“You want to do what? Have you lost your mind!?!”

//written by Ian Cavanagh
//photography by Juan Davila and Robert Zunikoff

It’s been 13 months that I made the decision to pull the plug on my business career and start a life as a fly fishing guide.


Don’t get me wrong, I had a fantastic and rewarding career and I consider myself very fortunate to have had some great opportunities along the way; from holding some very challenging and fulfilling positions, to working with some really bright, motivated and caring people.  I’ve worked with big companies, small companies and medium sized companies and I have been both an employee and an owner. My work took me from my hometown in Canada to the Silicon Valley to around the globe and I had the incredible good fortune to see a lot of our world. Most recently, I worked with a world class global professional services organisation who had acquired the company with whom I had previously worked. I appreciated what they had to offer my colleagues and I, in terms of their capabilities, expertise, reach, clients and their business culture and I genuinely value the relationships that I developed while I was there.


But increasingly, I began to ask myself if I was truly happy and more specifically, was I accomplishing everything that I really wanted to in my life. I know that sounds selfish but I don’t apologise for thinking this way as I have given my everything and then some, to my employers, colleagues and business partners throughout my career. And in doing so, I made a lot of personal sacrifices. I recall a time early in my professional career while working late one night when my manager offered me counsel by saying; “Ian, remember that the candle that burns twice as bright, burns half as long”. I didn’t really understand what that meant at the time, nor did I heed his advice, but now I most certainly appreciate it and would offer the same advice to other young professionals. Although I have no regrets in my career I certainly do recommend pacing yourself and enjoying the journey along the way.


Now, I know the following defies the laws of physics, but the older I get, it definitely feels like time is actually speeding up. Lately, I find myself reflecting on my life and asking in utter amazement, where has the time gone?  It seems like I was just graduating from University, starting my first real job, meeting my wife, having kids, buying our first home, etc … This time last year, I woke up and realised that life is incredibly finite indeed and that I needed to take action. I understood with more clarity than ever that time was going to pass regardless of what I was doing. It wasn’t that I was wholly unhappy or unsatisfied at this stage of my life and career but I absolutely knew that there were other things that I wanted to accomplish while I was youngish and healthy and I simply wasn’t prepared to wait any longer to do them.


One of my great passions in life is the outdoors and specifically fly fishing, something that I was introduced to as a youngster by my grandfather. After he had retired from his own career as a police officer, he had the opportunity to manage a prestigious Atlantic Salmon Lodge on the Miramichi River, in New Brunswick, Canada.  And for as long as I can remember, I dreamed of doing something similar to this, never realising however that life would whiz by as fast as it has. Faced with this reality, I decided it was time for a change and so, with the support of my family to make this big life decision, and convincing myself that there was no real downside in taking the plunge to leave the corporate world, I did just that. With a clear mind and a mix of courage and a bit of fear, I took a deep breath and pulled the trigger, leaving the corporate world and setting off on a path to become a fly fishing guide or lodge manager.



And that is when I was met with “You want to do what!?!” Have you lost your mind!?!”


I should also add that this response, from colleagues and leaders alike, often came with some strange and perplexing looks, dismay, and in some cases, even disapproval. Yes, there were some people who applauded my decision and were supportive, even envious, but the majority didn’t really seem to understand my decision or appreciate the “why” behind it. To be clear to all of my friends out there who are professional fly fishing guides, don’t take the comments above the wrong way or a slight in any way with respect to your chosen profession. Most people in the business world don’t even know what fly fishing guides do, let alone appreciate what it actually takes to become a really good fly fishing guide. Some of the most intelligent, hard working and caring people I know are fly fishing guides, and I for one, have the utmost respect for their knowledge and their commitment to the profession.


I guess I should have expected some of the negative response that I got from colleagues, although I was honestly surprised and curious at the number of people who were left scratching their heads by the decision I had taken. Not that it really matters at the end of the day, but I thought that more people would understand my decision and share a desire to pursue one’s life goals. I now realise and better appreciate, that this is not exactly the typical shift or risk that most people are willing to take.


As I was coming up to the one year anniversary of my big life decision, I heard a country song on the radio called “Time” by Dean Brody that really resonated with me and reaffirmed my decision. The song is a powerful reminder to all of us that life happens fast:



“The trouble is … You think you have time … You think tomorrow’s always coming down the line … And then one day … You wake up and you find … The trouble is you thought you had time.”


So fast forward to today as I pause and reflect on my decision. I spent the most amazing past year investing in my life, my family and myself. I undertook numerous courses and I am now a registered fly fishing guide in the Canadian Provinces of New Brunswick and Newfoundland and Labrador. I am proud of this step but candidly I would only consider myself a fly fishing guide-in-training at this stage. As a matter of respect for all of the career fly fishing guides out there, I recognise that their skills have been honed over many years, so I have a long way to go before I will ever consider myself truly qualified as a fly fishing guide. This past year I also spent time fishing rivers that I had not previously had the opportunity to fish before. I canoed, hiked and camped more than ever and I learned a lot about the outdoors and myself in the process. I spent time establishing a new social network which includes people who share my fly fishing and outdoor interests. I read tons about the sport of fly fishing, took up salt water fly fishing, learned a few new casting techniques and networked with as many people in the outdoor business who were willing to speak with me.


In the process, I have come to realise that there are some really neat people in this business, who share this crazy passion of mine, and this has only served to ignite my passion even more. And during this past year, thankfully I have had the ongoing and unwavering support of my spouse, who has agreed to be a willing participant in whatever comes next for us (given she worked in facilities management she would be a great partner for me in managing a lodge) and to go wherever this road may take us! We have opened our minds to going anywhere in this big wide world in order to live life fully and to realise this dream! I really have no idea where this road will take us and at the time of this writing, I have no idea what opportunities may come my way, but I do know that am I wholly confident, that in the future I will end up doing something in the fly fishing industry … perhaps as a professional fly fishing guide, maybe a lodge manager or possibly even working in retail. It really matters not though. I am pursing my dream, living my life with purpose and happy with the path that I have chosen.



So to answer those folks who a year ago asked “Have you lost your mind!?!” … Well I guess the short answer is YES … and I couldn’t be happier that I did!


Until we cross paths again, Tights Lines!


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