Fishing for Career Advice

What fishing for Coho salmon in Alaska taught me about the workplace

The Carol Jane, one of the boats that was in our group.

Last week, I exchanged my remote-work lifestyle for rain slicks and oversized boots to stand on the deck of the Thunderstruck in Craig, Alaska.

Not really knowing much about fishing (or about having a career, for that mater) I was surprised to find insightful parallels between the two.

You can’t reel fast all the time

When trying to catch Coho salmon, the first thing I was instructed to not do was reel in as fast and as hard as I could as soon as I felt a bite. When you got [a fish] on the line, you gotta reel nice and easy like nothing happened”, said the boat’s captain.

His words were sound reminder for me to slow down not only my reeling, but the pace of my work . Mind-bending intensity isn’t and shouldn’t be expected to be sustainable. There’s a right time to increase your intensity– choose intentionally when you decide you’re going to reel fast, and hard.

You either caught the fish or you didn’t

The laborious nature of fishing also makes your day’s results very clear– you’ve either caught the fish or you haven’t. The feeling of disappointment is very clear, and there’s no way around it.

Contrast that with the fast paced, highly abstracted nature of most knowledge work jobs. You can complicate your explanation about the status of a project with jargon and buzzwords that confuse the average person, but it’s still just a cover if you actually haven’t done any work.

Make time in your day to intentionally practice focusing on one task, and try and articulate what exactly you got done in any given day. The results may surprise you.

You can’t do it alone

Our fishing tour was guided– the captain and deck hand helped my family and I hook bait onto our rods and cast our lines at the appropriate depths. Without their help, I don’t think we would have gone home with an amazing 300 pounds of salmon– amazing for for a family who’d never been fishing before.

Similarly, without the proper support and outside perspectives to guide your career, you will inevitably spend large amounts of time and energy in excess trying to reel in a dream job. Value the guidance of others, but ultimately you are the one who has to put in the work.

The takeaways

  • You can’t reel fast all the time– make intentional decisions about when and what you direct intense focus on
  • You either caught the fish or you didn’t– Do work that has a tangible purpose with clear objectives and outcomes.
  • You can’t do it alone– do find a knowledgable network of people that that support your effort to create a fulfilling career, but don’t forget that you are the only on who will do the work.

I don’t write about these ideas to purport the idea that we should all ditch our jobs to become fishermen, but it felt valuable to showcase how an activity as simple as fishing can guide us through the complexities of the modern workplace, and maybe catch us our dinner for the night.

Interested in reading more of my writing? Check out Jonah’s Journal, the weekly newsletter where I explore ideas that help us navigate life with greater intention.

August 26, 2022