Life and Love in Eighteen HolesWhat you Can Learn from a Golf Ball

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Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Life and Love in Eighteen Holes

What you Can Learn from a Golf Ball

A long time ago, when my son was about 11 years old, I fell in love with a monster. It looked gorgeous on the outside: pleasing to the eye, inviting and peaceful, simple in concept. But the deeper my relationship with this monster became, the more I realized what a challenge I'd undertaken. The name of the beast? Golf. In my humble opinion, the hardest game on the planet.

I took up golf because my son's friends played and he wanted to learn. I thought taking lessons and playing together would be a great way to connect with my growing boy. My husband harrumphed and declared confidently that you'd never catch him chasing a silly white ball around a golf course. Ha. Golf is a seducer, and my husband fell harder than I did. We now play together as often as we can but like so many things in life, the course of golf (and love, it seems) doesn't always run smoothly. My beloved spouse is a born teacher, and he is almost always right. (No, really.) I grew up needing to do things well (I finally gave up on "perfect" about 15 years ago) and I have yet to achieve my goals in golf. My husband tries to help me and, well, let's just say that my frustration often gets the better of me. My handicap remains stuck at a point much higher than I would like, but boy, have I learned a lot about other things.

It turns out, as evidenced by bookstore shelves groaning with books on the subject, that you can learn a lot about life by playing golf. What "works" in golf often works in parenting, in marriage, in friendship, and in the workplace. I have not yet been able to break 90 (or lately, even 100 as often as I'd like), but I find value in the process despite the result. Here, in hopes that it will enrich your relationships, is what I've learned so far.

Play it where it lies. Everyone hits bad shots. Even Ben Hogan, one of the great students of the game, once said he hit only about four or five good shots each round. But in order to move forward, you have to let go of the bad shots, calm yourself down, and play the ball where you find it. Sometimes it's in the sand; often it's in the one patch of grass the mower missed. Sometimes you hit a sprinkler head and it bounces sideways. It isn't fair, and it doesn't matter: the rules are clear. All you can control is what you do. When a mistake or a bad break happens, you must breathe, let it go, and deal with what is.

In Positive Discipline, we say that mistakes are opportunities to learn. Wouldn't it be astonishing if we could truly apply that insight to our relationships with our kids, our partners, and the world around us? Learn from the mistake and make the next attempt more successful? Blame doesn't help: solutions and practice do. 

Integrity matters. Golf has rules and golfers who love the game abide by them--even when they don't have to. Golfers will call penalties on themselves when they lose a ball, hit out of bounds, or ground their club in a hazard. Sure, there are people who cheat, who don't count all their stokes. But for the most part, integrity and ethics are at the heart of the game. Golf is also the most democratic game around; if you keep a handicap, you can play with Tiger Woods and have a reasonably level playing field. People may not know if you cheat--but you will, and the luster will fade from your accomplishments. Learning how to admit your errors is important in life, too--even when you don't have to. Imagine how your relationships might change if everyone in them simply accepted responsibility for their own actions.

Look for what's right. It's easy to walk off the golf course complaining about the putts you missed and the drives you shanked, just as it's often easier to notice what people around us do wrong rather than what they do right. But life is often what you make it, and attitude does matter. A friend recently told me that if you take three boxes and stand two on end and one on its side, some people will instinctively notice what is the same ("right"), while others will notice what is different ("wrong"). It makes me curious about how we approach the people in our lives. Do we notice what is good, beautiful, funny, helpful, or engaging? Or do we notice the mistakes, the chores not done, the messy hair, or the missed opportunities? Encouragement is always a more effective way to teach than criticism and discouragement. I am learning--slowly--to celebrate the beauty around me on the golf course rather than focusing on my inability to hit the shot I wanted. And when I'm not tense and frustrated, my game improves. Funny: it works with people, too.

You can't hit what you can't see. In other words, you have to keep your eye on the ball. It's tempting to peek, to look up before the club has made contact, and to watch the ball's flight with either joy or terror. But in order to hit the darn thing, you have to focus on it, all the way through the swing. And so it goes in life. It's easy to get distracted and to lose sight of what really matters, but nothing goes well when we take our eyes (and hearts) off our goal. If your children, your partner, and the people you love truly matter, you have to stay connected to them. 

Relax and breathe. There are a lot of moving parts in a golf swing, and all sorts of ideas about how to fix one that's not working well. Don't break your left arm. Keep your head down. Transfer your weight. Keep your elbow in. Load the club at the top of the swing. Yikes. There's a great scene in the classic movie "Tin Cup" where Kevin Costner appears bedecked with dangling gizmos and gadgets intended to fix his golf swing, which only make him look ridiculous--and there are hundreds of books, articles, and experts who will tell you how to fix your life. But in life and in golf, before you can do anything helpful, it's essential to slow down, to breathe deeply, and to relax and feel your body. First, you must be present. 

And perhaps this is the most important lesson of all. Take time to be mindful. Whatever the challenges and frustrations, breathe, be mindful of who and where you are, and take time to center yourself before you act (or react). Slow down. Sip the moment slowly. What you do next will be better because of those quiet moments of connection.

I may never break 90, although I'm pretty sure I'll go on trying. I know there will be days when I'm ready to snap my club over my knee, and probably times when I'll roll my eyes at my golf partner--even when I know he's right. But I am learning to enjoy the process, the gift of being outdoors in a beautiful place, the company of people I love. I can see the beauty in the beast, and I'm learning to look for what's right in those around me. For now, that's more than enough.

| Posted by cheryl | Wednesday, July 11, 2012|


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