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Sweat equity? Or don’t sweat it? A lesson in managing balance.

For many of us, we identify with a particular aspect of our personality more so than we do other aspects. Some of us are prone to going “chips in” towards one facet or another, forsaking balance in pursuit of something “more”. When we do this, we often tie our value as a person to the output of the particular pursuit to which we’ve gone all in on. Far too often we ignore what we can control while we toil away at tasks intended to fix, or influence, those things we cannot control. And when we fall flat, our perceived value also falls flat. Feeling like a failure due to factors outside of your control is a self-inflicted wound and one that cannot be avoided regardless of effort. Learning to manage balance is an important life skill; one that might just save you from your own passions. It certainly saved me from mine.

Sweat Equity

I was raised in a “hunting 101” family. We covered the basics: walk quietly, sit still, be quiet. We did not discuss things like trail cameras, food plots, or herd management. My exposure to those things would begin in the early 2000s and was heavily influenced by Bill Jordan, Michael Waddell, and Mark and Terry Drury. Things would be thrust into overdrive in 2005 with the acceptance of my first “real” job and the acquisition of a 100-acre family farm near the start of bow season. For someone that admittedly “knows no moderation”, I immediately went “chips in” and hitched my “value wagon” to the results of my bowhunting pursuits. I was certain that if I worked harder than the next guy, I would “earn” a wall full of Ohio Big Bucks. Within weeks of closing, I was immersed in my pursuit to become that “Mark Drury of SE Ohio” and it was in the pursuit that I thought I find happiness.

The years that would follow, found me in the woods 52 weeks a year, hundreds of hours a year working on projects I was certain would propel me to hunting greatness. I dabbled in the hunting industry and had unrealistic expectations about what I could achieve because I lacked a proper perspective. I failed to realize that the success I felt I could achieve through hard work, ultimately hinged on one reality: right place, right time. (This alone is influenced by a host of other issues like access, genetics, and pressure.) My ignorance caused me to believe hard work would sway the scales in my favor. All the failures began to pile up, so did the pressure. I’d centered my life around one pursuit and as the certainty of success gave way to doubt and frustration, I was defeated. I was ready to disassociate myself from the one pursuit that had defined me for over a decade. It took a change in perspective to revive my passion and that change came from one major revelation: Sweat equity alone, does not kill deer.

Don’t sweat it.

Fast forward to this year and you’ll find a much different scenario on our farm. The presence of years of sweat equity is evident in overgrown trails, dozens of former (unvetted) stand sites, and more than a few projects that never resulted in a dead deer. Gone are the days of the “Hit List”, finely manicured trails and stand sites, or anything Drury-esque for that matter. But what you will find now is a happier hunter. One that understands my value has nothing to do with my trophy wall and that “right place, right time” is influenced by chance more so than effort. I learned to redefine what “effort” meant in terms of output and that burning myself out in July hanging stands under the expectation that it’d be a sure thing come November, was a recipe for failure. Effort meant getting up earlier, sitting longer, observing more. It meant hunting smarter, not simply working harder. Quite literally, I sweat less nowadays. Metaphorically, I also sweat less. I no longer care about what my trophy wall says in terms of inches of antler and how that correlates to my perceived “value”; but what does it say in terms of memories and experiences? Those are the things that provide lasting value. The value is in the pursuit. It’s the planning. The anticipation. The adventure. And the memories that live on long after the sweat has dried. There is no value in sweating for sweating’s sake…

The lesson.

For the more cerebral, life is more than just blindly going forth. It’s filled with internal dialogue about “why” and that constant analysis can be burdensome at times. When it’s not just as simple as “shut up and hunt”, you must effectively manage expectations so that you garner the most from all experiences. Respect the preparation, but don’t think you can work yourself to an outcome simply because someone says “sweat equity pays”. Where there is one, there are hundreds of examples of giant bucks falling to hunters who invested zero sweat equity into the killing of that animal short of “right place, right time”. The same examples can be found in all aspects of life. Hard work alone is not enough, but it helps.

The old adage that “luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity” is really just telling us that “right place, right time” is the controlling factor in our success. In the business world, managing expectations is a key component to achieving success. The same goes for daily living and the pursuit of our passions. Getting caught up in the hype, buzzwords, and unrealistic expectations set by those not walking a similar path to our own is a recipe for failure. Getting burnt out trying to affect change over things you cannot control robs you of the enthusiasm you need to capitalize on the things you can control. Hard work alone is not enough, but it helps.

So what can you control? The expectations you set for yourself. The perspective through which you view your existence. The quality of your life’s experiences are controlled by your expectations and perspectives. Choose properly.

Stay mindful my friends.
 

Comments

#2
Great Post.

You are also entering a new era in your hunting that will redefine your outlook. When your kid starts, it really changes your perspective. It will be the most fun that you have ever had hunting. On the downside you have to watch your expectations with this as well. I know I would take failures (missed shot, spooked deer, etc) really hard as I felt responsible in alot of cases as I should have made a different decision or had them wait longer to shoot. Often it bother me far more than it did the kid.
 
#3
Beyond happy to read this Jesse... I also reached a point where I was just flat tired of the struggle. Because that’s what it was, a struggle to figure out “why”. When I had all the answers in front of me, I was just too damn young and naive to see them.

Good luck on your new found path.
 
