The “Unavoidable” Great Humbling
There’ve been a lot of strands running around the old duder’s head lately. It’s challenging to turn them into something coherent but there are a couple lines of thought I believe come together nicely and are worth exploring. One strand is my increasing fascination with the idea of patterns of life (I’ll define this in a bit). The other strand is how those patterns, no matter how much control one believes one has over them or how well one believes one can manipulate them toward “success,” inevitably deal a “great humbling.” But first, I need to do a little housekeeping.
Why I Write
Before diving in too deep, I want to take a couple paragraphs to describe why I write. I should’ve done this years ago, before my first blog. Instead, I just dove into blogging without a stated goal. Still, if you’ve read any of my content over the years, what follows won’t be groundbreaking.
Up until about 5 years ago, so prior to starting Brookdog Fishing Company, I wrote, exclusively, to compel action. Back then, in most instances, someone or some situation prompted me to write. Also, there was a guarantee that someone (in most cases many people) was going to read it. When you write this way, it’s easy to find out if what you wrote was compelling – observe your audience – feedback will occur.
I still write this way…a little bit. Our weekly Observations from the Water and essays about avoiding the shack nasties supply just enough information and imagery to provoke, at minimum, intrigue…at best, a phone call to book a fishing trip. Still, nobody asked me to produce and distribute this information and our audience/readership is VERY small. Nowadays, the effect of my writing pales in comparison to what it once was while on active duty. So why do I keep doing it?
As a small business owner, my goal is simple – remain operational. Figuring out how to do this is the challenge and fun of owning a small business. Writing has been, and will continue to be, a way for me to collect thoughts/concepts/ideas toward this goal.
The goal of everything I write is to generate some sort insight that helps the business or, perhaps more importantly, me (or the reader). Additionally, from philosophic scribblings, to point-of-view pieces, to in-depth instructions, by jotting down these strands swimming through my head, I capture a little slice of my personality. Those that read it (myself included) will, at minimum, get to know me a little better – maybe that’s important when someone is considering booking a trip to fish with me.
For me, writing is like working out – for my mind. Hopefully, reading it has the same effect on the reader – but even if it doesn’t, I still got my workout session in. Phrased differently, I always get something out of writing – at minimum, something for me – at maximum, something for many. Let’s see where this piece goes.
The Problem with Patterns of Life
What’s in a Pattern?
Now for the meat of my mental workout at hand. As I mentioned in the introduction, patterns of life have become a bit of an obsession. This is a tough idea to flesh out succinctly, but I think some examples can help make the idea relatable. Take the seasons – consider what happens in your environment (and in your head for that matter) throughout a year in your life.
Do you behave differently from winter to spring to summer to fall? How do you act during a storm or when the weather is nice? How do you respond when it’s hot…or cold? Seasonality/the weather is completely out of your control – you have no choice but to react to it – so have you ever thought about your reactions, your behavior? How do you want to react vs how do you actually react?
Now, consider that every living creature on the planet behaves differently from season to season. All this life, responding/reacting to the weather, has a singular aim – survival. Often, survival of one depends on the demise of another. It’s a struggle that permeates every aspect of our life and more times than not, us humans are rarely mindful of it. Why?
We Just Want to Feel Good
This strand doesn’t run through a lot of heads because we all have the tendency to embrace patterns of life that lull us into a sense of security. From a more extreme point of view, we believe that we’re the dominant organism on the planet so there is little to worry about. Anyone holding this notion prior to March of this year, likely/hopefully experienced a paradigm shift as a microscopic organism profoundly altered the pattern of life of nearly everyone.
Feeling secure/safe/comfortable/on the top of your game feels pretty damn good, doesn’t it? However, this feeling comes from the belief that you are secure/safe/comfortable/on the top of your game. We don’t challenge that belief often enough – because it’s hard/uncomfortable – but that exposure to discomfort often results in positive, long term outcomes.
Put differently, no pattern of human behavior has endured the test of time. Focused, intellectual rigor – call it innovation or progress if that’s helpful – changes our behavior. Mother Nature does too. My personal challenge is trying to figure out how much control, how much influence, I can have on the process. In my experience, it “feels” better to dedicate some degree of critical thought, some period of contemplation to this idea – sort of like a way to hold myself accountable for growth. Otherwise, I’d feel like a twig at the mercy of the Niagara.
