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Paul MacCormack

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“Superintendents are their own worst enemies.” — Anonymous Greenkeeper

book-effortless_bookshot_nospine-e1611388428832.pngMany of us know this to be true and can think of a time in our careers when we made things more difficult than they needed to be. Perhaps we suffered through expectations that simply weren’t realistic, constantly aimed for perfection, or tried to do it all on our own. Our jobs are demanding enough to begin with, but by times we layer more on and suffer because of it. 

I revisited this notion recently as I made my way through the latest book by author Greg Mckeown, called Effortless. McKeown rose to prominence with his first book, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less (if you haven’t read this one I encourage you to pick it up). Essentialism deals with the art of distillation and paring down your life to what really matters. Effortless takes this practice one step further and lays out a blueprint for getting there as easily as possible. 

The foundational ethos for this book is that of “wu wei”. It’s an Eastern philosophy that basically means, “without action” or even “trying without trying.” Wu wei is the state of flow one achieves when work, play and creativity become easy. We don’t overexert, overthink, or overdo anything, and yet we achieve the results we are seeking seemingly without effort. This idea flies in the face of many of our cultural notions that surround the idea of work, which is so often at odds with good health and well being. Wu wei is a concept which challenges the idea of “hard” work and welcomes the reader to the idea of moving through life with greater ease.

We don’t overexert, overthink, or overdo anything, and yet we achieve the results we are seeking seemingly without effort.

Many of the themes McKeown touches on within the book are also many of the same ideas we have discussed within this very blog from time to time. And like many sage points, they bear repeating. 

Here are a few I noted…

Presence – As one moves their life in line with presence, things inevitably become easier. So many of the problems in our lives are simply based on the fact that we are not paying close enough attention to what is actually happening. As we practice presence, solutions to seemingly insurmountable problems present themselves without our searching for them. 

Ease – What is wrong with things being easy? Why does that word inevitably make us think about the word lazy? How much of our day could be done with ease if we only paused and took a breath instead of soldiering on? Our jobs and our lives improve instantly when we adopt a mentality of ease and calm instead of grinding ourselves into dust. 

Rest – It’s difficult to put into words how important rest is in our lives. Ask any veteran greenkeeper if they wished they’d spent more time at work instead of choosing to rest. Sleep, vacation, time with loved ones; they all add up in a positive way.

Simplicity – How can our lives or operations be simplified? How much of what our team accomplishes gets tied up in the complexity of constantly overdoing things? Those unrealistic expectations we spoke of earlier fall into this category. What if we dropped a couple by non-judgmentally letting go? Would it be the end of the world? Could we lean into this idea with a sense of curiosity?

Learning (and unlearning) – There is much value in gaining knowledge on a Superintendent’s journey. There is also equally as much value in unlearning. We sometimes get so caught up in the notion of constantly adding things to the repertoire that we forget that old habits and worn out thoughts can create unnecessary problems for us. 

Trust – How many times in our careers have we created preventable problems simply because we couldn’t delegate? We decided to do it ourselves (because we think that only we can do it right), we stayed late and burned out, only to develop resentment because it appears that no one is helping. Sound familiar? Trusting in our ability to teach and in our teams’ ability to follow through on said teachings creates space. Space for rest, ease, and even more focus so that we can address other issues before they become problems.  

Action – Sometimes the toughest part of tackling any issue is actually getting started. By shifting our process to one of small, incremental gains over a longer period of time, we eventually begin to see large changes. We all know that topdressing basically works one grain of sand at a time, but only if we actually spread it. 

...topdressing basically works one grain of sand at a time, but only if we actually spread it. 

This makes me think of a saying my mother-in-law used to have on her cupboard: “When you add a little to a little, this too becomes large.”

Our lives often times become overburdened and complicated. We get tied up in trying too hard and holding on too tightly to what we think should happen. The more effort we put out, the more difficult things become. It’s only when we pause, step back and recognize this flaw in our process that we begin to see new, less complicated pathways. 

McKeown’s book Effortless is a welcome reinforcement of ideas that run very counter to our industry’s measurements of success, but they just might be the shakeup that turf culture needs.

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