Just about every angler dreams about what it would be like to be the Classic champion and I have as well, but until you reach that goal there’s simply no way to prepare for it. Over the course of the past eight months I have been humbled time and time again by the opportunities that have been presented to me and the genuine well wishes of the other pros and our great fans.
Recently a radio interviewer asked me how the “year after” experience compared to my expectations and I had to say that in every respect it has exceeded them. I feel truly blessed to have been given this opportunity as a fisherman, and to spread my faith-based message.
There is a downside to winning the title, though. I’ve had to learn to say “no.”
That’s something that I’m not very good at. For obvious reasons, I’ve had more requests for appearances and interviews this year than at any other time in my career, and when they conflict or overlap, I’m forced to make difficult choices. I’ve never had to say “no” too many times, and it pains me every time I have to do it, because 99% of these requests are for beneficial causes. I’ve learned that there are thousands of great causes and plenty of places to spend my time, but I’ve had to focus on keeping my priorities straight which are…..faith, family, and fishing. Everybody is busy and no matter what your job in life is, you’ve got to make time FIRST for your family because nobody else will. We all have a higher purpose in life, a passion, and when you finally do figure out what you were put on this earth to do, and then you operate specifically in that gift for the sake of helping others, your true happiness will follow. Philippians 2:3 is a Bible verse I keep written in my notes in my phone and I read it daily to remind me of how to act. It reads…..”Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourself.
Fortunately, I have Robin on my side, and without her there to discern, there’s no way I could sort out exactly what can and should be done. She runs screens for me and makes life manageable. I don’t know how the past winners who travel without their families could keep it all in order. I’ve seen first hand that dealing with everything on your own can be taxing. It can hurt your performance and love of the sport if you don’t handle it properly. While I had a few tough events this year, I never lost my love of the sport or my zeal to compete, and that’s because of the support that Robin provides. She always manages to keep me on the right path.
There have been times that I’ve come home and told her “I’m done smiling,” and every time she helps me refocus by saying “This is what you signed up for, don’t you want to make a difference?”. Of course she’s right, and the bottom line is that my mandate this year, and throughout my career, has been to touch as many people in a positive way as I can.
With the Elite Series season in the rear view mirror, that means that we’re one step closer to the Classic, and the possibility that I will no longer be the reigning Classic champ. It has been a constant rush and addiction to say the least, but I never want to be in the situation where that’s all I live for. If your definition of success is all about winning bass tournaments, you’re going to be let down. Simply put, you can’t win every time in this sport and if victory is all you live for, you’re going to spend most of your life empty and depressed. A great definition of success is: “Knowing your purpose in life, growing to reach your maximum potential, and sowing seeds that benefit others.” (John Maxwell) At the same time, I feel like I’m just settling into my role on the short list of Classic winners, and if I had another year I’d be able to do so much more. Throughout the year, I’ve had the opportunity to spread the message about King’s Home. Lots of people have come up to me and told me that they got involved in King’s Home or similar need-based charities in their areas because of my message. That’s every bit as rewarding as any title earned on the water. Those are the kind of trophies that will matter in the end.
Another Classic trophy for the shelf would be a nice addition, and I’m going to give it everything I have at Hartwell and leave it in the Lord’s hands as always, and whether I win or not, I am so pleased to have had this platform to work with this year. My advice to the next Classic winner is this: This is a title that is given to you for a purpose and if you live everyday with that mindset, you will make a difference!