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Paul MacCormack: The Mindful Superintendent

Embracing Your Expiry Date...

Posted 08 December 2017 · 979 views

Every now and again we all have moments that force us to tune in. It can be an achingly beautiful sunrise, that profound stillness that accompanies watching a child sleep, or the moments of reflection that come with the death of a loved one. Such events are so poignant and so groundless that we have no choice but to pause and pay attention.


For all of us in the TurfNet family these past few weeks have placed us square in the midst of one of these moments. The sudden passing of long time TurfNet member Jerry Coldiron (at age 60) forced us to pause and take time to remember the man he was. By all accounts Jerry was one of those guys who people just loved being around. His passion for life, his ability to embrace the simple joys, and his love for his family and friends made his untimely passing that much harder to process.


It can be an achingly beautiful sunrise, that profound stillness that accompanies watching a child sleep, or the moments of reflection that come with the death of a loved one...


When we lose those close to us, life gives us an incredible opportunity for deep reflection. Not only on the life and times of the loved one who is no longer with us, but also for ourselves. As we process our grief and sadness, we are given a window into our own mortality. How we choose to look through this window can have an immense impact on how we move forward. Do you quickly draw the curtains? Sneak a fearful peak? Or do you throw back the sash and meet whatever you see without hesitation?


My youngest brother, filmmaker Andrew MacCormack (he helped the AGSA create this short film last year, Deep Roots) had the incredible opportunity last year to meet and work with a young man named Jeremie Saunders. Andrew spent the better part of a year with Jeremie, recording his life and shooting a documentary for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). Working on this project changed Andrew's entire outlook and has had a profound impact on how he views his own life.


Jeremie has been living with cystic fibrosis for his entire 29 years. But even though he has lived with the burden of this fatal disease (life expectancy is roughly 30), he has made the simple yet profound choice to live his life to the fullest. Jeremie has known his expiry date for a long time. Many of us don't have that burden, nor that luxury.


He and his closest friends have spent the last couple of years creating a podcast called Sickboy. This podcast aims to remove the stigma of disease by bringing it out into the open and talking about it. They use the power of open dialogue to turn the idea that disease and death need to be hidden away on its head. They have helped thousands of people living with various ailments adopt a new outlook that focuses on living, rather than just simply waiting to die.



Jeremie was recently in Toronto, ON to give a Ted Talk. He spoke about his experience and pushed the audience to fully examine their own mortality. He challenged them to re-imagine their version of living, all the while knowing that we all end up in the same place when our journey is complete. I would encourage you to watch the full talk, Embracing Your Expiry Date.


So as the holiday season approaches, take a moment to reflect on your own mortality. Not in a fatalistic, morbid way, but from a completely different angle. Look around you and offer deep gratitude for all the blessings that surround you. Have compassion for your loved ones, those in your broader community, and most importantly, yourself. Embrace your vulnerability and forgive yourself for anything at all. Changing your outlook in this way will have a profound impact on your life.


And when its all said and done, sit back and enjoy a beverage for @CaribeTurfman, Jerry Coldiron.


Thanks so much for reading.  


Posted 07 November 2017 · 964 views

The passing of seminal artists always has an effect on those fans who remain behind. With their deaths, we are confronted with a review of the full reach of their creativity and contribution to society as a whole. The magnitude of their contributions can easily be taken for granted while the artist is alive and creating, yet as in many things, it isn't until we posthumously acknowledge the power of their legacy, that we fully appreciate their artistic impact.


Recently, TurfNetters from north of the border (and in many pockets of the USA) had the opportunity to say farewell to one of the most enigmatic artists that Canada has ever produced. Gord Downie, lead singer of the band The Tragically Hip, passed away after a two year battle with brain cancer. Downie was one of those rare performers who encapsulated what it meant to be Canadian. The band's classically Canadiana lyrics and blues/rock music, which spanned a thirty year career, saw millions grow up with the Hip as the soundtrack of their lives.



After sharing the tragic news of Downie's cancer diagnosis with the public, the group made the bold announcement that they would make one last trek across the country to say farewell through song. It was a memorable tour that culminated with an epic final show watched by millions of Canadians (Tragically Hip Final Song Across Canada).



Shortly after the tour ended, Downie released a solo project that dealt with long and devastating history of how the Canadian government has treated Native Canadians (The Secret Path). He finished by releasing a deeply personal record (Introduce Yourself) just days after his passing. It was his letter of reflection and gratitude to all those who had an impact on his life.


To say that Downie lived his last years with humility, creativity and courage would be a gross understatement. The man was a creative genius who never stopped pursuing his art until the bitter end.


As I reflected this week on Downie's passing, the notion of 'legacy' kept haunting me. Not so much how people will remember us when we are gone, but more so the impact we have on those around us on a daily basis. Those small moments and interactions with loved ones, coworkers, and complete strangers are the moments in our lives by which we can create a special legacy which endures.


