I am a huge fan of change and of learning new things. The consequence of this is that I am not very good at all of the things. There is so much research and buzz about doing something over and over and over and over and over to master, to perfect, to become excellent. And while I am also a huge fan of excellence, I rarely achieve it. But it doesn’t matter! As long as the process is fun and satisfying, that is enough.
There was an article in the New York Times a while back on the benefits of sucking at something, specifically surfing, which is something that I know a lot about. I surfed passionately for a number of years and almost always sucked at it. Surfing, in my opinion, is one of the very hardest things to be good at. There is so much to enjoy about surfing as a pursuit, though: paddling through the ocean, sitting on a board beyond the break, watching seals, dolphins, otters, sunrise, sunset, the sheer power of the water, vastness. And of course, that occasional caught wave that makes you feel like a rock star. I don’t live near an ocean anymore, and let surfing go, but I have continued pursuing many other things that I currently suck at.
There is a section of the Strawberry River that flows out of the Strawberry Reservoir into a very pretty, narrow canyon. Catching a fish here, especially within a half mile of the trailhead, is a tricky business. The water is especially clear and the fish are especially spooky. But one day, not too long ago, there were fish rising right near the parking lot, right near a log, and they were hungry and big. I cast exactly where I wanted, and missed two fish back to back. The third one I hooked, and as I reeled it in, I watched, and felt, it swim hard towards a log and then it snapped my leader and swam away with my fly. Good casting, sucky catching.
Sucking is relative, of course. It is useless to judge your own suckiness to that of someone else. Some people are perfectly content to be as good as they are at things, which might not seem to be very good. But are they having fun? Are they much improved? Some people are driven by the need to always be better, which may be satisfying on some level, but sometimes doesn’t look like it. I am a frustrating mix of slightly competitive and lacking in ambition. I depend on luck to get me part way towards improving, but have learned over time that my ability to improve is in direct correlation to my curiosity.
Maybe there isn’t much to be done when a big fish runs off towards a log, maybe my line was underpowered, maybe I could have given some slack. Being humble and open to learning will hopefully make me less sucky at fishing. But being on the river, watching fish rise, hearing wind blow through the canyon, letting the dogs swim and play… these are the reasons I fish, and getting better at it will just be a happy result of practice.
There are so many things to do and maybe some of those things will become more than a passing interest. I don’t love sucking, but it’s a blast getting into something new: the gear, the process, the places, techniques, people, subtleties and surprises. In the end, it feels the most like living.