Resiliency, Adaptation, and Evolution
No matter how deeply contemplative you are, at some point, if you’ve lived even a little, you’ve been humbled – knocked from the top of your game – yet you’re still alive. This happens to everyone – every living thing. Organisms survive and get better at surviving (become resilient) by changing their behavior (adapting) and/or changing their chemical/biological make up (evolving). I don’t think it’s a stretch to state that the overwhelming majority of humans rarely take stock of this. It’s obvious that some do – those individuals we call entrepreneurs and innovators – but most humans just absorb the outputs of these folks.
I’ve been painfully aware of this tendency of the many to absorb/embrace the outputs of the few for a long time. Maybe it was combat that brought this about. Maybe it was my education. Whatever the cause, critical thought, reflective skepticism, and mindfulness are a basis for action in my life. These mental behaviors are my way of accepting or denying the outputs of the few OR innovating on my own terms. In short – taking stock of the situation and deciding how to react is an important part of my life.
I could write a very uninteresting autobiography about my pattern of life and how it continuously changes due to crisis, trauma, technological innovations, environmental change, etc. but in short, critical thought and mindfulness helps enable adaptation to all these sources of friction. I’m not going to start injecting CRISPR/CAS 9 to change my DNA – I’m staying traditional human for as long as I can – so there isn’t much I can do to evolve. I address resiliency through exercise – mental and physical. What’s your approach? You have an approach – it’s the nature of every living thing – but are you aware of it?
The Great Humbling
What it’s Like Getting Humbled
No matter how adapted, how resilient, how top of the food chain someone/something is – a great humbling is always a possibility…probably an inevitability. I don’t know if this idea is particularly pronounced in the psyche of fishing guides, but it certainly seems that way considering how little is within our control.
Weather, water, fish, food sources, vehicles, tackle, clients, etc. – all barely within our control…if at all. Still, through thousands of hours of experience, we develop a sense of expertise – or someone labels us an expert. This sense of expertise is as tenuous as a fight with a 40lb musky on 4lb monofilament – yet, it’s always deeply unsettling when things don’t turn out as expected.
Often, even if I become aware of the humbling when in progress, there is little I can do to avoid it and am forced participate in subdued agony (sometimes not so subdued). Hours of painstaking contemplation follow a great humbling – only to come to the realization there was little I could’ve done to avoid it. Or worse, I’m left with no answer at all…other than the disconcerting notion that sometimes things just don’t work out. I’m an absolute joy to be around when this happens…ask my wife.
Although it’s sometimes…emotional, post-humbling contemplation just feels like the right thing to do – like the proper penance for having felt confident in the face of uncertainty. It wouldn’t feel right to end a tough day on the water with the sentiment that these things just happen every once in a while. Well, maybe it would feel OK if I was fishing by myself or with close friends, but it would certainly NOT feel OK after a day with paying clients.
Sure, most people understand how much is out of a guide’s control. Quick point about me when I guide – I don’t count fish (unless we’re harvesting – then limits are a factor, and I must count) as I find it a hollow metric for success. My cues about client satisfaction come directly from my clients. So why, when at the end of a slow day on the water a client exclaims, “that’s why they call it fishing not catching. I had a great time!,” am I still unsettled. It’s a great question that I struggle to answer, but us guides must be somewhat responsible for the outcome of the day…right? I believe we are, so that quest for understanding endures even though I recognize that I may never know how a great humbling came to pass.
This post humbling contemplation is like the formal review of “lessons learned” in the military and large corporations. The goal of this process is to avoid making the same mistake(s) again/to not get humbled by the same set of factors again. Unfortunately, it took a humbling/trauma/crisis to get the process going but that’s life. How we interpret our experience matters.
No matter how much I think about it – no matter how much experience I accumulate – mother nature is going to humble me. So are the many mistakes I’m going to make between now and when I’m no longer around. As long as I learn and adapt, my resiliency will increase. I’m not saying getting humbled is enjoyable – it certainly is NOT. However, every great humbling offers an opportunity to gain experience. Instead of dwelling on the negative outcome, which will happen (for me, I need a little of that negative framing to challenge me), maybe we can spend more time considering what’s next.
If you made it this far – thank you for reading. I hope it made you think a little bit. Either way – I got my mental workout in (lol).
Stay healthy my friends – mentally and physically,