Like many of you I sat transfixed as Tiger Woods made his way to his unprecedented fifth Masters title. It was hard not to be swept away by the culmination of this archetypal hero’s journey and cheer him down the 18th fairway. It was great to see him don the green jacket once more, but more importantly it was really nice to see him happy.
It wasn’t until after a recent conversation with my dear friend (a former Assistant Superintendent of mine) Robert McGregor a few days later, that the arc of Tiger’s journey took on deeper meaning. Robert is in the very raw stages of dealing with a major health scare. A few weeks ago, he was admitted to the intensive care unit with incredibly high blood pressure. The doctors and nurses were astounded that his heart didn’t stop or that he didn’t suffer a stroke. Fortunately, they managed to get things under control and allow his body to return to some semblance of normalcy. Robert emerged from the hospital shaken, but with a new lease on life.
You see, like Tiger Woods, Robert had fallen into a series of choices that lead him to his present situation. There isn’t a time in any of our lives where we haven’t done the same. Commit ourselves far too much to our jobs, load too much on our plates, inadvertently ignore our friends and families, and generally make life far too difficult for ourselves and those we love. Now Robert’s choices were a lot less “over the top” than our friend, Mr. Woods, but they still had a detrimental effect on his health and his life in general. Most of us have made similar choices to Robert, and maybe even to some of Tiger’s, all the while not realizing the cumulative effect our daily decisions make on our lives until something happens to shake us up.
Commit ourselves far too much to our jobs, load too much on our plates, inadvertently ignore our friends and families, and generally make life far too difficult for ourselves and those we love...
As we spoke, Robert and I both reflected on the “bubble effect.” It's that nagging feeling we all get from time to time when being a Greenkeeper overwhelms us. It starts innocently enough; the pressures of the gig start to add up (Robert managed two separate properties), we don’t sleep enough, we make some questionable food choices, taking care of our physical health is last on the list, and our home life begins to suffer. We get stuck in this bubble and think that the only reasonable choice is to just keep doing much of the same. We manage to limp through the end of the summer and then collapse into the off season. Then we rest up and simply start the process over again, without changing a thing. Once in a while we can get away with a tough season, but when this scenario becomes the norm… the outcome is inevitable. A physical, emotional, and/or relationship crisis occurs.
I’m sure that it wasn’t much different for Tiger. Living in a far more publicly visible bubble, it would have been much easier to succumb to his questionable lifestyle choices. The pain of his body failing, the immense pressures of competing, and rigors of celebrity would have easily led him down the road of unfortunate decisions and compound problems.
But life has a way of calling in the tab when it's due. We can continue down the path of suffering and poor choices for a spell, but the universe usually has a way of telling us (not so subtly) that it's time for change. At these times, something stops us in our tracks and renders us completely powerless. Applying compassionate, non-judgmental awareness at this crucial point can give us the space to check ourselves and make the all-important decision; do we continue with the same path? Or begin to fashion a new way of approaching our lives?
Life has a way of calling in the tab when it's due.
It can be really, really difficult starting out to make the necessary changes. After all, we have spent a great deal of time numbing our pain and suffering, and our default habits can take on seemingly supernatural powers of their own. It takes an unbelievable combination of compassion and courage to look in the mirror and begin to make friends again with the very person that got us in this mess. It's not even close to being easy but is always a far better option than continuing to make our lives far more difficult than they need to be.
Tiger and Robert’s paths to reclaim well-being are obviously different in the details, but the journey is strikingly similar. Both deal with the themes of self-forgiveness, non- judgment, and deep acceptance. Nowhere are these ideas more critically applied than within ourselves. Dealing with the whims and hypocrisy of others is tough enough but navigating our own mental minefield can be torturous. A constant refrain of letting go and staying present to your current reality is crucial.
Dealing with the whims and hypocrisy of others is tough enough but navigating our own mental minefield can be torturous.
It's also crucial to have the love and support of those who really matter to us. Vulnerability is a virtue that is easily covered over in many our lives, but critical life events have a way of stripping us down and leaving us barren. Finding ourselves in this state can be very destabilizing, but if we can find the strength to lean on those who matter, we can slowly find our way again.
By the end of our conversation Robert and I both found ourselves inspired by the fact that Tiger managed to turn things around and the thought that his journey is one that any of us can choose to undertake. Maybe Robert won’t be putting on a green jacket anytime soon, but the changes he will implement in his life will be no less monumental. He has the support of his family and friends, and most of all the courage to accept what life has presented. There will be stumbles, more than a couple missed cuts and even times when all will appear lost. But as long as he can stay true to the notion that self care is the most important thing, it won’t matter what color his jacket is.
Thanks so much for reading.