In the direction of passion

This time, I asked for some direction from the guy in charge of Bassmaster.com because I struggled with what to write about next, and he said to write about how I got here, my path and to not be afraid to “show warts”…

I was born in 1987 (yes, I am 26 years old), named after George Strait (they dropped the “S” off of “Strait”) and raised in Fort Worth, Texas. Though my address says Fort Worth, I am actually a product of a small town west of Fort Worth called Azle. I played competitive basketball my whole life but my body started going through some changes my junior year. So, after graduating from Azle High School in 2005, I chose to go to college as a normal student and not play sports. I attended a small university in Southern California my freshman year, then transferred back to Texas to spend the final three years at SMU in Dallas studying Political Science. During my final semesters of SMU, I realized politics was not a way to make money, so I took a job in finance for Raymond James. Finance, for me, is when life started.

“Life is a series of experiences, each of which makes us bigger, even though it is hard to realize this. For the world was built to develop character, and we must learn that the setbacks and griefs which we endure help us in our marching onward.” -Henry Ford

My title with Raymond James was Associate Financial Advisor, but as my boss would say, I was getting a real world MBA while all my friends were holed up in a classroom buying a paper MBA. He was right. The 2 1/2 years at Raymond James was the best thing that happened to me and is the reason why I now fish competitively. In finance, I did it all… answered phones, paid office bills, filed, handled contracts, dealt with clients, opened accounts, handled trades for individuals and institutional clients, and analyzed stocks for managed portfolios. I worked in a cut-throat man’s world, rarely had a lunch break, and more rarely got a bathroom break. Everyone wanted everything done right and immediately… no room for error, no time to wait, and no being a girl.

The thing about finance is when you put your time in, learn the industry and pay your dues, the money is inevitable. The paying your dues part involves a lot of tough decisions, a lot of cut-throat actions, a good deal of not getting paid or even acknowledged for time and work you put in. In the beginning, you are the low man on the totem pole and you take blame for everything, no matter whose fault it is. You accept exhaustion as normalcy but justify the grueling environment as a means to the pot of gold down the road.

In 2011, I considered changing positions within Raymond James, so I had lunch with one of the head guys who divulged something I will never forget. He said, “Trait, if my daughter said she wanted to do what I do, I don’t think I would want that.”

That stung. That stung hard. I have four nieces and that’s immediately what went through my head. Yes, I may be able to handle this job, but would I want any other female, especially one of my nieces, to do what I do? Would I want one of them to go through what I go through? I’m not saying what I went through in finance was bad, but it was a harsh place to be, and no, I would not want my nieces in that environment.

Finance hardened me. I was not a happy person. I became a very pessimistic, blunt and negative person … the type of person who was quick to disclose why something would fail, quick to point out all the flaws. It was my job to tell my boss why a company sucked or why investing in something would not be profitable. Hope would not fatten my pocketbooks; being right would. When you read the books or listen to investors, the majority are all about the numbers. What I learned, though, is real success was not all about the numbers.

Eventually, my boss started allowing me to pick my own stocks to be reviewed for possible inclusion into the managed portfolios. In the past, he would provide the company for me to research, but now I had freedom to choose companies to pitch to him. It was a chance to show my senior how much I had learned and to really earn my keep and help make the portfolios money. In the beginning when I would analyze his stocks, I was focused on the company’s numbers, their financials for that current period, for that year. I quickly learned when picking my own stocks that it had nothing to do with what was going on right then, but more to do with the company’s history. The best companies were the ones whose numbers were terrible at the moment, but that had a history of success… companies that had previously experienced good times or had executives involved who had been successful in past careers and were clawing through the current slump on a mission to win again. Generally, those companies were facing changes in their overall environment and had to figure out how to make adjustments within to become competitive again.

“Many persons have a wrong idea of what constitutes true happiness. It is not attained through self-gratification but through fidelity to a worthy purpose.” -- Helen Keller

The heart of my decision to take a job in finance was I wanted to make my dad proud. I wanted to prove that all the money spent on my college education and raising me was for something. I wanted to be a success, and in my head, success meant making a lot of money. Toward the culmination of my finance career, I started spending fewer weekends in the office and more time fishing Lake Bridgeport with my father. I had not been bass fishing in quite a while at this point, but it brought back every memory I had of growing up fishing with him. During those weekends away from the office, I found a happiness I had not had since playing sports, when life was not about the money. I realized the smile on my dad’s face when I landed fish was a proud smile, something I had been slaving in finance in search of when, as it turns out, I just needed to go fishing with my dad to find. I loved the financial opportunities that a career in finance possessed, but I lost a piece of innocence and sacrificed my happiness for what I believed would be a rich life down the road.

After a few months of fishing, my father encouraged me to step up and see if I could hang in a tournament setting. I had never fished a tournament, but in April 2011, we signed up for the longest running bass tourney, the annual Texas State Bass Tournament on Toledo Bend and ended up 4th after the two-day tourney concluded. That was it. I was in love. I was able to compete, able to do something that brought happiness to me and able to make my father proud.

