Golf and Life

I first picked up a golf club at five years old, in 1975. My grandparents were avid golfers and they gave me a 9 iron. Back then, golf clubs  were rarely made for kids. My 9 iron was an adult club with a shaft cut down to 5-year old size. I remember it like it was yesterday – heavy, with a worn clubface and a black grip with green markings. With varying levels of intensity and time commitment, I’ve been playing golf ever since. 

With bias admitted, the lessons learned in golf can be profitably applied to the challenges of your career, business and life. Anyone who plays the game knows the opposing feelings of elation and despair, improvement and setback, blissful peace and incredible stress, deep comradery and quiet aloneness, complete confidence and total incompetence. Some subset of these opposing emotions come up in most every round. Ultimately, to truly enjoy and improve at golf, you need to strike that balance of having goals and caring about results, but mainly focusing on the process of improvement, which is all you can control. 

Viktor Frankel, in his incredible book Man’s Search for Meaning, wrote that for man, freedom is found in the moment between stimulus and response. At the risk of making an analogy that trivializes the incredible trials endured by Frankel, golfers experience that moment many times during a round. The stimulus is the result of a golf shot, the response is how the golfer reacts to the result, and the freedom is when the golfer recognizes she or he can control that reaction (though it is hard). And, how one reacts makes a big difference in the golfer’s quality and enjoyment of play. jhuBad shots will come. Reacting negatively (anger, fear, pessimism, capitulation) is easy to do, but will just lead to more bad shots. Reacting positively (curious, evaluating the mistake, recognizing mistakes are inevitable) puts to golfer in a position to rebound from adversity. And so it is in business. For sure in the life of an entrepreneur and her startup, much adversity will be faced. Success (and joy) are found in responding to adversity with equanimity, thoughtfulness and endurance.

I am no more a master of life and work than I am a master of my golf game. I’m hopeful that by paying attention to my experiences off and on the course, I’ll continue to learn, grow, and improve. I wish the same for you.

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