the dawn of the human race – to hook up with as many girls as possible. Long-term commitments, although convenient, never appealed/worked for me. I had to have as many experiences as possible. Sure, there were some routines back then: I had to wake up for school and go to my classes but when I got home at the end of the school day and especially over the weekends, anything was on the table – adventure and experimentation was the key. More times than not, this quest (some might have perceived it as self-destructive but I believed what didn’t kill me gave me some great stories to tell) yielded some fond memories. I’m not saying this is true for me but I’ve heard many people say that high school was the best time of their life. Damn – that sucks! Worst-case scenario, that period of your life represented only 1/15th of your time on this planet.
I digress – my drive for experimentation and exploration continued throughout college but slowed down a bit my senior year when I committed to joining the Marine Corps. I guess this is when I officially became an adult. Fast forward a little bit – I blinked my eyes and 2 wars, numerous deployments, my marriage, and my daughter appeared when I opened them. How the hell did that happen? ROUTINES! I’m not bashing all habits and routines as they are essential for survival in today’s society but breaking them from time to time will open your eyes a lot earlier, help you realize balance, and lead to personal growth. Whatever you do, please don’t take this as another older guy (hell, I’m only 38) trying to pass on a BIG life lesson. Give me a second; let me tie this in to fishing.
How many of you routinely fish the same beats/float the same water every time you go out? How many of you always go to those holes you know have fish? How many of you do the same fishing trip every year? How many times have you driven past a body of water and asked yourself if it fished well but pushed forward to your planned destination? I’m willing to bet most of you will answer in the affirmative – YOU ALWAYS DO? Why? Because your time is limited and you want to do what you know will work – to have that convenient feeling of escape. What are you missing? Are you really escaping when you trade one set of habits for another?
Breaking habits is a lot harder than it sounds. I received specialized military training for 2 years that taught me to identify habits and understand how they influence decision making in an organization and I still have problems breaking them. Nevertheless, it’s somewhat unsettling to think that at one point in our lives, we were completely comfortable with change – we thrived in the chaos of our youth. Yet, as adults with means and goals, we fear chaos and fall back to our comfort zone. Yeah, many of us have families and we have certain habits and/or routines that we believe will keep drama at bay. However, how many of them ACTUALLY do? Carrying this question forward to our passion for fly fishing: if fly fishing is our escape (or our career – for all the guides out there), should it follow the same patterns we follow in daily life?
I’m not bringing this up to brag, merely to make a point: I just chalked up my 25th state and 180th River. What I’ve realized in all my travels is that every place has its own nuances, patterns, and beauty. All require some sort of adaptation and demand experimentation until you figure it out. You also meet new people and pick up new techniques. In doing so, you try flies you normally wouldn’t try. You tie many knots. You cover a lot of water. You see, hear, and smell new things. You become good at adapting to your surroundings. Moreover, when you get in your car to drive home or you arrive at the airport for your flight back – you are a better angler. Another benefit is that you’d be surprised how easy it is to get away from the indigenous/local anglers as they are typically creatures of habit.
The biggest edge we anglers have over the vast majority of the rest of the world is that we have a passion we dedicate a significant portion of our life to – we have a way to escape our daily routines. Yet, for some reason, so many of us just pick up a new set of routines during these escapes. I’m not proposing you throw all your habits in the trash – just that you become aware of them and how some may be holding you back. Maybe I’ll never be satisfied by my pursuits, my longing to explore, and my desire to experience new things but that’s a gamble I’m willing to take. Are you? Surprise yourself once in awhile!