We have a unique opportunity as Superintendents to reach out to many people. From our management teams, turf crews, golfers, industry partners, and fellow greenkeepers; to our friends, families, and our communities in which we live and work, there are innumerable ways in which to leave a positive and lasting impact. It is usually the sum of all those seemingly insignificant interactions which has the greatest influence over time. Sharing a smile with a stranger, taking the time to listen to someone's problems, or simply reading a book to a child can create an imprint which reaches far beyond the daily grind of tending golf courses.



Those artists who leave the biggest mark on society do so by showing us possibility. They give us a glimpse into what things could be if only we imagine the world as powerfully, honestly and beautifully as they do. Even if only for brief moments, they enlarge our lives through their committed presence to creating art in their chosen path. This is the impact that living with presence and meaning can have on those around us. But it does require our committed intention towards engaging fully in our lives as each new moment presents itself to us.


Today I shall behave, as if this will be the day I will be remembered.    Dr. Seuss

Fatigued? Recharge your creative mind space...

Posted 29 September 2017 · 957 views

Throughout the years writing this blog, I always find the September edition the toughest one. Being a superintendent/GM in the northeastern portion of the continent is always difficult this time of year. You are worn out by the season, many of your younger staff members have returned to their studies, and you still have a few miles left to go before winter. Finding clarity and creativity can be a challenge.


Creative inspiration can be an elusive concept to pin down. We know it when it hits us, but try too hard to grasp and it slips through our fingers like kiln-dried topdressing sand. For me personally, creativity can be a double-edged sword during this part of the season.


When I walk too close to the burnout stage, my energy gets a bit thin. This is something to be mindful of as it is unpleasant to experience... but I have also discovered that my 'big idea' creativity gets a boost from feelings of fatigue. During such times, focusing on the task at hand can be tricky, but if you need someone to think beyond the ordinary grind, then I'm your man.


...my 'big idea' creativity gets a boost from feelings of fatigue.


As superintendents, we have a unique relationship with creativity. The architect lays out their vision, golfers play on it, and we are charged with both preserving it and reimagining it on a daily basis. It's like taking custody of painting or a song that will eventually fall into complete disrepair if there is not someone to maintain it over time. It can be a delicate balance that has many different 'right answers'.


Creativity at this time of the year can also take various forms. Whether you are reorganizing your labor pool, analyzing your budget, or planning for next season, they all can benefit from new and inspired thinking. Being open to new ideas and merging them with your tried and true processes can be fun. We are constantly reevaluating our goals and finding new ways to achieve them.


Your attitude and thought processes inevitably have a big impact on your creativity. Are you resistant to change? (We all are to varying degrees.) Are you open to input from the rest of your staff? Are you constantly looking for new learning opportunities and taking advantage of networking?


Nothing ignites the spark of idea generation like visiting colleagues at courses nearby. I had a wonderful opportunity to visit two courses last week near Halifax, Nova Scotia. Both were in the care of good friends who are doing truly amazing things with their properties. They inspired me to come back home and measure some of their practices against our property.


Nothing ignites the spark of idea generation like visiting colleagues at courses nearby...


Another helpful tool with regards to creativity is stillness. As one practices meditation, the mental clutter of unhelpful thoughts slowly recedes over time. When that mental clutter disappears, you end up with more clarity. Liken this to when an idea hits you when you are not thinking about it (my favorite time is in the shower). By clearing your mind of the chatter, your innate creativity bubbles to the surface more easily.


So this fall give yourself the chance to recharge your creative mind space. Lean into those feelings of tiredness and see what creativity might emerge when you are no longer holding the reigns quite as tightly. Take some well-earned time away from your course to reconnect with your loved ones.


Be well and thanks for reading.

Open Week...

Posted 28 July 2017 · 1,169 views

"Embrace the vulnerability of being human as a source of strength." -- Pema Chodron


No, it wasn't this past week. It was actually the week before. One of our members took a serious health turn on the third hole and his playing partners brought him back to the clubhouse. It was one of those emergency events that you prepare for, hope never happens, and one that both my staff and I wont soon forget. We promptly called 911 and went into action responding to the situation, all the while keeping the area clear of patrons.


It turned out that the gentleman was suffering from cardiac arrest. We witnessed the paramedics work on him for a half an hour before taking him to the hospital in what was still a very unstable condition. During traumatic incidents such as this, your perception of time bends a bit. It seemed at once to take both forever and be over in an instant.


It wasn't until I got home that the weight of the event began to settle in. When you are caught up in a crisis, you don't have much time to process the full extent of what you are witnessing. It was in speaking with my wise teacher (wife Jill) that I realized that I was going into automatic "stiff upper lip" mode. She took one look at me upon my arrival home from work and knew that something had happened. She gently asked me about what had occurred and how I was doing. I brushed it off and replied, "It's all good". She looked at me with knowing eyes and told me that it evidently wasn't that good at all, and that I didn't have to pretend that it was.


It was in speaking with my wise teacher (wife Jill) that I realized that I was going into automatic "stiff upper lip" mode...


Wham... she got me. My default masculine, cultured response was to push the pain of the event away. Pretend that it didn't really affect me that much and simply carry on. Maybe have a couple of beers and check out for the evening. But you know what? That wasn't going to work this time. I had to acknowledge that I was deeply affected by witnessing firsthand the poor gentleman's very serious health emergency.


