Jump to content

Paul MacCormack: The Mindful Superintendent


Shine a light...

Posted 07 June 2018 · 467 views

One of the fundamental truths of life as a human being is that, no matter what, we all suffer. Whether physical fatigue, mental exhaustion, anxiety or another factor... episodic or chronic... some measure of it is unavoidable. The level or degree ebbs and flows, but at some point we all encounter it. How we engage and relate to this inevitable suffering can be one of the keys to living a balanced life.

 

As golf course superintendents, our jobs require total immersion if we are to be successful. Pitfalls and traps such as long hours, pressure from members and management, and unrealistic expectations result. These can infringe on our quality of life at the minimum, and add up to burnout if we are not mindful of our condition and responses.

 

As golf course superintendents, our jobs require total immersion if we are to be successful. Pitfalls and traps such as long hours, pressure from members...

 

This suffering takes on a much deeper meaning when mental illness enters the room. We have all had an experience with mental instability, be it anxiety, discontent, apathy or simply a short fuse. If you tell people otherwise, you are simply lying to them and worse, to yourself. That lie is the greatest trick that mental illness pulls. Not only do those affected suffer with the actual disease or condition, but then most feel the need to hide it. The stigma or shame of dealing with mental illness in a culture that considers it a sign of weakness can be crippling in and of itself.

 

The ripple effect of this type of suffering can be extremely difficult for families and friends. They also feel the stigma first hand, and will often go to great lengths to protect and shelter their loved one. The affliction not only affects the direct sufferer, but also goes a long way in governing the lives of those that love and care about them. It becomes a tiring cycle of adaptation, frustration, advocacy, and compassion.

 

Thankfully there are signs that things are slowly changing. There are movements afoot to unlock doors and shine a light on the stigma attached to mental illness. For those who live this struggle every day it cannot come fast enough, but the tide does appear to be slowly turning. As superintendents and members of our broader communities as a whole, what can we do? How can we help?

 

There are movements afoot to unlock doors and shine a light on the stigma attached to mental illness...

 

I have experienced anxiety, depression, and panic attacks first hand. My lovely wife Jill has had to learn to cope with her anxiety and sensitivities over the years. My amazing oldest daughter Maria battles severe obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). These are struggles that our entire family deals with every day.

 

From that standpoint, here are a few tips

  • Help is available. If you or someone you know is struggling, please reach out and get help. No one deserves to suffer alone. Please reach out to anyone you know who might be suffering in silence; your help can literally change a life.
  • Vulnerability does not equal weakness. Those who deal with mental issues on a daily basis are some of the bravest and strongest people I know. The internal struggles they live with could cripple even the strongest of people. Allowing people the space to be open with their pain moves us closer towards being a healthier, more caring society.
  • Shine a light. The irony of mental illness is that it only gains power over us when we hide it. By keeping it locked away it only grows and becomes a far bigger problem in the long run. Bringing it into the open and letting people know that it's ok to have issues may actually go a long way to preventing more issues down the line.
  • Compassion is key. Those who suffer from one of the various forms of mental illness need helpbut they also need our compassion and our kindness. Care and love go a great deal further than shame and guilt.
  • Advocacy and education. If someone close to you suffers, educate yourself and then go to bat for them. Spread the word in an effort to change the perception of mental illness. Those who live with these diseases must have resources to learn how to manage their illness and regain their lives. Nothing changes unless those who can speak up do so.
  • We are all in this together. Many of the most highly intelligent, creative and thoughtful people throughout history (including those you know) have suffered from or are suffering from mental illness. High mental acuity and sensitivity can produce wonderful art, music, dance and writing.  But the flip side is that many of these same people are prone to stimulus overload, anxiety and depression. Giving creative people enough space to be who they are helps us all.
  • Take care of yourself. No one is immune to mental illness, but taking good care of ourselves can go a long way to keep us mentally well. Study after study shows that self-care is vitally important to overall physical and mental health. Mindful meditation, whether through breath work to relieve anxiety or simply taking time to be truly present in life as it unfolds, can be a wonderful, life enhancing management tool once acute symptoms are under control. Making self-care a top priority can go a long way towards healing mental trauma and also lessening its impact in the future.