#4
Awesome post Jesse. I most certainly can relate this to not only my outdoor "career", but hell, life in general. I find myself constantly hanging on to things/conditions that are out of my grasp. I might put forth the effort but all TOO often I don't let the chips fall where they may. Thanks for reeling me back in.
 
#5
indeed, keeping your balance is all about understanding the relationship between goals and expectations. on top of that, you are going through the natural evolution/maturation process that every hunter (every person) goes through. I've hunted in nine states, 3 Canadian provinces and on two continents with home made bows and arrows. there was a time when I hungered for all of that adventure and travel and was willing to do whatever it took to get it done. that time has rather passed. today, I'm content to stay closer to home and run dogs after squirrels, kill as many ohio deer with my simple archery gear as I can manage, and forage for seasonal wild edibles. life is all about priorities, and those change as we reach goals and set new ones. this is journey, not a destination. important to realize, as you have, that life is a serious of ch-ch-ch-changes.
 
#10
This is a very good post, and a topic I wish more people would ponder on sooner in their hunting careers. I think it's part of the natural progression... But waiting until your 30's to figure it out sure does rob a lot of your time and effort in your 20's. I was in the same boat myself. Nowadays I try to appreciate the outdoors for exactly what it is and don't get too awfully worked up over big deer or big expectations. I hunt half as hard as I used to, or less, and actually enjoy myself twice as much. I think part of the reason behind this natural progression is we have to go through the hustle and bustle of "adulting" for several years before we REALLY start to appreciate our time away with nature. And at the same time, most of us realize that the extra effort often times just leads to extra disappointment. So we find a balance.
 
#11
Great read. I have been fortunate to kill several deer that I consider to be nice bucks. I'm actually trying to come up with some cash to pick up the most recent one lol. But, I've done absolutely nothing to kill any of those deer other than being in the right place at the right time. Luck has been my biggest friend in the hunting world. Now that life is as hectic as it is for me I'm going to have to rely on it even more.
 
#12
Or more simply put. . . There is more to life than big deer on the wall. I've killed some good ones. Doesn't make me some "mighty Hunter". My greatest trophies carry my last name. They make me proud. What values I pass on to my children will always mean more than a deer on the wall. Their achievements will mean more to me than my achievements. I have a college degree. I have a pile of plaques from racing motorcycles. I have quit mounting deer. At one point those meant a lot to me. Now? I just want to get to retirement and see what my kids achieve. I have 3 kids in HS starting this next school year. Will Miss K start kindergarten this year or next? I can't remember. Just wait though my friend. We just had a conversation in the hot tub at our cabin. This could potentially be our last "family vacation." How the fug did that happen? Lol.

Try to find your balance. Pay off your bills. Enjoy the time with your kids. When you see the end of the road coming, hopefully you and your wife are looking forward to an empty nest and quality time together. That is success. Watching the kids take flight with a wife you still enjoy spending time with would be success in this crazy world. Along the way, I hope you kill some good deer. If you don't? Oh freaking well. I sure hope you have enjoyed as much time with them as possible. Enjoy your ride!
 
#13
Phil, last family vacation? I seriously doubt that. Actually when your adult children talk to you they look forward to vacationing with you again. Probably because it’s a reduced rate for them.... 😂
 
#14
K starts school next month, meaning we become parents of a kindergartener! Crazy to think about, especially since we discussed the timing of #3 this morning!

I appreciate the feedback from everyone. The points about maturing/developing as a hunter and that stages that we go through in this evolution are on point. The role of kids in this process is lost on a 25-year old me, yet are profound on 35-year old me. I've said for a few years now that I was SO ready to hunt for someone else and not for me all the time. I can see how a similar pressure to succeed will exist when trying to get kids on deer, but the fun that will surround that should keep the pressure at bay and if not, we'll go hunt ducks/geese!

I really look forward to a much more relaxed spring and summer next year as this one was lost to a new job, taking a college class, buying/selling home. For me, taking the girls along for the habitat management stuff is the most fun and K loves it too. We will start her shooting house in March next year so we can be ready for her first full hunting season next year!
 
#15
Sounds like you are enjoying it again. Time and life have a way of pointing us different directions than where we thought we would be 10-15-20yrs prior.

I still put some sweat equity in. Admittedly, not as much as you, Jesse. I'm trying to lower expectations because priorities of spending more time with family have grown taller than putting in more seat time in the woods. Less time in the woods means less likely hood of seeing "the big boy". I'm okay with that. Same maturation as a hunter thing many on here have realized or are realizing. Hats off to you. Enjoy the ride!
 
#17
The evolution of a hunter, great post Jesse! You will never stop changing the way you look a things when it comes to hunting and family. I've gone through the selfish days of bowhunting and at one point I realized I didn't like the path I was on. I too thought I could be the big buck hunter I always dreamed of and writers would write about LOL. A while back though, I recall someone asking the question; what was more important, having one giant on the wall or a wall full of great memories. Back then I wanted that giant! However, as a result there was a point where I actually stopped enjoying hunting anymore. A lot of it had to do with an old friendship that went sour and where bitterness just ruined all the love I had for deer hunting. It was a time in my life when I had to do some soul searching as my health was being affected as well. Soon after that was when my mom passed and unfortunately that was when I realized what I had been missing out on. It really doesn't matter if you have that one giant OR a wall full of trophies. What matters is you have memories with those you love and hold dear to your heart. Whether it's hunting or just sitting at the dinner table talking about your day, the memories are what counts.