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The Humility of Starting from Scratch: My First Golf Lesson Taught Me So Much More Than How to Hit the Ball

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To celebrate our anniversary a few weeks ago, my husband and I decided to do something out of the box for both of us—we took a golf lesson at the local public course. What a humbling experience it was. No, scratch that. What a humiliating experience it was.

I played field hockey in high school and field hockey and ice hockey in college. So hitting an immobile ball with a stick should have been easy for me. Wrong! A golf swing is entirely different from a hockey swing. With every swing of my golf club, I suffered a brief panic attack, worried that I was breaking field hockey’s cardinal rule—never lift the stick above your waist so you don’t injure another player. Muscle memory is a powerful thing.

I thought I was going to learn about golf on that lovely afternoon, but I also got a major life lesson—the emotional challenge of finding myself at the bottom of the knowledge heap when I am used to a level of general proficiency.

How embarrassed I felt to be alternately “whiffing” the ball and sending divots of dirt flying through the air, all with a herky-jerky swing that looked more like a flip book of time-stopped photos than a smooth pendulum movement. To make matters worse, I could hear my husband hitting his golf balls with a solid “thwack” and watched him send them flying 200+ yards from the get-go. This was his first time, too, but he had the advantage of two golf-playing parents—I guess he is in the lucky gene pool of natural golfers. But not me.

With every poor hit (not every one totally stunk—I did eventually get some decent ones in there), I was transported back to my tween years, when imperfect tennis shots would cause frustration and humiliation and even the occasional flinging of the racket. Apparently, I went to the John McEnroe school of tennis charm and grace.

I vividly remember my shame when my expectations did not match my results on the tennis court. I honestly, truly wanted to do a good job, and every time I played, I carefully thought about what I had learned in my years of lessons. But despite my best efforts, the ball sometimes just didn’t go where I wanted it to. It didn’t matter how hard I was being on myself or how irrational it was, I truly would wrap my self-worth up in those on-court mistakes, not only feeling bad for losing the point but also for looking so terrible in front of my opponent. Crazy, right?

Yes, I know I was again being a totally insane person with my golf expectations—people spend a lifetime perfecting their golf strokes, and yet I was expecting some level of proficiency right from the start. That was totally unreasonable…and that’s where the life lesson was.

Middle age is a great time for fresh starts. With kids gone, individuals and couples suddenly have the luxury to revisit the freedom of their youths, when there was time to explore assorted passions and interests. Some of us have a bucket list of activities that we want to pursue, while others may need to figure out how to fill the void when they are no longer focused on weekend sports games and music lessons. Several of my friends have had to recast themselves in the absence of their mom/dad identities.

But, that’s the awesome thing about this life stage. When our kids started college, it was a fresh start for them—free from the cliques, relationships and reputations that had followed them from kindergarten through high school. We told them about the whole new set of friends they would have, the new activities they would try and the interests they would develop. It’s an exciting time of rebirth for them.

Well, it is the same for middle-agers. We can now remake ourselves and pursue passions that we had placed on a shelf. Now it is time to rekindle those passions and start at the beginning again, as humiliating as that may be.

I have thought about my frustrations and fears from my first golf lesson a lot in the past few weeks and realize that there really are layers of lessons from that day—in addition to the humility, I learned to empathize with the junior people in my organization as well as my children, who are starting on their own paths and feeling fear and frustration. I don’t expect them to be vice presidents from the get-go, nor should I expect myself to be a star from the start. After all, it’s about the journey…not the destination, right?

Last night was my second time swinging a golf club. No teacher. Just me, my husband, a friend and a few buckets of balls. Guess what? It wasn’t so scary this time.

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