The experience of living through the COVID-19 pandemic and helping manage a small business during a (hopefully) once-in-a-lifetime crisis has me leaning heavily on lessons I learned decades ago chasing winter steelhead with my dad on the Manistee River.
We happily spent many hours together on the verge of frostbite, braving frigid temperatures, biting winds and driving lake-effect snowstorms — all for the chance just to hook into a chrome steelhead.
My dad, Phil Boomgaard, believed in fully immersing me in the world of fishing from a young age. From the time I was old enough to hold a fishing rod and have my own waders, I was his fishing buddy. It didn’t matter how cold or nasty the weather was, if he was going fishing, I wanted to as well.
It was a fate all but sealed before birth when my mom, who was five months pregnant with me at the time, fell into the Pere Marquette River while netting a salmon for my dad.
Steelhead fishing, especially with the tactics we used in the mid 1990s, was a true exercise in delayed gratification. You lived for those rare moments when the line came tight and you felt that powerful head shake, but mostly you froze your ass off and wondered how long you could make a thermos of hot chocolate last.
That was not always an easy proposition for a pre-teen. Frustrated and cold — and fishless — I remember it was easy to have your mind wander, lose sight of the potential to catch fish and start the plan for capitulation. I’d begin doing everything but casting a line, ratcheting up complaints that the fish just aren’t biting and that we should leave for home.
In those times, my dad pulled out one of his famously sarcastic Phil-isms: “You can’t catch anything if your line is not in the water.”
It was his way of sharing the maxim that perseverance pays off, no matter how hard the grind becomes.
More than nine months into this deadly pandemic, that’s a lesson we can all learn from.
Keeping our guard up against an invisible, deadly virus is tiring. We simply want to spend time with family, grab beers at the bar with friends, feel the energy of a crowded concert and just be social beings again, regardless of how introverted some of us are.
Now more than ever, perseverance is key, especially in business. In fact, I see many comparisons between the best steelhead anglers and good entrepreneurs.
A good steelhead fisherman has to cut through a ton of noise and focus on what he can control. You constantly move forward, reading the water and analyzing the situation. You keep all the tools in your vest at the ready. You adapt to new conditions. You place your best cast. You readjust until you get it right. And if that doesn’t work, you keep changing it up until you find a willing player or the right set of opportunities.
When you stop and commiserate, you let those negative thoughts creep into your mind. The cold suddenly becomes more acute. You start to think about the long walk back to the truck and how nice it would be to have a piping hot cup of coffee.
But you didn’t drive this far, hike all the way along the river and spend time daydreaming over the last week about shaking hands with a steelhead just to walk away empty handed.
Steelhead fishermen, like entrepreneurs, are eternal optimists. You make another cast, try a different bait, adjust your float, round the next bend and keep trying to make it happen, because that bite will come and it’s your opportunity to seize.
You’re guaranteed to catch zero fish if you aren’t trying. So you persevere and come back at it again the next day with a renewed sense of optimism and drive.
Businesses have been applying that same thinking on a seemingly daily basis since March. In the face of countless adversities — state-mandated shutdowns, ever-changing rules, exposure to the virus taking out a portion of the workforce and revenue losses, not to mention potentially dealing with the disease on a personal level within their families — entrepreneurs have kept adjusting, finding new opportunities and reacting to fill new market needs brought on by the pandemic.
Make no bones about it: It has been a grind. Even the most successful business owners have had to reset their targets, learn to do more with fewer resources and find ways to move ahead in the face of monumental challenges.
But pulling down their shingle and heading to the nearest job fair is not an option, so they keep finding ways to eke out new business and persevere. After all, it’s tough to succeed in business if you’ve taken your chips off the table and walked away in lieu of having to deal with adversity.
Here’s to persevering into 2021 and beyond.