Thanks so much for reading...

 




A Shepherd’s Life

Posted 30 April 2018 · 498 views

Every now and again a book comes along that really connects with people close to you. Originally from an uncle, given to my mother in law, then passed to my son and then my wife, the book "A Shepherd's Life, Modern Dispatches from an Ancient Life", by James Rebanks has made the family rounds. As my wife Jill finished reading it, she turned to me in bed and stated, "You have to read this. You will get it. There are so many parallels between his life and yours."

 

The work tells the story of a forgotten way of life in the Lake District of the northern United Kingdom. James Rebanks comes from a long line of shepherds that have been tending sheep in this area for literally thousands of years.

 

This book was laid out by seasons and written as more or less as a series of journal entries. With an intimacy that was at times surprising, Rebanks shares the history and deep rooted connections that these folks have with both the land and with each other. Like most things worth doing, shepherding is phenomenally hard work, but by all accounts it transforms those who practice the craft and leaves them tied to both the work and the land in a truly meaningful way.

 

Like most things worth doing, shepherding is incredibly hard work, but by all accounts it transforms those who practice the craft and leaves them tied to both the work and the land in a truly meaningful way...

 

As I read through this narrative, I couldn't help but be struck by the similarities between the life of a shepherd and that of a greenkeeper. It was as if by living the life of the superintendent, I could completely relate to the lives of these people. By times the similarities were almost eerie

 

The Connection to the Land -- The people of the Lake District have a deep sense of rootedness to where they are. The intimacy and depth of knowledge regarding their fells and farms are at times staggering. It is the kind of connection that can only come from spending a great deal of time working the land and understanding its wisdom. As greenkeepers I think we can understand that depth of knowledge. It that sense of connection that only comes from the balance between working the land in a physical way and appreciating it in a deeper, more spiritual way. Tuning into this connection may be the key to returning to a more simplistic, less intrusive version of our craft.

 

The Connection to Each Other -- The only bonds stronger than that of the land were those that bound their families and community together. Each farm depended on the strength of their families and their workers to see them through. It wasn't always pretty, but in the end the deep respect they had for each other was evident. Greenkeepers are no different in that regard. Our dependence on our family support and the respect and hard work of our crews keeps us grounded and moving forward.

 

The Brother/Sisterhood of Shepherds -- This community of people was and is largely misunderstood by most that do not live it. The Lake District is a huge tourist destination in the UK, and most come simply for the scenery and the old world charm. But these shepherds live it, every day. They operate in a world that while governed by modernity, remains quite true to the craft. How many times as a superintendent have you felt misunderstood by those who play the game? How many times have you found a great deal of comfort in the fact that there are other greenkeepers, just like you, slogging it out each day, practicing an age old craft?

 

The Craft -- These folks take an immense amount of pride in the knowledge and wisdom they have accumulated over the centuries. Breeding sheep that can not only survive, but thrive in these inhospitable fells takes both skill and patience. It takes a lifetime of practice to achieve some semblance of success. There is a great deal of honor and respect that goes with practicing this art. Not so different from managing turf really; those who are patient enough to learn, listen to the land and the plants, try and fail repeatedly, will be the ones at the end of the day that garner the respect of their peers and achieve some measure of success in this game.

 

The Life -- The level of absorption into the life of a shepherd is full and complete. At times the author blurred the lines between life, and life on the farm. Most times they were as one. Rebanks recalled a stern chastisement from his daughter, telling him that 'all you do is think about sheep'. Unfortunately, as greenkeepers we can relate to that one all too well

 

 

Rebanks' writing style gives the reader a deeply personal glimpse into what it means to be a shepherd. It is at times relentless, heartbreaking, and almost mystical. One cannot help but be absorbed into the story of his life and how it continues today. You can even follow him on Twitter, using the handle @herdyshepherd1.

