By Chris Wood
After I graduated college, my older brother, John, introduced me to a friend who was a Jesuit priest. At the time, I was a somewhat aimless bartender, ice cream maker and assistant high school football coach. One night after dinner and drinks, Father Donald asked me three questions: “Chris, what do you want? What do you need? And what do you hope to get from these things?” In memory’s hindsight, my glib answers were a good book, a good beer and a good buzz.
I thought of my sophomoric answers the other night as my friend, Mark, talked to a young woman who was about to graduate and wondered what was next for her. Mark’s questions to her were, “What do you do best? What gives you the most joy? And, how can you best serve?”
Then he said, “Where those questions intersect is where your career lies.”
Now, I should say that Mark is no holy-roller. He is a former high level political appointee in the George W. Bush administration. He is Catholic, but I do not think he practices. We were at a party, and it was loud, but I wrote down what Mark said because those three questions struck me to the core.
“What do you do best?” made me think of Warren Winders, a TU volunteer in Massachusetts, who has used his stick-to-it-iveness, humility and gentle touch to advance the cause of recovery for salter brook trout—a remarkable, little-studied fish that occupies both fresh and saltwater habitat from Long Island to Maine. Warren negotiates a thicket of egos and personalities with quiet grace and has done as much as anyone to advance the recovery of this cool fish.
“What gives you the most joy?” reminded me of a conversation I had with Beverly Smith, the tireless staff person who runs volunteer operations for TU. Years ago, our HR person informed me that Beverly hadn’t taken a day off—in a year. I called and said, “Beverly, please, you need to take time off.” Her response can be summarized as my work gives me joy, and that joy motivates me every single day. Over the years as her family has grown, she takes time off, but her motivation remains unchanged.
“How can you best serve?” Describes the experience of literally tens of thousands of TU volunteers who donated a record of nearly 750,000 volunteer hours to the places they fish, live and love. That commitment to service is reflected in the fact that TU staff protected more than 3 million acres of land; reconnected more than 730 miles of stream; and restored more than 360 miles of river in 2017 alone.
Skill, joy and service lie at the heart of everything that TU does. Where skill, joy and service intersect is where Trout Unlimited lives.
Chris Wood is the president and CEO of Trout Unlimited. He lives in Washington, D.C., and works from TU’s Arlington, Va., headquarters.