Loosening My Grip
Eight years ago, I played golf almost every day. I was on the golf team in high school and had a fantastic coach who happened to be the golf pro at a fairly prestigious country club. The perks were awesome; access to all the golf facilities, one-on-one instruction from a golf professional and videotape footage of my swing, all for free. Despite all this, I loved and hated golf. I loved the challenge of getting better and seeing improvement from year to year, yet I hated the control it had over me. Inside, I was so afraid of failing. I was so afraid that I would be disappointed with my score and even more so that my score was a reflection of not just present reality but the future as well. When you put time and heart into something, the stakes get high quickly. If you fail at something you put minimal time and effort into, you always have the “I didn’t really try that hard”out. In actuality, that is just a cover for your fragile ego that could never admit to failure.
I distinctly remember something my coach said to me one day we were playing a round together. I had hit a poor shot and was pretty down on myself, per my routine. He said, “You know, Nick, hitting a bad shot does not make you a bad person”. I quickly quipped back, “I know”, protecting the wound that just got ripped open. His statement was the exact opposite of what I believed. I had wanted to conquer golf; instead it was conquering me.
Eight years later, I am now getting back into golf. I told myself that this time around things would be different. I would enjoy the game and be free to play.
…well, that is the eventual goal, but the same fears are cropping up again. To conquer fear, I believe you need to have the courage to peek under the covers and get a good look at the scary monster underneath. I need to understand what has and is making me so terrified. So, I go through my own little “occurrence-tree”, similar to a decision-tree. I am standing over the golf ball, about to make a shot and I start to feel fear creeping in. Why? When I navigate through all the thoughts and feelings, it comes down to this; if I hit a bad shot, it is confirmation that I AM a bad golfer. I will always be the guy with tons of potential but it will always remain just that, potential. I know I can hit the golf ball well yet I fear that I don’t have the strength within to withstand this fear that has caused me to crumble under pressure so many times.
Whoa, this is heavy stuff.
I have golfed about thirty times this year and am seeing some steady improvement, most of all in the mental part of the game. I peeked under the covers and saw him, my monster. In his eyes was a message of hopelessness and from his mouth proceeded numerous accusations. His body would have laid limp except for the fear and terror coursing through his veins. All of the sudden, it appeared. The vital connection I had missed and the secret to the monster’s power over me. In every instance, he connected what I did on the golf course to an identity I was to believe was mine now and forever (FYI, the identities he was mentioning kind of sucked). Breaking that connection is the key because what happens on the golf course is always changing, but my identity must be a fixed foundation not susceptible to the fluctuations of daily occurrences. It is not easy to change something you have believed for so long but I am doing it and the power of fear is slowly diminishing.
I realize that this journey takes a lot of faith and trust. It requires that I loosen my grip and stop trying to control results. It means I believe that, “A score does not make me, but I make the score.” In all my years playing, my thinking during nearly every shot was, “I hope I don’t screw this up.”
What could be possible if these were my thoughts instead?:
I am standing over the golf ball, focused on how it feels to strike it well. Inside, there is a quietness and peace, each breath providing calm and rest to my being. I start my backswing, not thinking about anything technical but focused on the goodness of the shot that is about to be. I swing with faith because I am not looking to control the result but rather focused on the present moment, trusting that the result is not my burden to bear. And I must hear this loud and clear: “A bad shot does not mean that you are a bad person or a bad golfer. It just means you hit a bad shot.” In that truth the connection is broken and the monster finds his end. That is when I find my beginning.