Like golf, life is managing your mistakes

For those who have played golf, you know all to well, it is a game of managing your mistakes. This is especially true for higher handicap players like myself. It can be a frustrating game until you reach the understanding that if you can find the ball and it is in play, you can keep playing it. The game is far more challenging when your ball cannot be found on land or between the out-of-bounds stakes. Life is like this as well.

If you believe in the Divine, you know that God has a sense of humor. He created us imperfect beings who are full of faults, idiosyncracies, and less than pure thoughts. He also created us with the power to be generous and good. So, as we meander down the paths presented in our lives, many of us will endeavor to do the best we can, but we will make mistakes along the way. Not unlike the errant golf shot. We would like to drive it straight down the middle with some distance, but we will slice, hook, top, or dare I say miss entirely, the ball. It is at these moments on the golf course and, even in life, to have a sense of humor and be able to laugh at yourself. The old line is true – “laugh at yourself and the world laughs with you.”

We are human and we will make mistakes. Like topping a ball in golf, we may miss an important event or fail to be somewhere we should. We may get drunk and make a fool of ourselves. The best thing to do is fess up, say I am sorry and try to do better. After a topped shot, it is embarrassing, but you can walk up to your ball and play it again. Chuckling with your friends while you walk (and usually you can) will be the golf equivalent of fessing up that yes, you hit that shot.

Some of our transgressions will be far worse than the above and I know comparing them to a golf shot may be seen as trivializing them. But, if you bear with me, when you do make the more egregious error on the golf course, such as hitting it in the water or out-of-bounds, you are not dead. You are penalized for the mistake. So, let’s say I screw up and commit a crime. That could be akin to hitting the ball out-of-bounds. On the golf course, you are charged with a penalty shot and are obligated to hit again from the same spot, in essence a two shot penalty. In golf, if you shake it off, you are more likely to hit a better shot the second time. If you sulk or pout, you are more inclined to hit another bad shot. So, when you screw up in life, accept your punishment and try to do better, learning from your mistakes.

Instead, if you hit the ball in the water, the penalty may not be as egregious. You are charged with a penalty shot, but may be able to play the ball from an advanced position. So, hitting the ball in the water is not quite as bad, but you still have to react in the same way or you might hit another bad shot. Hitting the ball out-of-bounds, may be like committing a felony, while hitting the ball in the water, is like committing a misdemeanor. Or, if we are likely to not commit a crime, the out-of-bounds may be like being fired, while in the water, may be when you are only put on probation.

The only things you can do is to laugh it off, forget about it and keep playing. Learning from your mistakes is good as well. Many poor golf shots could be due to lack of concentration or poor tempo. Life would also mirror those suggested actions. If we don’t learn from our mistakes, we are destined to repeat them. Einstein even said “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing again and again and expecting a different result.” That would likely hold true on the golf course, as well.

A key to learning from your mistakes is to prevent them (or lessen them) from happening in the first place or the next time you are on the course. Golf provides a good glimpse of the impact good practice and preparation can have on the results. It is one of the best metaphors for life. Through practicing at what you are less proficient, you can lessen the margin of error on your mistakes and heighten the chance for success. In the case of golf, this means finding your ball in play more. Gary Player, the great South African golfer, once responded to a reporter’s query about a lucky shot. Player said, “I find that the more I practice, the luckier I get.” Whether it is preparation for a test, a big meeting, a speech, etc., the more you prepare, the likelihood of a better outcome has increased. And, in being prepared, you may build your confidence level.

Improved confidence is important as another key frailty we have is our self-esteem. This comes out on the golf course, as well. Preparation and practice will help you combat feelings of low self-esteem, because you are taking action. If I am nervous about something, doing something about it makes me less so. Getting back to laughing at your mistakes will help, too. Others might tease you, but you should understand that is their mechanism to deal with your golf mistake. If you understand going in you will make mistakes, you are less embarrassed when they do happen. I recall my wife listening to an elderly golfer that we played with in the mountains. Around the 17th hole, he cozied up to her and said “I think I know your problem.” When she asked what it was, he said, “You are standing to close to the ball after you hit it.” That brought a great laugh and eased her up for the remaining two holes. It taught her not to take it so seriously.

I know I have trivialized life comparing it to golf, but let me close with a true barometer. Someone once told me, if you want to see into someone’s character, play golf with him. I had a boss that was an unabashed cheater on the golf course. His score would often be only in proximity to the actual number of shots taken. This was a “what’s in it for me?” boss. And, the lack of respect he was given was well-earned at work and on the golf course. I have also played golf with adults, who would throw temper tantrums on the golf course over their errors. You came to learn these were people you wanted to avoid at work as well. They were wound a little too tight.

Life is tough, but it is the only one we have. You will screw up and others will screw you as well. Live your life the way you want to live it. Worry less about what others think and more about what gives you peace, joy, sense of purpose. If you want to be better at something, work at it. In so doing, your confidence level will increase. If you screw up, shake it off, laugh it off, say your sorry and keep playing. If someone cheats on you, then you can make the decision to call them in on it or refuse to play with them in the future. And, when life puts you in the high rough, find your ball, chip it back into play, and find your new path forward.

23 thoughts on “Like golf, life is managing your mistakes

  1. This is exceptional and oh so very true! The best of your writings should be printed and given to all high-school graduates – or maybe to 9th graders, so that they find comfort and wisdom that helps them achieve the goal of graduation!

    I never played golf, but I love to fish, and there are people that I enjoy being in a boat with all day, and there are others that I wished I’d have hurled from the boat!

    “Worry less about what others think and more about what gives you peace, joy, sense of purpose” Those are true pearls of wisdom.


      • ha! that often helps me when i am enduring time with a difficult person; my mind takes a time out and i smirk to myself with that thought, ‘i wouldn’t want to be in a boat with you all day!\

      • I like this rule of thumb. I was just telling my wife yesterday how my grandfather could sit in the back of the boat reeling in fish after fish and, he was so quiet, you would never know. My brother and I would celebrate after each one. He never said much, but time with him in a boat are cherished memories. Of course, he had to put up with two noisy adolescents, so he probably could have caught more.

      • Watching you and your brother trumped any record fish he might have caught. There’s a great quote that describes a true sportsman.. one who can catch a record fish, release it, and never mention it to a soul. i will check my facts on that and try to get back to you on that one…

      • Reaching way back, i think the quote came from a cookbook published by SEOPA (southeast outdoor pres assoc) “Outdoor Tables and Tales”

        i did some writing and illustrating way back then, and i am almost sure that’s where the quote was.. i cannot find it!

        if i ever do i will lob it to you!

  2. Great analogy. As you know, I have always thought we could learn from sports. (Bill Clinton is reported to be a terrible cheater on the golf course, by the way. Not good, eh?)

  3. If we could only learn to let go of our egos, life would be so much simpler. Rather than get wound up tight over an errant shot, if we could learn to just laugh it off, as you suggest, and move on, everyone would be happier. there is nothing like the feeling of saying, “Yup, I screwed up, guess I have to work on that.” I’m not personally involved with the outcome, peers around me are more at peace, and the world goes on turning. What better outcome could there be?

    Great post

  4. I try to play golf but it seems so far to be a test to how long I can go before I have a tantrum… very sad. I’m not really trying to learn from my mistakes as much as I am trying to learn from bad experiences. But I love this post I struggled with this for quite a while. I feel like it’s under control. I like that I read this and can reassess my progress.

    • Best wishes. It is funny, I found my kids respond well when I tell them about my embarassing moments and shortcomings. We all have had our moments, including temper tantrums.

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