Getting into the swing of things

Let’s begin at the end. After a long relationship that went much longer than it should have (I’m sure she’ll agree), I’m on the road to recovery. Somewhere along the way, I found my savior. No bibles or holy water involved, just a ball, some sticks and endless miles of grass, trees and sand. Here are three critical lessons I learned from the great game of golf.

1. Let it go

You can’t carry negativity with you. It’s crippling. It’s unproductive and, ultimately, it’s very defining. Negativity has a way of driving good people and things away from you and the longer you go harboring it, the more it becomes part of who you are.

To be clear, I’m a staunch realist. I live in a pragmatic state of mind most of the time and it took the game of golf to show me how close this pragmatism can quickly becoming cynicism. It’s hard not to become jaded when you rely on facts to govern your state of mind. The world is not a perfect place and focusing on how terrible it, and the people in it, can be is easy to do.

The lesson I take from golf is that it doesn’t matter. None of it. Ever. You won’t hit a perfect shot most of the time and being good at golf isn’t about hitting perfect shots. It’s about fighting your way to success and the only real way to achieve that on the course is to let the last shot go. Did you make a mistake? Let it go. Did you make a selfish decision or act callously? Let it go. Take another shot. Be better. Act Smarter.

2. Learn to fail

This is one I still struggle with. Failure is inevitable. We all understand this intellectually but learning to do it properly is a life long struggle for most of us. Why? Most of us are afraid of judgement, internal or external. Most of us associate blame with failure and, thus, being responsible or accountable for failure means feeling bad about it.

For most of my adult life I’ve had the chance to work very closely with some very successful people. One common trait among them is that failure is typically perceived less like a stumbling block and more of an opportunity. One boss in particular reveled in it. He loved dissecting failure and did so with a glee and vigor that I found to be a bit off putting at first. To this day, I still tout this as his most admirable trait. The ability to excel in the face of adversity is inspiring and all good leaders exemplify this attribute.

It is no different on the golf course. You shanked your tee shot. You now have to hit a low hook around a tree. After your recovery shot, you have to hit a short-sided bunker splash in order to reach a tucked pin. You escape with bogie. Would you say this was a failure? Sure. Why? Was it shot execution? Did your ego compel you to pull driver when you should have hit 4 iron? The point is that someone who knows how to fail will learn from this and make different choices. Take a different line. Pull a different club. Someone who doesn’t will get angry and fail again and again and again. As I’m fond of quoting, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing and expecting a different result.

3. Practice will never make perfect, but it will always make you better.

Last week, Remy and I hit the range. For anyone who doesn’t know him, he’s a successful, smart, talented, young entrepreneur carving his niche in the Silicon Valley. The game is very new to him so he’s struggling his way through building a repeatable swing. At present, he has a case of the yanks and his ball striking is, well, horrid. Sorry, Remy. It just is what it is, pal.

Here’s the good news. He’ll be a single digit handicap in less than 2 years. Count on it. Anyone who plays the game will know how lofty of a statement this is. So, why do I say this with such unwavering certainty? Because Remy is ruthlessly dedicated. Not only is he willing to go to the range 7 days a week but he is willing to accept that the only way to get better is to learn from people better than him. I’ve worked with many golfers over the years and he embodies the unique combination of dedication and humility more than anyone I’ve ever seen. This will come as a bit of shock to most who know him. In his daily life, he’s a sharp, snarky, charming bastard that is as smooth as he is ruthless. In golf, he’s a childlike sponge who only cares about getting better.

Practice may not make you perfect but it will help you to create the version of yourself that doesn’t care about it. Perfection is unattainable. This is why most people set it as a benchmark. They know they’ll never reach it. This makes it easier to justify giving up. Successful golfers, and people, don’t strive for perfection. They just keep getting better.

First post is on the books. I hope some of you have found this helpful. In the future, I hope to be posting more golf related articles as well as creative studies with Chad Hall, my partner in crime over at Random Badassery. See you on the course.