Yesterday marked the official beginning of my 44th year and I had a fantastic day celebrating it on the golf course with my twin brother Jimmy, my father Don, and my son Patrick. While we were checking in with the starter, I saw some guys with various cameras set up right by the 9th green which is parallel to the first teebox. Having done a fair amount of “man on the street” interviewing on behalf of my clients, I had a hunch that they were seeking some testimonials or sound bytes from “real people” about the game. My suspicions were confirmed when the interviewer introduced himself as a representative of the USGA (United States Golf Association for the uninitiated) and asked if we wouldn’t mind talking to him about our relationship with the game. He later admitted that we were of particular interest because we represented three generations of men; I was tempted to introduce dad as my older brother, but I didn’t think they’d buy it.
The big question area he kept circling back to revolved around why we play the game. Jimmy spoke about having time to himself out in the fresh air and dad spoke about his introduction to the game through the business world and how he used it to bond with customers (I used to joke that he was the chief golf officer of American Express). Patrick talked about getting his love for the game from me, which begs the question, why do I play?
Part of my answer is reflected in Patrick’s — I play golf because my father introduced it to me at a young age. Oftentimes he would come home from playing a round on a weekend day and then take us to the range where he would show Jimmy and me how to swing. While his passion became mine, that wasn’t enough to keep me in the game. While I agree with my brother that it is great to spend some time outside in the fresh air playing a game, for me, it’s more than that.
I used to consider golf a collection of shots that amounted to nothing more than a round, but now it’s bigger than that/ It represents the chance to master (and remaster) a skill — defining an objective and planning on how to meet it. In golf, this translates to being able to put your ball where you want it on its journey to its final destination (the hole). Not only that, but doing it in as few tries as possible — and improving every time. Golf has become a metaphor for what I value in life — the ability to put thought (or a desire) into action and to do it with a greater degree of excellence every time.
Off the course, this means growing my business. I’m self employed and unless I’m successful in winning projects from my competition, my family won’t eat. The stakes are high. As with lining up a shot on the golf course, I have to identify the right solutions to help my clients address real business challenges. Once I win the opportunity to work with a client, I have to execute flawlessly so that they come back to play another round with me.
Of course not everything goes according to plan all the time. Just as a drive off the tee can go left or right instead of center, elements of a project I’m running may go sideways. On the course, bad shots happen but I try not to let them define me; I think about what got me into the situation, learn from it, and then make a correction. When something goes wrong with a project I’m running, what ultimately defines me isn’t the challenge itself, but what I did about it. On
the course and in the boardroom, what’s ultimately important is the outcome and how adversity was overcome.
As you can see, golf to me is a bit more than an escape or a way to develop customer relationships — it is a metaphor for life. If feel so strongly about this that I used golf to drive the narrative of Winning Streak, my third novel. While it’s not about golf per se, it is about adversity and how we overcome adversity and loss in our lives. You can buy it here.
The week leading up to my birthday started with what I thought was going to be a great deal of adversity. For Christmas, I bought my daughter Grace tickets to see one of her favorite performers – Shawn Mendes. Opening for Shawn was another one of her favorites, Charlie Puth. Now I’m a rocker and modern pop music isn’t my thing. On top of that, I promised she could take two friends along and that we’d stay the night in Boston (It should be known that I assumed Gracie would pick her brother and sister to go with, but that wasn’t the case). Having to take on the responsibility of other kids is not something I embrace without at least a little hesitation.
In the weeks leading up to the concert, I didn’t exactly hide my lack of enthusiasm for this event but something funny happened when I was at the venue with Grace and her friends; I started to get into it. I saw a few other dads who had the look in their faces as if they drew the short straw that night and I saw how much it bothered their daughters. I decided then and there that I would let my excitement level rise – and it did to the point where Grace told me I was embarrassing her. “Why cant you be like other dads?” came out of her mouth more than once.
I knew I had a choice — sulk because I didn’t like where I was or who I was going to see, or feed off the energy from Grace and 18,000 other screaming girls (and let me tell you, 18,000 girls can do a lot of screaming). I am convinced the girl sitting next to me (not one of Grace’s crew) actually peed in her pants when Shawn took the stage. Instead of peeing, my Gracie actually started to cry when Shawn took to the mic. Speaking of which, if you’ve never done something with your daughter that she was so into that she starts to cry because she’s so happy, you haven’t lived (you see, crying I’m okay with, but I draw the line at public urination).
If there’s one lesson in this, which at this point feels more like a rant than a reflection, is that life is full of adversity but it’s what we do about that adversity that defines us. Oftentimes, its our attitude that makes all the difference. On the course we can choose to slam our club down in reaction to a bad shot or we can take a deep breath, evaluate what we did wrong, and learn from it (and hopefully recover). In a professional setting we can either react calmly to a hurdle we are faced with, or we can start yelling and screaming about what put it in our way (what do you think will have the better outcome?). And in Boston’s TD Garden we can sulk like all the other parents who do not share the same musical taste as their children, or we can embrace it and learn to live vicariously through the pure joy in our children’s eyes. What would make us better at parenting?