The whispers still come, “Have you completely lost your mind, to give up your career to go fly fishing?” My heart answers back, “No, I have found it!”
No longer encumbered by killers of my inspiration, I am taking a leap. I’m jumping off my 35-year career as a software engineer into the world and industry of fly fishing. I’m taking my favorite route on this journey, the one that is unknown even to myself. I can only recognize that I am headed in the right direction as I travel from guidepost to guidepost, the path of my truest inspirations.
Rx for Joy
As I begin a great adventure, it is not lost on me that this big life change and opportunity to fully explore my passions is a gift. It is the best imaginable gift to a hopeless adventurer. It is also, undoubtedly, the treatment for a lifelong struggle of living with wilderness disorder.
Let’s face it—I am addicted to adventure. I joke about my obsession for play in the outdoors and diagnosed myself with wilderness disorder early in life. In all honesty, my love of adventure and my regular daily life tend to collide and things can get ugly. As it turns out, I am not alone. Since writing about my journey through a heart and spirit of adventure (“Wilderness Disorder”, DUN Magazine, Spring 2018), others have commiserated, “I have that disorder!” It is true (and to my delight) that I will spend a lifetime in “treatment”, but a cure must never be found. I have to listen to the cries of my wilderness disorder. They are the warnings of separation from what inspires me. They point to who I am and where I need to go.
First Things First
As someone without mysterious abilities to create art and make music, for example, I took the long way to discover my passions. They didn’t just pop out with the rest of me at birth. I didn’t come pre-loaded with everything installed to fully operate from a place of inspiration. It has taken time, and more importantly, life, to discover what makes my heart sing. Only now, in this stage of my life, can I deploy my inspiration guides and manage to stay the trail. Yet, as parents, do we not advise our children to let their passions guide them in choosing a meaningful career path? Hence the conundrum of millennials. Guilty.
When we consider how perfectly our current life circumstances must exactly line up with all that has made us who we are, it is practically a miracle that anyone can ever take the leap directly into their passions. Perhaps it is that, a miracle, patiently at work, sculpting our hearts, and unveiling our inspirations. Depending on how long a lump of clay has been living under a rock, possibly with her nose buried in computer programming manuals, the process might take more or less time. Mine took 56 years.
Risk and Reward
Growing up, I would spring big life change announcements on my parents. I became familiar with a certain look that can best be described as, “Wait … what?” Ironically, my parents were the ones who taught me to be adventurous, take risks, and trust that I will be okay. The “look” puzzled me until I had a child.
To be clear, my folks did not transmit a sense that I would be safe in taking a risk. They did not promise to catch me if I fell. They did not promise that I would not get hurt trying. Somehow, with everything they failed to mention, I grew up believing that it is courageous to take a risk in the face of fear—but I don’t actually recall them saying that either. I simply learned that no matter what, I will be okay. I am eternally grateful for the wisdom of my parents.
Being one who takes risks in life does not mean that I don’t get scared. On one hand, I am smiling ear to ear, imagining the prospect of immersing myself into my passion for fly fishing. On the other hand, just thinking about next steps on this journey has me quaking in my waders.
I’m leaving very soon to take up temporary residence (a campsite, to be exact) in Leadville, Colorado. I will attend a six-week certificate program at Colorado Mountain College called “Professional Fly Fishing Guide” This course is not a vetting shop to determine who is ready to guide. I’m going to learn the core of the skills I will need to teach fly fishing, guide, and work in the industry.
The CMC program is unique. It is a college accredited guide program. The course is comprehensive, with content built into a six week session that is completed in time for students to jump right into work, even during the current season. The structure is ideal for women of all ages and abilities to gain entry into the industry, unlike some commercial guiding programs that are not appropriate for those who want to work in the field, but are not ready to be vetted as guides. In my case, I have various goals, but all of the them revolve around working with women in fly fishing.
I will leave behind my comforts, and the hours are extremely long. The weather is what you expect at 10,000 feet in the mountains of Colorado. Still, I believe I have died and gone to adventure junkie heaven.
Big life changes can be a very scary business. It could scare me right off my track. This is where my inspirations come fully into play.
The things that inspire me are what hold me to the track. They have the power to bond me to my future. Once the barriers that separate me from my inspirations are removed, I come face-to-face with my heart. My guideposts come into focus and my path forward is clear.