So thanks to my wife's gentle reminder, I chose a more mindful approach to deal with my own aftermath. Instead of running away from the reality of suffering, I leaned into it. By opening myself to the trauma of the event, I allowed myself to fully feel the pain and fear of all involved. By bringing an openness and curiosity to my own experience, I noticed that my feelings were both raw and tender; and my own awareness of this left me feeling quite vulnerable. Sitting with the truth of your own experience can be a powerfully alive feeling -- yet it can also be extremely uncomfortable for those who are not used to sitting mindfully very often. This is where having your own mindfulness meditation practice can be very helpful.


Instead of running away from the reality of suffering, I leaned into it... 


By allowing myself to be closer to my own feelings of vulnerability, I was better able to compassionately navigate the aftershocks of the event with my staff. We spent the next few days meeting in person, sharing our experiences, and hoping for the best. The intimacy of those meetings was only possible through being honest about how shook up we actually felt.


At the end of the day, my staff and I recognized that while you can never be fully prepared for such an incident, being as present and responsive as you can manage to be is very helpful. And while you don't ever want such events to happen, it did give us a chance to come together not just as a team, but as a collective group of caring human beings hoping for the best possible outcome for another person.


(PS: The best part is the gentleman appears to be on his way to a full recovery despite a very precarious couple of days at the outset.)

Things I'm pretty sure to be so...

Posted 17 June 2017 · 14,355 views

In everyone's life they have a few core things they know in their heart of hearts to be so. I hesitate to use the word truth, because it can so often get twisted and deformed. One person's version of "truth" can be vastly different from someone else's, so for the purpose of this piece, we will leave that word alone.


In our industry there are also things that appear to be so. These things are not dogma, nor are they written in stone anywhere. They are simply things that I have noticed over the course of my career that just are no more, no less. This is by no means an exhaustive list, so feel free to add anything that you might feel adds to the conversation. Here they are in no particular order:

  • Work is better when it's fun. This goes for not only you, but for your staff as well.
  • Following that last one, it can be helpful to remember that we prepare surfaces for golfers to play a game on. It's not a life or death scenario. We maintain golf courses so people can also have fun... period.
  • Walk as much as possible. Whether it's moving from job to job, or you push or carry your bag when you golf, walking forces us to slow down and see things from a completely different vantage point... always helpful.
  • When you are out on course and you have one of those moments that stop you in your tracks (you know the ones I mean, flower or tree blossoming, or your entire crew working in unison) stop and enjoy it. Savor it. It helps one truly appreciate how lucky we are.
  • It can be quite useful to make pausing frequently a part of your day. It helps you to slow down and focus. A few deep breaths can bring you back to the present moment and go a long way to resetting your busy mind.
  • Yelling at people rarely (only exception being if they are in grave danger) helps a situation. Resist the urge to tear someone a new one, or dress someone down. It might appear to fix things in the short term, but it rarely does any lasting good.
  • Practicing your listening skills is a wise use of your time. Talk less, make eye contact, and truly be present when you are having a conversation with someone... no matter who it is. People in this world like to be listened to and feel appreciated.

Practicing your listening skills is a wise use of your time. Talk less, make eye contact, and truly be present when you are having a conversation with someone... no matter who it is. 

  • Unhelpful habits (isolation, negative self talk, procrastination) can be changed. You must be honest with yourself and move towards change with an open and compassionate viewpoint. You can't shame our guilt your way to real and lasting change.
  • Never stop learning or asking questions. Continuously approach your job and your life with an open, curious mind. As soon as you are certain about something, it's usually a good sign that it's time to move on to something new.
  • Thinking big is often very helpful, but not at the expense of the small day-to-day details. Remember to check in often and keep things in perspective.
  • Embrace your creative side. Whether it's on course or sitting home on your couch learning to play guitar, it's always helpful to embrace creativity.
  • You are not your golf course. The speed of the greens, the density of your fairway turf, and the look of your bunker faces has nothing to do with you as a person. Never use what happens or doesn't happen on the golf course as a tool for measuring your self worth.

Never use what happens or doesn't happen on the golf course as a tool for measuring your self worth.

  • Your personal bank of energy is not endless, so choose how you use it with care. Giving all of yourself to your job from time to time is fine, but doing it 24 hours a day, 7 days a week is not. Remember that you have a wife, kids, family, friends, and most importantly your inner self to allocate energy to as well.
  • Take care of yourself. Sleep lots, walk lots, eat well and give yourself a break from time to time.
  • Most things that are worth doing well take intention, commitment, and some heavy lifting. Just keep swimming, just keep swimming, just keep swimming.
  • Be kind to those around you. Everyone is doing the best they can at any given moment. Doesn't mean you can't help out and lend some insightful direction, but don't overdo it.
  • Love yourself, love your family and friends, and love your job. Usually best to keep them in that order.


Take care and thanks so much for reading.


Paul MacCormack's Mindful Superintendent blog is presented by Bayer Golf.

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