I failed yesterday. It hurt. It sucked. And I did it on purpose.
Over the summer, after months of nudging by my friends, I picked golf back up. For me, during the pandemic, it’s been the perfect outlet. I get out and exercise, building cardio and muscle by walking San Diego’s hilly courses, but more importantly it’s helped keep me sane from the repetition of elongated stay-at-home orders from COVID-19.
Setting Myself Up for Failure
Back in Michigan I played golf all the time and I’d gotten my handicap down under 10, which for those who don’t play golf, that’s pretty good. So in picking the game back up it wasn’t quite like starting over… it’s more like an unearthing project. I know a good golfer is there, it’s just a matter of putting in the time and hard work to restore that good golfer.
To this point that process has been going really well. I’m learning how to play with a slightly older, less flexible body. (You aren’t quite as bendy at 44 as you are at 34!)
I’ve replaced most of my ancient equipment. I’m hitting my irons well. Driving is meh. Putting is meh. But overall I’ve been starting to play casually and comfortably. And having loads of fun along the way.
But I want to get better. I’m a driven person and “having fun” only takes me so far. I want to kick some butt. Maybe I can’t get back to where I was but I’d sure like to improve from where I’m at because I know what I can do.
Which is why I signed up for a competition yesterday through my Men’s Club.
I knew I wasn’t ready for that. Even though I’ve been playing well under casual conditions, I knew I had no business playing competitively– something I love to do.
And, just as I suspected, I played poorly. I barely broke 100. Which for me is really, really bad. I like to live in the 80s.
High 90s is a major setback.
Even worse, I finished near the bottom. I finished well below what I should have done based on my skill level and handicap.
And it sucked. Big time. Fighting dehydration from a surprisingly hot and dry day, I spent most of the back 9 wishing I could quit.
I knew I wouldn’t play well and I lived up to that hype– and then some.
Simply put, my game wasn’t ready for competitive conditions. The tees were further back, which meant I had to hit more difficult shots, which created more bad results. And my putting game was not ready for difficult pin placements on ultra fast greens, which compounded on itself into a march towards a miserable score.
I hated every second of it.
But it was the best thing for me. The absolute best thing.
Failure and Success Are Siblings Not Enemies
Lots of people fear failure so much that they’ll only put themselves in situations where they are certain to succeed.
Frankly, that’s based on self-esteem psychobabble. The idea seems to be that if you play it safe, stick to what you know how to do, you’ll be successful.
I call B.S. on that mentality.
Play it safe and you’ll never really improve. Maybe incrementally, but not by the leaps and bounds you need. Self-improvement is a process of learning new skills and actually putting those new skills into practice.
To know success is to know failure.
Failure is the process by which you create success.
Failure and success co-mingle.
Why would you fear something that’ll make you better? I don’t get that. And I refuse to be a person who fears doing hard things simply because I might fail.
You get better by doing hard things. By sucking it up. No matter what you do in life, when you increase the level of difficulty, you will fail… it’s just going to happen… there’s always someone better than you no matter what you do.
But that failure should send you back to the lab. Failing at something gives you hard data on what needs to improve, motivation to improve, and ultimately makes success at that higher level possible.
How can you be the best at anything if you aren’t willing to measure yourself against others? That fear is why most people never really get better. That’s why they convince themselves that they are doing the best that they can… that they are just having fun in their hobbies.
We know that to get better we need to improve. But few people truly embrace a process of improvement.
Why? ‘Cos they scared.
Let me add an important addendum. The concept I’m talking about here is “playing up.” In other words, when you intentionally put yourself in a position where your skill levels don’t match the competition you’re surrounded by– it’ll expose your weaknesses but it’ll also improve you.
Whatever you do, when you play with people who are better than you, you’ll get better.
Yesterday, I had bad results on the scorecard but I hit some really, really good golf shots. The ultimate result was the failure but every moment wasn’t a failure.
The important caveat is that you “play up” every once in while then you take what you learned back to your lab and work on them. Then you go back to “play up” so you can measure your improvement.
That process of bouncing back and forth from your skill level to the next skill level up… I promise you, no matter what you’re working on, it’ll improve you.
And when you get accepted into that next level, when you can compete with people you once couldn’t, I promise you it’ll feel incredible because you’ll know you did that. You didn’t belong there but now, because of your hard work, you belong. You earned it.
But don’t do it every day. If you put yourself in a situation where you’re constantly surrounded by people whose skills far surpasses your own at this moment, that’s a tough ladder to climb and it might make you better or more likely it’ll make you worse. (Just the facts.)
What’s Your Next Step?
A few hours after failing at my first golf competition in a decade I had an appointment down at the driving range. I pre-scheduled it. I knew what was coming Sunday morning so I had a little session at my improvement laboratory Sunday evening.
And you know what? It was hard and it was good. I knew what I needed to improve and I was willing to listen to input from an expert.
For me, that one failure will push me the next 60-90 days of working on my game.
The question I have for you, dear reader, is… what’s your next step? What’s the risk you need to take to improve your game? What fear is holding you back from improving yourself? What step can you take? What can you do or plan today?
For me, for this post, that game is golf. But the fact is I apply this to everything…
But maybe for you that’s your work life? Or your marriage? Or your hobby? Or maybe it’s quitting your job to turn your hobby into a career?
Whatever it is. Don’t fear failure. Just see it as the sibling to success.