Dreams of the modern Walter Mitty are not known only to himself. He scrolls through Instagram for ideas, and when it’s time, fabricates a protagonist to be not only shared, but validated by anyone who cares to give it a Like. It’s the life he wishes he lived. At some point, that’s the overwhelming majority of us, if only for an afternoon. We need to stop.
When our happiness is dictated by filling a tag, we lose. When we buy gear to make us look like who we wish we were, we lose. When we’re imagining poses, and likes, and new followers, and the chance to become an influencer, or get a sponsorship, or get invited on a podcast to tell the story of how we kept hammering, we lose.
We tell kids not to compare themselves to others, to work hard, be better versions of themselves and that the path to confidence is by challenging themselves to grow. But what about us? As hunters and anglers, we have to be honest about what we’re looking for, where to find it and who can help us. Some of the most gracious, happy and skilled hunters I know are unencumbered by the need or desire to tend to an online persona. They are who they are and they are the source of their happiness. In the same way, some of the most successful and happiest outdoor writers and content makers in the industry sketch out a broader vision for their lives, one that includes fulfillment outside the bottom line or last post.
About a decade ago, I was standing in the visitor’s center in Talkeetna, looking at a scale model of Denali. Speaking to no one in particular, the man next to me said, “That mountain didn’t cause my problems, so it sure as hell can’t solve ‘em.” He turned and walked away.
It is an interesting observation in human nature to see how people react to what others have done in the wilderness. Hunters and anglers are more aware of what’s out there and this seeds interest in, and maybe a little desperation for, new experiences.
Though outdoor content makers or product manufacturers can have an impact on the quality of an experience, they are not responsible for improving the quality of a life. A hunter changes his or her own life. It’s not the e-scouting subscription, the tag-finding membership, the phone app, $1,000 in new gear or the Instagram post with a trophy and 15 companies tagged. There is nothing wrong with any of those things as long as we know what they are. I love my new puffy jacket, my optics and I usually have a story going on Instagram, but they are not tools of the soul. The truth is we spend most of our hours not hunting, so we need to scout a better day-to-day because the better we are before we go to the woods, the better the woods will be, and the better we will be when we get home.
What makes a life-changing hunt is the attitude with which one approaches the hunt, not a dead animal. Gratefulness. Happiness. Clarity. The most passionate, hardcore hunters I know are the ones who have the energy to get out there and put forth epic effort. The ones who grind themselves down in life and enter the woods bitter or exhausted don’t have the juice left to do the work.
Work is not my life, but it provides me purpose and the more I focus on that, the more I see the complimentary rhythm. The better I am at work, the better I am away from it. The better I am away from it, the better I am at it. I can’t wait around hoping that hunting season brings me the spark to keep me going or bring happiness. I can’t live off old memories. I have to train myself to default to a better normal that way I am not at the mercy of drawing a hunt or having success.
There is nothing wrong with a digital archive of hunting highlights. It’s just important to know what it is and what it’s not.
• Jeff Lund is a freelance writer based in Ketchikan. His podcast, “The Mediocre Alaskan,” is available on Spotify and Apple Music. He is, of course, on Instagram @alaskalund. “I Went To The Woods,” a reference to Henry David Thoreau, appears in the Empire twice a month.