This post was originally published in the personal blog of Chief Instructor Corey Guilbault who also serves as a professional marketing strategist.
I was delighted to stumble upon this articlein the New York Times about Kevin Na’s recent 16-stroke hole during a PGA event in Texas.
Before I go on, I will note two things. One, I am not a golfer and frankly could care less about the game (though it seems a fun way to kill a day with friends). Two, while I usually use this blog to write about professional matters, this particular post is aimed more at my Aikido students, though I maintain the lessons of Aikido are directly relevant to business. I will attempt to connect the dots between the two.
The reason I admire this story so is that its protagonist is a man who has committed years of his life to mastery. He has attained a degree of skill that gives him every right to a level of pride. He finds himself in a setting where he is observed by his peers and by the public. In addition, he is playing in a game which is known for its manners, formalities, restraint and poise. This scenario is not unlike a martial arts dojo (or a corporate office).
And yet, as happens in martial arts studios (and offices), things go horribly wrong for Mr. Na.
From the video below you will see, this is not a white hat hero story. Mr. Na is not the stoic master devoid of emotion. In fact, he is clearly feeling all of the emotions associated with failure. This is precisely point one. Everyone feels these emotions – from the grand master of a martial lineage to the CEO of a Fortune 100 company. Not only does everyone feel these emotions, but feeling them is not restricted to our learning years only. Even after years of accomplishment we will still bump up against fear, embarrassment, frustration, rage and disappointment. We are all vulnerable to these emotions all the time.
Fall Down Seven Times Get Up Eight
What separates Mr. Na and in my mind makes him worthy of admiration is how he deals with these emotions and the bad predicament he finds himself in. His behavior demonstrates the martial artist’s (and master business person’s) ideal. Sure, you can see his frustration come through. At moments it gets the best of him. He carries on though. He keeps trying, pushing through the emotions and no doubt the great temptation to quit and head back to the tee. At the end of his ordeal he even smiles, shaking his head. He has been defeated. A 16 is a horrible score on a par 4 hole. Through this ordeal though, he also shows an interesting lack of ego in discussing his gaff,
“It was really just one bad shot,” he told reporters. “Well, two, actually. But that’s what started the whole thing. It kind of gets out of hand. That’s what happens in this crazy game.”
He talks about golf, the ‘crazy game’, as if it were something beyond his control. Something bigger than himself which despite his years of training, he cannot command absolute mastery of. Wouldn’t it be nice if more business people were honest about what they could and couldn’t do? Imagine the money we collectively could’ve saved had Wall St. admitted it wasn’t 100% sure exactly what they were cooking up with those collateralized assets and other funky investment products.
I’ve always liked the Zen phrase ‘Fall down seven times, get up eight’. In seven simple words it captures the essence of perseverance. It describes an almost mechanical response to failure. Knock me down, I get back up. Again and again.
It is also something of a tall order. Most people, hammered by a little adversity and offered an easier way out of the predicament, will throw in the towel and take the short cut.
“On most days, recreational golfers would be encouraged to pick up after a double par, or eight strokes on a par 4.
“Oh, yeah, after seven or eight strokes I’d give up,” Magazeno said at Black Bear.”
Mr. Na did even better (or worse), he battled through briars and bent clubs to rack up 16 strokes on a par 4 hole. He hit the ball such that it actually bounced back and hit him, costing yet another stroke. All this after going back to the tee once and firing the ball right back into the woods a second time. Keep in mind, he did this in a professional tournament. He was among his peers. He was in full public view – TV cameras and all.
How refreshing then was his honesty about his failure? He not only played on, but he carded himself the full 16 strokes.
“Most amateur golfers would have picked up their ball. Some might have played on. Few would have known to count their penalty strokes. Fewer still would have written “16” on their scorecard: A what? Double quadruple bogey?”
Put your pants on one leg at a time.
Growing up, my parents would often remark about this or that celebrity or star, “Well you know, he puts his pants on one leg at a time just like everyone else”. We should all take a certain level of comfort knowing that even the businessmen, actors, athletes, martial arts teachers and geniuses we admire most make mistakes and feel anger, embarrassment and disappointment. It means we’re not alone with our feelings. We’re not the first to be frustrated. Many smart, bright, accomplished people stood where we now stand.
Then too, there is the flipside: Knowing this to be true, we should all be cautious before we bestow too much praise on any individual regardless of the titles earned, salaries paid out, books authored, etc. Our society is quick to worship this or that rising star. We make huge assumptions about a current success and it’s guarantees of future outcomes. This is worsened by a culture which pressures us to save face, embellish on accomplishments and overstate successes. Think about it – does anyone take the language on a resume at face value anymore? Does anyone expect the list of references given to be anyone but friends of the candidate? When calling those references and asking for ‘one area of improvement’ to try and get to the truth of a candidate, does anyone expect the reference to have anything truly, substantively negative to say?
Most of us don’t harbor any illusions here. Why then do we all continue to sustain that style of creative writing and process of recruiting?
Imagine the time and money to be saved if two parties were honest on day one about where they were at and what they knew and didn’t know. Instead, so many business relationships allow for months of negotiations and meetings to pass before it comes to the forefront that an endeavor simply isn’t possible because things weren’t as rosy as advertised during the initial courtship.
Martial artists are fond of spouting phrases about lack of ego and learning from everything. Businessmen are fond of saying, ‘we learn from mistakes’ and ‘good ideas come from anywhere’. In practice though, we humans aren’t as good at living these words that fall so easily from our lips. Instead, we try to save face, deflect blame, take credit, avoid embarrassment and always be right. This even though we all know – and have in common – experiences that confirm for us that double quadruple bogeys happen, like it or not.
Personally, I aspire to be capable of what Mr. Na managed to pull off on his unfortunate day. I’d like to think that the next time I step up to stroke 16 I will do so honestly, with a smile and a little head shaking.
I’d like to think I’d make my 16th stroke and then move on.