This past week my husband and I took our children down to Kiawah Island in South Carolina for a vacation. It was a nice breather. Spending time under the sun and breathing in the fresh, salty air served as a reminder of how much I truly love the ocean. I am at my happiest when I am at the shore with my family. In my own youth, I was fortunate enough to have had dozens of blissful moments of time with my family at the shore. One of my very favorite things is, and remains, deep sea fishing. Some women get an adrenaline rush from shopping for shoes. I get a thrill out of casting my line into the big-blue about fifteen miles off-shore.
My father, Thomas Patrick Michael O’Rourke, started taking me fluke fishing off the Atlantic Highlands in New Jersey when I was only six or seven years old. We spent many a sunny day on three-quarter-day party fishing boats and on my Uncle Jack’s boat. Of course, at the time I would fight him on having to wake up at 4am and about what sneakers I should wear and what bait I should use. After a long day, I’d return home with my dad at sunset, sunburned with a cooler of fish and smelling like saltwater never realizing that these would be some of the sweetest memories of my youth.
Looking back on those times, there was a lot of arguing, a lot of laughter, and many life lessons mixed in-between. I thought I would share a dozen of these lessons I learned from him with you:
1) Wake up early. There is something irreplaceably satisfying about starting your day as the sun is rising and being one of the first boats on the horizon. Of course, you can take your boat out onto the waters to cast your lines at any time of the day, but there is nothing like early morning fishing. There is promise and hope in the waters at dawn.
2) Go to where the fish are. Be proactive. If the computerized fish-finder says there is no fish there, move. There is a fine line between fishing and hovering over empty waters like an idiot. Be prepared to proactively move yourself around a lot. You’ll never catch anything in life fishing where the waters are empty.
3) Be prepared. You’ll never know where the fish are or where the shallow waters are without the right tools. Have the right tools so when the catch of your life comes along, you will be ready. Have a rod that can withstand great weight. Have a strong line. Buy the biggest net. Fish as if you are about to catch the big one at any moment.
4) Be patient. With practice, comes knowledge and skill. Even Jesus and his apostles practiced patience in fishing. Patience truly is a virtue. Patience is a minimizer of disappointment, a kin to joy, and a friend of success.
5) Use a sinker. In my youth, it seemed against all reason to weigh the line down in order to catch something. My dad argued with me and even let me try it my way. Through trial and error, I quickly learned though that if you don’t weigh the line down to catch something, you’ll get caught up in everything. Everyone needs a sinker whether that sinker is your faith, your job, or your partner in life. As an adult with a growing business and a parent with a growing family, I have set many sinkers in place from estate planning to business interruption insurance to running on a treadmill 45 minutes a day. As a mother, I find that my own mother’s words of wisdom are a verbal sinker for my soul. They often serve as a weighty reminder that the “right choices in life are so often the more difficult options”.
6) Keep quiet. You will scare the fish if you’re too loud. It is a matter of timing and a matter of control. There is a time to be loud and a time to listen and it seems the ratio of loud to listening is 1:10. Most of fishing and most of life is about listening and timing. If you reel it in too soon, you’ll lose it. If you wait too long to start reeling the line in, you’ll end up with half-eaten bait and no catch. Listen well so you can read all the signs and know when to reel.
7) Bait your own hook. Cast out your own line. From an early age, my dad made me bait my own hook. Reaching into that bucket of stinky eels and then into the bucket of swimming guppies was gross. I squirmed as the guppies squirmed through my skinny fingers around the tin silver bucket. On occasion, I’d even nick my finger on the hook. Now as a parent myself, I can appreciate the lesson learned. Sometimes neatly baiting your childrens’ hooks and preparing their lines can lead to trouble. Rather than doing it for them, teach them how to do it for themselves. Former Navy officer and respected author, Robert A. Heinlein, wisely wrote, “Don’t handicap your children by making their lives easier.” As certain as the ever-changing tide, there is truth in Heinlein’s words.
8) They’re not all keepers. This lesson is one I have been able to apply in my own business and in my own relationships. I remember being so excited after fishing for four straight hours and catching nothing that I finally had a bite on the line. I struggled. I artfully reeled in my line. It was a sea-robin. For those who do not fish, I can readily tell you that they are a strong fish but not the fish you want to reel in, and they are ugly bastards. They aren’t good for anything. My dad was right. Don’t settle in fishing and don’t settle in life. If it’s the wrong fish, throw it back. On that long day, I threw the sea-robin back into the sea. I continued to fish again for another ninety minutes without one nibble on the line. I waited. I sat. I daydreamed. To my surprise, the end of my fishing rod started to bend. I slowly and steadily reeled it in. This time, it was the right fish. This muddy-colored fluke was looking me right in the eyes as I brought him on deck. Then we measured him. He was an inch too short. I couldn’t keep him. It was against the Coast Guard’s fishing regulations. My Dad convinced me to throw him back. Lesson learned. Sometimes a fish needs a little bit more time in the water before he is ready to be reeled in.
9) Go out after the storm. Storms are difficult yet are a part of life. It isn’t a question of if they will come but when they will strike. They cause havoc and destruction yet it is after these tempests, that all is stirred about and the best seems to come forward. Weather the storm, then go out and cast your lines. Get back in the boat quickly to make the best catch.
10) You will hit a snag. Even the best fishermen of the world get tangled up every now and then. Sometimes you may even have to cut the line. It is never easy to let go but sometimes this is the very best choice to be able to recast and catch something again.
11) Be a good sport. No one likes a poor sport. If you didn’t catch the biggest fish, give kudos to the fisherman who did. Remember its not all skill, its also a matter of chance. If you did catch the biggest fish, show a little humility. Once again remember its not all skill, its also a matter of chance. No one like a complainer or a boaster. Offer to help clean the boat, offer to help clean the fish. Share part of your sandwich with others. No one likes a free-loader. Fishing is about good karma as much its about good sportsmanship.
12) The big one is still out there. Its a vast, deep ocean. Don’t give up. Stay positive. Don’t lose your footing. Don’t drink the night before. Trust your intuition always.Hold onto hope. Besides, as my dad always pointed out, it’s not about catching the biggest fish but about trying your best and having the best time.