Since making my decision to jump feet first into the deep end, I can say I have awakened, but that description is way too mild. It’s more like being slapped upside the head so hard my head is still spinning. That’s exactly how I was met with the first major revelation that inspires my journey …
Other women fly fish.
I must explain. Please don’t read, “I’m something special because I’m a women and I fly fish. Wow, how cool am I?” Instead, read, “About time this geek crawled out from under her rock!” That’s the situation.
I’ve been fly fishing for 25 years. My friend, Eileen, and I have fished together for almost the same amount of time. We built our fly rods together way back in the mid 90s. Aside from Eileen, I didn’t know many women who fly fished. With my head down, twiddling bits and bytes, I didn’t look out at what was going on with women in fly fishing in my local area. Then, one day, I did.
At the top of my Google search results was “Colorado Women Flyfishers”. Reading the mission statement, I learned the organization had just celebrated their 20th anniversary. Again, the slap and the head spin.
What I’ve discovered in CWF is a community of women of all ages and abilities, including some outright badass, capable, lady fly anglers. I possess a fraction of their ability. With my 25 years in the sport, you would think my head should be hanging in shame, but I am not ashamed at all. Instead, I am supported, encouraged, and inspired out of my mind. It is clear, when I am with these women, I am showered by an open spigot of continuously flowing inspiration. Joining this community is like coming home to a place I need to be and a place I recognize when I see it—a guidepost.
My first guided fly fishing adventure in Colorado was with an organization called Wilderness Women. I kept a copy of an old newspaper article about the organization. Recently, I reread the piece and based on the following snippet from the story, you would think the world of women in fly fishing should be a mega-monolith by now.
“Fly fishing is the fastest-growing sport in America and women make up the majority of people taking up the sport.” - Pete Lewis, South Metro Business Journal (May 1996, Page 3)
The story was written in 1996, but isn’t this what we are still saying today about the growth of the sport and the industry? I am now aware of lady fly anglers everywhere, but there are not the numbers I would expect based on how long we’ve been at the sport. Initiatives, such as 50/50 On the Water are at work to increase the numbers. I’m inspired to join the cause.
Women who have to prove themselves (unfairly and disproportionately) in male-dominated fields will tell you, this would not be such a problem if we were working alongside more women in these professions. As a female software engineer, I have experience in this arena. I’ve also learned that the solution to a large, complicated problem is found by breaking it down and solving many smaller subproblems. It’s best if I start solving the little problems that are right in front of my nose. As far as I am aware, I am the only woman signed up for the 2018 session of “Professional Fly Fishing Guide” at CMC, Leadville Campus.
I’m on a mission to raise the number of women entering the CMC program. This is a tangible way I can help, starting now, to bring more women into the industry. All of our small initiatives taken together will have a big impact on solving the larger issue. Our experiences as women in the sport and working in the industry will benefit.
How We Roll
I hope the sport and the industry continue to expand in ways that rise to the potential of women—not just the other way around. Women bring new dimensions and very different possibilities to the sport. We are a community, not a group. We bring everything to the table, not just our skill and our knowledge. We bring our creativity, our sense of style and design, our desire to support each other, our love of learning and togetherness, our playfulness, our joy, our laughter, and our organizational skills.
Women plan activities like no one else’s business. Three emails and boom! A trip is born. We execute. Like men, we fish and then we have a beer. The difference is that women might go on to have a wine and cheese tasting party before competing in a chili cook-off, followed by a moonlight hike, mountain bike, or even a skinny dip, during any of which, we would definitely break out in spontaneous “Bohemian Rhapsody” (Queen, A Night at the Opera, 1975).
After so many years in the sport, I still experience a gap between what the industry offers and how women actually roll in the sport of fly fishing. I’m inspired to work right inside that gap, helping to bring everything women offer to the sport of fly fishing (including Freddy Mercury, if it helps).
It’s Go Day
My inspirations function like a built-in GPS app for soul travel. I gaze in the direction of my guideposts and off I go. Every morning begins with an elixir of all the addictive substances of my wilderness disorder blended with all that inspires me (and about 300 mg of caffeine). No sooner could I put down the idea of pursuing my dream on this path than my wilderness disorder would sound the alarms and wailing would call me back into the journey.
The destination is, by no means, clear, but my inspiration guides are with me every step of the way. As long as I consult my heart for proper navigation, the path will continue to unfold on its own. I can trust the directions I find there—my wilderness disorder will kick me in the butt if I miss a turn!
Joy poses, everyone!