Eight months later, I made the decision to pursue a career in bass fishing and put my two weeks’ notice in with Raymond James. I knew there would be obstacles, but when you know you are meant to do something, you just do it. That is what my father taught me. He started his own company at 19 with a $5,000 loan from a family member. Did he have a Plan B? No. He didn’t need one. My dad knew what he was meant to do in life, and he grinded and grinded and never gave up. In my 26 years of life, I have seen my father’s businesses go up and down and up and down, and never once have I seen him give up. He’s never traded his happiness for money either. He makes the right decision even if it is not the most profitable. You find a way to make things work. You live and breathe your job. Your job is you. You are proud of your career.

That is how I have taken on fishing. I do not have a Plan B. I moved from my house in Dallas to live with my parents in Fort Worth. I traded the keys to a nice car for a 2003 dashless diesel work truck. Was I embarrassed to move back home after living on my own for six and a half years? Yes, but I had to cut expenses. Am I proud to be broke at 26? No. Do I miss getting to eat out and going on girly shopping sprees? Yes. But I am happy. I never thought I could be this broke, but this happy. Do not get me wrong; the struggle takes its toll, and I am in no way content with the life I am living. But I think my stint in finance prepared me for how my fishing career is evolving.

“Don’t join an easy crowd. Go where the expectations and the demands to perform and achieve are high.” – Jim Rohn

So here are my warts. The first tournament I ever fished was the annual Texas State Bass tourney. The second tournament? The 2012 Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Open on Lake Lewisville. What people do not know is I didn’t even have a boat until days before that tourney. I had never fished Lake Lewisville either. I got one day of practice in and that was it. I was greener than anyone should be in a tourney of that level. But that’s how I roll. And I survived with a 69th-place finish out of the 178 pros. That tournament solidified my feelings of making bass fishing a career. They said the Lewisville event was the worst Bassmaster tournament ever. The weather was at its worst, and the fishing was not great. Being only the second tournament for me to fish, I thought if that was as bad as it is going to get, I can handle fishing the Bassmaster Open events.

I jumped into the fire with the Bassmaster Opens and took a job working for my father’s company. He paid me by the hour (and not a lot), which allowed me to take time off to fish the Opens, but I didn’t get paid while fishing, so money was tight. Those three Opens fees took a chunk out of what little money I made, and then the gas money, tackle and everything else involved took the rest. But I loved it. I focused on the Opens and also fished the back of the boat in a team trail with my father to get some more tournament time under my belt that year.

I knew I had a lot to learn, so I made it my mission to find a way to be able to do nothing but fish in 2013. I put a budget together for what it would take to survive bare bones on the road. I knew I needed to surround myself with the best of the best in competitive tournament fishing, so I signed up to Marshal every Elite tournament. I also planned to fish the Bassmaster Opens again.

Then I set out to try and find a sponsor to cover those expenses. I came close to landing a deal, but ended up getting my heart broken just before I was set to get on the road. That is when my father’s company, Keystone Oilfield Fabrication, stepped in; the same company that I spent the last year working for stepped up to help me. They made sure I got from town to town with enough to eat, tournament fees covered and some gas in my boat.

Did they lavish me in money? No. I split hotel rooms, houses, slept in the back of my truck and mooched, but I found a way to keep going. I was able to be around fishing and learn. From January of last year until now, my skills and understanding of this sport have grown immensely – something I would not have been able to do if I had split my time working a nine-to-five job while trying to fish.

“Never look down to test the ground before taking your next step; only he who keeps his eye fixed on the far horizon will find the right road.” – Dag Hammarskjold

When you know you are supposed to do something in life, I think it is your duty to go all in. At least, that is my philosophy. When I told my mom I was quitting finance to go fishing, she was not thrilled. She did not get it, at the time. My dad went along with my decision but I do not think he envisioned me taking fishing to this level at this rate of speed. When the 2013 season ended, my bank account was virtually dry. My savings no longer existed. My mom kept saying last November that I needed to find a job. My response? This is my job, mom. My job is to eat and breathe fishing, to submerge myself. The more time put in to making fishing work, the better chance I have of this all actually working out. You have to trust God and know that things will be okay if this is really what you are born to do.

The people around me have supported me, especially the people around me who are just as passionate about what they do in life as I am about fishing. That is, in essence, how I have survived the past two years. When you take chances to do what you know in your heart you are supposed to do, God will provide. When I started this journey, the only thing I envisioned was qualifying for the Elite Series. I can taste the trophies. I wake up thinking about qualifying for the Elites and I go to sleep thinking about it, and everything I do is a step closer to the goal.

I think the investing philosophy I cultivated at Raymond James has every bit to do with how I am pushing my way through as a competitive fisherman. I know what success tastes like. I’ve seen success firsthand through the people around me, and I have experienced success in other areas and sports. To me, I am that company that I rooted for back in my finance days. Now I’m the company I told my senior to put his money on, the company making adjustments and taking steps necessary to win again. Just because the numbers do not equate to success right now, it does not mean you are down and out.

To be passionate about something is the sharpest tool a person can have in their arsenal. Numbers cannot explain passion. Numbers definitely do not take into count the effects of passion. Finance calls it intrinsic value. Numbers may reflect the warts, your bank account may show your warts, but passion eclipses any value those numbers reflect.

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