 

I will leave you with the 3 Rules of Shepherding

  1. It's not about you; it's about the sheep and the land.
  2. Sometimes you can't win.
  3. Shut up, and go do the work.

Thanks so much for reading...




May the Force be with you… or not

Posted 26 March 2018 · 1,126 views

How many times have you struggled with a problem only to find that the tighter your grip, the more elusive the answer became? You doubled down, squared your shoulders and refocused, only to find that in your fervor, the problem had resolved itself without your intervention. Lost in the haze of your quest to fix things, doing nothing at all was actually the best course of action.

 

An old greenkeeping proverb states, "Doing nothing is often the hardest thing to do." But for many superintendents, this is a very uncomfortable prospect.

 

Our "fixing mind tells us, "If I could only do X, the turf would be better...", "If I could only get through to that staff member they would", or "If I could only convince that board member to see things my way, all would be good in the world. For many of us, doing nothing at all simply does not compute.

 

An old greenkeeping proverb states, "Doing nothing is often the hardest thing to do." But for many superintendents, this is a very uncomfortable prospect...

 

Not for fellow TurfNetter Jason Haines (@PenderSuper), of Pender Harbour Golf Club in coastal British Columbia. His blog post a couple of years ago titled, Five things that I dont do anymore and why, highlighted this notion of doing far less to achieve more in the long run. Jason's mantra is to continuously question, examine, and push the boundaries of greenkeeping. In his quest to do less, Jason had found that stepping back and simply observing can sometimes be enough.

 

Doing nothing is hard work. When there is a problem to fix, our egos tell us to get out there and do something at least! This notion forces us out far too early in the spring to begin overseeding, disturbing our surfaces to alleviate a perceived problem, or needlessly interfering with our staff in order to get the job done right. If we can step back and tolerate a little discomfort for a time, sometimes these issues resolve themselves without our constant meddling.

 

How often in our personal lives does this same dance play out? We superintendents are fixers by nature and it can be tough to hold back our innate tendency to jump in and save the day. Are you the person who people always look to for the answer? Many times that's fine, but sometimes it is helpful to ask yourself the question, "Is my input really needed?" This thoughtful pause can give us the space to not instinctively move into our reactive "fixing" mode and make room for things to sort themselves out for a change.

 

It's not to say that intervention is never required and we should always be completely passive about things. We get paid to fix problems on a daily basis; it's kinda what we do. But it might be helpful to evaluate your reaction footprint. Ask yourself if it's more effective to continuously react to problems, or might it be time to start responding wisely instead?

 

...it might be helpful to evaluate your reaction footprint. Ask yourself if it's more effective to continuously react to problems, or might it be time to start responding wisely instead?

 

So next time you feel called upon to throw on your cape and rush out there to save the world, maybe pause first. Don't be afraid to question your first instinct that tells you to automatically do something anything. It's alright to feel a little bit uncomfortable with a given scenario and just observe for a spell. You might be surprised to find that sitting back and letting things be just might be that best thing to do.

 

Thanks so much for reading.




GIS Gratitude...

Posted 23 February 2018 · 758 views

I was finally able to attend my inaugural Golf Industry Show a few weeks back. It was a long time on the "to do list" as a Superintendent from the East Coast of Canada, and the experience did not disappoint. As I flew home, I was overwhelmed with gratitude and positive vibes from the whole event.

 

I would like to take a moment to thank some of the folks who made the trip so memorable.

 

To:

  • Chris Tritabaugh, for teaming up with me to deliver my first ever seminar at the GIS. Chris was so accommodating and helpful during the lead-up, and delivered a great seminar.
  • Frank Rossi, for pushing me to step out of my comfort zone and convincing me to actually do the talk. He was also gracious enough to let me join him on the GCSAA Live broadcast and talk about mindfulness; it was a moment I won't soon forget.

