Throw out the playbook

You don't have to color between the lines
econoline vanlife
Photo: Jason Tester Guerrilla / cc2.0.

My daughter turned 21 over the weekend. She’s a wanderer. And I’m envious.

Several years ago, on a swing through New South Wales and Queensland to meet with recreational anglers in Australia about the importance of conservation, I had the chance to spend about four days chasing odd fish in the rainforest. Jungle perch were a kick in the pants, even though I had to walk past signs that reminded me that “fresh water crocodiles kill people, too” to get to them.

Back then, when I was still firmly entrenched in my 40s, I’d managed to gather a fairly significant travel resume in the name of fishing and conservation. It was my job, for several years, to take journalists “into the field” to show them great fishing and the threats to our coldwater resources posed by anything from irresponsible oil and gas drilling to new road construction to clear-cut logging.

I got around.

But rarely had I traveled abroad. So when I arrived in Port Douglas, far in the tropical north of Queensland during a winter rain deluge, I was surprised at not only the number of young people wandering around the community, but also by the number of young people who weren’t from Australia.

The bartender at the Irish pub was, well, Irish. The server was from Norway. A couple of 20-somethings from Switzerland dropped their backpacks in town and got jobs, presumably with the intent on saving money for their next adventure.

Possessions? Spartan. A toothbrush, a few changes of clothes and the really good backpack in which to keep everything. Home? The hostel or a house with a half a dozen roommates.

It was with the same envy I have for the future my daughter is facing that I had for these kids. College? Maybe later. See the world. Oh, hell yeah. Me? I was busy meeting someone else’s expectations.

The American expectation—find a mate, get married, spawn children, buy a house, work hard for 40 years, retire—doesn’t apply the world over. Those of us who travel to fish—and I’m lucky to have done my share over the years—get it. A person’s passion needn’t be confined to the local stream while he or she is busy meeting the goals set by others. The rest of the world understands this.

And I think my daughter does, too. And maybe that’s because, after I returned from Australia, I made it very clear to her and younger brother that there were no expectations. College? Only if you want to. Marriage? Your call. Kids? Same answer.

Delaney came home for a weekend recently and we celebrated her birthday on our favorite trout stream. She and her boyfriend pulled up in an old, weathered van they’ve tricked out for some #vanlife camping. They live in Oregon and work kind of mundane jobs. But they’re seeing the world on their terms, which means weekends in the woods or parked in the sand at the Oregon coast. In the years to come, it might mean another town, another job … more road time.

I’m a big believer in finding your passion. The old saying, “find a job you love, and you’ll never work another day in your life” rings true to me, although, for most, this isn’t realistic without some real work in the meantime. It wasn’t until I was in my 20s that I found what I really loved, and it took a good 10 years to find a way to do what I loved for work.

And I think, largely, that was the product of expectation. We’re all coached into corners as young people by others who deliver well-meaning life lessons. We simply fall back on the playbook. But, if you’re in 20s now, and you haven’t already started with the playbook, here’s some advice from an old white guy who probably has more gray hair than common sense:

Throw out the playbook.

Follow your passion. Don’t know what it is yet? Ask yourself, “What do you love?” If you love the idea of getting married, find somebody to marry. If you love the idea of raising kids, find somebody else who wants to start a family. But if you love the idea of exploring and learning and seeing the world, stop living the life that’s laid out for you. You really don’t have to color between the lines.

As Delaney and I stood ankle deep in the cold, clear water of McCoy Creek, we could sense that summer was slowly giving way to fall. Her lease is up at the end of October, and there’s a bit of angst as to what’s next. And, she’s 21 now. Old enough to drink. Old enough to buy weed in Oregon. Legally. And she’s old enough to be treated like the adult she is, even though I share that angst for her.

“So,” I said, “What’s next?”

She stood next to me, her eyes glued to a fishy run just upstream.

“I don’t know, Daddy,” she said. “Maybe we’ll live in the van for a couple of months and save our money to go somewhere else.”

“Where?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” she answered. “Right now, I just want to catch a fish before we have to leave here.”

No, it’s not a plan. But it’s honest. And, I’m so envious of the “I don’t know.” Here I sit, half-a-hundred, working a job I love, every single day, and I get how lucky I am.

But to be 21 again, and have the world spread out before me … I hope she knows how lucky she is.