Much has been made of Rick Clunn’s seeming agelessness, the fact that some considered him over-the-hill before he won an Elite Series tournament on the St. Johns River in 2016, and then proceeded to match that feat to start the 2019 season. He’s 72 years old, has been fishing for a living for over four decades, and seems just as fascinated by the intricacies of the sport as he was in the 1970s.
He succinctly wrapped up his vision for life, and for competition, by stating (after both wins) that you should never “accept that your best moments are behind you.”
Of course it is a valuable lesson. While we can learn from the past, we can’t change it, but whether you have one day left to live or thousands, you have some ability to shape what’s to come.
But there’s a corollary to that lesson, one that took me a long time to learn:
Don’t accept that your best moments are far in front of you.
It’s not quite “carpe diem” or “don’t put off until tomorrow what you can accomplish today,” but it’s not far from those. Note, I’m not telling you to leave your family to head off and raise albino salamanders or stop paying your mortgage to go on tour with the world’s first 17-piece bluegrass reggae band – unless those things are your jam, and you can somehow make it work responsibly. Rather, my advice is to take some baby steps to increase your enjoyment substantially.
What I mean by that is that it doesn’t take a radical reconfiguration of your life to have the life you want. For many years I’ve struggled over the fact that I was chained to a desk when I wanted to be out fishing or writing about fishing. I’d get invitations to go amazing places with amazing people and I’d have to turn them down in order to ration my vacation time. That reflects the very conservative approach that has characterized most of my life — I got ridiculous amounts of schooling, worked a serious of safe jobs, and saved for retirement. In hindsight, I would have benefited in the long term had I taken some limited financial risks or spent some time off between college and law school to do something non-academic and non-productive, but I can’t change the past. Now I’m at beyond a tipping point where the sacrifices I’ve made (wise or not) justify at least a few more years of sucking it up and doing some things I don’t like.
That might suck, but it’s not an all-or-nothing game. I believe that part of a life well-lived involves learning a certain type of arbitrage involving taking things that are scarce and maximizing their use. That’s why just about every three-day weekend finds me heading somewhere, near or far, to do something meaningful to me. It’s why I take the plane that gets me home at midnight, rather than the one that arrives hours earlier, even though I know I’ll pay for it the next day.
The scarcest resource we have is time, and the hardest concept to understand is that conditions are ephemeral. So if you hear that Sam Rayburn or St. Clair or Coeur d’Alene are on fire, and you’ve always wanted to fish one or more of them, go now. Tomorrow they could be lesser fisheries. If you’re seriously considering a career as a tour pro – which just about every fisherman I meet seems to claim they’re doing – then you don’t have to take the leap now, but you should be taking steps that move you closer to your goal. On the contrary, if your business is primed for major gains in the next year which will set you up for life, then maybe you sacrifice on other fronts.
For me, right now I have more-or-less and open invitation to fish in Mexico, and the fishing is excellent, so I’m trying to go at least twice a year, sometimes three, because I can do that without upsetting the apple cart at work, and it still leaves time to fulfill one of my other obligations to myself – chasing one new bucket list species in a new location each year. That’s the balance I’ve struck and most days I’m at peace with it.
I admire Rick Clunn for knowing that he’s not finished, despite what others may say or think, and I also admire the fact that he’s able to strike when opportunity presents itself. Your best moments may still be ahead of you, but the balance comes in knowing when one of those best days is here, taking advantage of it, not worrying about whether you should have held back, and savoring your exquisite timing.