  • all the participants in the actual seminar. Everyone was so attentive and respectful. It was a wonderful group to share our ideas with, and I'm sure they left with lots to think about. (Or maybe not think about)
  • all the people who stopped me and thanked me for writing the blog. It was so humbling to finally hear from those people for whom the writing actually makes a difference.
  • those brave Superintendents who actually took the time to share some of their stories of hardship and difficulty with me. The vulnerability and strength exhibited by those folks was very inspiring.
  • all the staff at TurfNet. It was such a pleasure to spend time with the Peter, Jon, Kevin and co. The community vibe was on full display at the famed Beer & Pretzels event. What a privilege it is to be a part of such a compassionate, caring group of professionals. It was also awesome to be able to meet so many long time TurfNet members in person!
  • my wingman and Turfnet member Mark Perry; its always better traveling with a friend.

Mark Perry, Pat O'Brien and myself at GIS.

  • my wife Jill and kids Maria, Lucas, & Clara. They put up with me working a lot of extra time before the event, and held down the fort while we were away. Simply cannot do what I do without them.
  • all the people who work in all of the service industries that make a trip like that possible. All the folks in the hotels, the airlines, the conference center, the restaurants, and any other entity that we came in contact with. We were always greeted with a smile and these people often don't get enough credit for the stuff they put up with on a daily basis.

So hopefully those who you who attended learned a few things and returned home a bit richer for the experience.

 

Thanks so much for reading.




The View...

Posted 18 January 2018 · 1,111 views

We are well into the New Year and hopefully most of the resolution hoopla has passed us over until next year. It seems that the resolution craze has simply become yet another fabricated holiday that marketers and advertisers use to sell us things that we just don't need. They know that if every news outlet runs a story about how we all need to be better at being us, then they most assuredly have the product or service that that will help us achieve our goals.

 

That's not to say that there are not things that require a bit of rearranging. Need to eat a bit better? Yep. Need to walk or exercise a wee bit more? Yep. Bit more sleep? Yep. Need a gentle reminder to be more mindful in daily life? Checkmate. The funny thing is though, these things really never change. There are times in our lives when a few or all of these cylinders are firing, and just as often there are times when they are not. But one of the key realizations is that, quite simply, that's okay.

 

...just as often there are times when they are not. But one of the key realizations is that, quite simply, that's okay.

 

If we always start with the notion that life would be so much better if I could only make more money, lose weight, get more sleep, become a better superintendent then we start from a place of deficiency. We are going on the assumption that we are inherently flawed and that we need fixing. What if we started instead with the idea that, I'm actually okay just as I am? It doesn't mean that we don't set goals and work to make certain areas of our lives better. No, it simply means that we do so with compassion as opposed to shame and blame.

 

..it simply means that we do so with compassion as opposed to shame and blame.

 

For me personally, I have decided to place more intention on sharing the 'the mindful superintendent' philosophy with a wider audience. I have enjoyed writing and interacting with the TurfNet group over the past few years and with the gentle prodding of some close friends, I have decided that it's time to start speaking to a wider audience. How it all unfolds at this point is still a bit of a mystery, but the first leg of the journey will begin in San Antonio at the 2018 GIS.

 

I am truly humbled and beyond excited to share with you that I, along with Chris Tritabaugh, will be giving a 4 hour seminar that will share Chris's unique leadership insights and my philosophy of mindful living. We are looking forward to sharing and interacting with as many of you as possible, and this seminar promises to be quite different from what you might be used to.

 

My sincere hope is that this talk will become the first of many to come. Not because I am such a fantastic speaker (I'm actually not too shabby), but more so because I believe it's a message that all superintendents need to hear. Our jobs are not getting any easier, and it will be up to us to chart a sustainable course for ourselves moving forward.

 

Our jobs are not getting any easier, and it will be up to us to chart a sustainable course for ourselves moving forward...

 

I am also in the development stages of putting together a truly unique, retreat-style opportunity for superintendents. The event would be intimate in scale, and focused on developing wellness and a mindful outlook on life. The hope is to host the first one this year (Fall 2018) and then move on from there. Stay tuned with this one; I will share more details as they emerge.

 

Thanks so much for reading and I hope to meet many of you in Texas! #beerandpretzels








Recent Entries

Recent Comments

Search This Blog

© 1994-2017 Turnstile Media Group. All Rights Reserved.