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The “F Word”...

Paul MacCormack



As I was scrolling through Twitter the other day I stumbled across this quote. I read it through and thought, hmmm, that makes sense. Then I foolishly realized that I had said it during an interview with my esteemed colleague and friend Frank Rossi earlier in the week. I don’t relay this to sound uppity or anything, just to make the point that even when one knows something to be so, they don’t always recognize it, even when it comes from their own mouth. 

Frank and I were discussing a few different themes when we stumbled into talking about the “F Word”: Failure. A word that carries a lot of baggage for a great many folks, and I am going to go out on a limb and say that it carries even more weight for supers. It’s funny that those supers who continue to push the boundaries of what is possible for golf course maintenance (that’s a blog theme for another day) can also carry such an aversion to the idea of making mistakes.

Have you ever stopped to think about your relationship with failure? You could pause and try it right now, even before you continue to read this piece. Take a few breaths and simply drop the word failure into your mind. Don’t force anything, but rather let what naturally bubbles up be there—without judgement. Just observe for a moment. What did you discover? How did the word feel in your body? Did you notice an instant aversion to the word? Or did it rest easy?

As I listened back to my conversation with Frank I reflected on what it actually means to have a healthy relationship with failure. What attributes allow someone to relate well with the idea of making mistakes and be able to use them as a tool for growth as opposed to another reason to turn against yourself? Here are a few of the answers I found.

  • Acceptance – When we are moving through this career and life, can you simply accept that making mistakes is an intrinsic part of being human? If you hadn’t taken risks and pushed forward, you would not be where you are at this very moment. Realizing that you are part of a larger human family that is constantly failing, everyday, can help a great deal with your perspective.
  • Honesty – As you move through your career as a Superintendent it helps to be honest with yourself when it comes to failure. In any given situation that doesn’t go as planned, can you step back and honestly evaluate your role in what happened? And more importantly, can you do so without judgement? There are many instances that a blind spot, a default, or simply an oversight can cause things to go sideways. The trick is to see it, accept that it happened, and learn from it as you move forward.
  • Perfection – Any discussion of a personal relationship with failure has to include your thoughts and ideas surrounding perfection. It is an illusion that is best held with kid gloves and one that is constantly at odds with a healthy outlook regarding mistakes. Nothing is ever perfect, and the ideas and stories one carries about never measuring up can be crippling over a lifetime.
  • Expectations – If getting waylaid by failure is tied up in unreasonable expectations to begin with, then have you really failed at all? If you are constantly comparing your performance to the pictures and “accomplishments” of others on social media and not factoring in your work and personal circumstances, then your logic is flawed from the beginning. Take pause and realize that everyone works within different parameters, from the highest to the lowest budget facility, and take heart in knowing that you are doing your best in your given circumstances.
  • Guilt & Shame – There is a mindset that pervades our culture that is based on the notion that if we could only shame our way through life we will eventually get it right. Here are two opposite reactions to the same mistake.
    • “I’m such an idiot. How could I have possibly let this happen? I failed, yet again, and really don’t deserve to even be here.
    • “Well, that didn’t work out as planned. What did we miss? Oh, I see now. This is helpful for the next round. We can take what we’ve learned and work to improve the process moving forward.”

See the difference in context and texture with those two approaches? One keeps you trapped in a cycle of negativity and one is borne of a growth mindset. It can be difficult to extract yourself from the first response if its been the one you’ve trained in your entire life. But bit by bit, with some reflection and awareness, we can change the story.

  • Forgiveness –  “To err is human, to forgive is divine.” Alexander Pope (1688-1744)

Another key component of a healthy relationship with the inevitability of failure is that of forgiveness. Even when the failure is of the grandest quality, the capacity to offer oneself both a measure of compassion and forgiveness is vitally important. Remembering that you are indeed human and that like everyone else, the fact that you stumble sometimes can be very humbling. Forgiveness reminds us that all is not lost when those inevitable stumbles occur. Just accept what has happened, be honest with your role in it and then offer yourself the space to forgive and remember that with each new moment you can begin again.

  • Letting Go – With all these themes, the bottom line is that your relationship with mistakes and failure changes when you can learn to let go of things over time. It doesn’t necessarily mean you bypass what has happened or bury your head in the bunker sand. Rather it means you practice loosening your grip on the outcomes. Whatever life brings your way, it brings. You don’t have nearly as much control as you like to think, so relaxing your grip on the the occasional misstep opens up more space to move forward.

So go ahead. Keep failing. Keep putting it out there and learning as you go. Accept what happens with openness, flexibility, and even a sense of humour! We work in a gig that produces a surface for people to go out and enjoy a game. That’s it… a game. A game that allows them to be outdoors, amongst friends , having fun (at least they're supposed to be). So, if you happen to make a few mistakes along the way to producing this surface, just remember it’s a lot like the game of golf itself and rarely, if ever, perfect.

Thanks for reading.

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Sometimes you can punish yourself for "mistakes" that nobody else sees! Knowing when you are being compulsive and taking a step back can restore balance!

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Wise words and a well written article.  Take it from a guy who let the stress of this career put him in the hospital, don't sweat the small stuff!

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