Most everyone will encounter career detours and speed bumps, and the immediate aftermath, while painful, can be a constructive period of growth and refocus. Photo by Keagan Henman/Unsplash
We’re moving in a different direction.
You’re just not a good fit here.
We’re asking for your resignation.
Please leave and never come back.
Whichever way the message is delivered, that first feeling that hits your gut is never comforting.
Some of you have felt this once, others maybe more than once. If you haven’t, and you’re a golf course superintendent, consider yourself fortunate, because it’s almost guaranteed that, at the very least, someone at your facility wants it to happen.
I recently had my first humbling experience at a course I had worked at for 12 years. During that tenure, I’d outlasted a ton of turnover across our operation, all the while managing to keep one assistant, one equipment manager, and a core of five or six employees and loyal seasonal employees. We delivered a product that landed us on a fancy top-five list much earlier than expected. We won awards and received national recognition for some of our work. But, despite all of my best efforts and those of my crew, my number was up. I wasn’t going to be part of the future. I was given one hot Tuesday evening in August to clean out my office.
We’ll skip the rest of that story and get to why I’m here, which is to help give some understanding of how to get through this mess unscathed, if and when it arrives. Also, I hope to provide some guidance on how to live up to those words that nobody really wants to hear after this daunting, humbling experience: “This will be the best thing that ever happened to you.”
No. Please just let me wallow in the muck for a while before trying to cheer me up. Thanks. No, seriously, thank you, but this pain is precisely what I need right now.
Mining hardships for gold
Before we get into the weeds, let’s review. The typical situations that get golf course superintendents in the hot seat are likely one of the following: a change in management; conflict with a board, a committee or membership; discord with upper management or other co-workers; or perhaps one or a series of mistakes or miscalculations that led to poor golf course conditions. Sometimes, though, it’s a direct result of not “playing the game,” as one colleague in the industry so succinctly put it (we all know what that means).
Whatever the case may be, on the other side of some of these terminations, there’s a shiny new job waiting around the corner, allowing one to resume life with nothing more than a speed bump on the road to retirement. That’s great news, especially if one has a family or other obligations that depend on gainful employment.
But there can be a missed opportunity if it’s a seamless transition to a new job that awaits you. A chance to be humbled. An opportunity for pain and suffering, which presents an open doorway for personal growth. As one cycles through the anger, frustration and regret, the “buts” and “what-ifs,” it is ultimately the understanding that pain and suffering are keys to growth that will guide you through this period and maybe give you some insight into not only how and why this happened, but how to avoid it in the future.
“You probably know more about the depths of your soul from periods of pain and confusion than from times of comfort. Darkness and turmoil stimulate the imagination in a certain way. They allow you to see things you might ordinarily overlook. You become sensitive to a different spectrum of emotion and meaning.” — Thomas Moore, Ph.D., “Dark Nights of the Soul: A Guide to Finding Your Way Through Life’s Ordeals” Photo by John Baker/Unsplash
First, let’s identify the classic mistake we all can make as humans: making our occupation part of our self-identification — our ego, so to speak. When asked to describe oneself, “occupation” is usually one of the first identifiers on the script. Now, this is not so bad and understandably difficult to avoid when, as children, we were constantly asked what we wanted to be when we grew up. This drumbeat continues through school until we, as adult children, have to “be” something to be “something.” How do we break this cycle? How does one become aware that they, the individual, are not defined by a career, successes or failures in the workplace, or the title after their name?
The short answer is that this process can take time, dutiful practices and self-reflection. A simple meditation or mindful breathing can be helpful. Simply put, some inner-work-type stuff, which experts can help you explore. But you get the idea. Learning new language and self-talk is a key to disconnect your “self” — your ego — from your occupation. Disconnect from your position in the sense that it’s yours. Become merely a caretaker of the position for the following individual in line. You are the same person with or without this job. You can still enjoy the fruits of your labor and your co-workers’ companionship without an emotional attachment to the occupation, and in many ways, the job will become more enjoyable.
Editor’s note: “Remember: No matter how much you love your golf course, unless you own it, it does not belong to you.” Read more career guidance from veteran superintendent Dennis Lyon, CGCS, in Job security: 8 ways to stay indispensable.
Coming to terms
Even so, it’s still not your fault. It’s your boss or your co-workers or new management who are the real problem, right? Maybe. But there’s a phenomenon guiding every situation in our lives that some refer to as “co-creation.” This means that the minute you took the job, you co-created the situation that it could be taken from you one day. That’s essentially the beginning and end of this, but I’ll elaborate a bit more.
Setting aside the possibility that some egregious act led to termination, all parties play a role in this unfortunate event. Some terminations are easier to spot on the horizon, as in a new management takeover. But sometimes the writing on the wall isn’t so easy to read. This is when we have to turn to our intuition, not our ego — your heart, not your brain. What are your real feelings around your position?
I will tell you that I had a gut feeling for a couple of years that something was afoot — a feeling that quietly but consciously triggered my focus on clearer communication and intentions, staying positive, and becoming almost hyper-aware of my actions and how they would be perceived. Still, and maybe for good reason, the culture outside my department felt like it was aligning against me. I would hear myself saying that I didn’t think I could do one more year, despite the enjoyment and satisfaction I got from my job. Instead of resisting that inner voice, I went with it and began to detach.
“You may be so influenced by the modern demand to make progress at all costs that you may not appreciate the value in backsliding. Yet, to regress in a certain way is to return to origins, to step back from the battle line of existence.” — Thomas Moore, Ph.D., “Dark Nights of the Soul: A Guide to Finding Your Way Through Life’s Ordeals” Photo by Max van den Oetelaar/Unsplash
By my final day, I had already released any notion that this job was somehow mine or a part of my identity. I was able to identify the role I had played in the “game” and was already prepared to leave without actually quitting. My spiritual preparation certainly didn’t prevent a range of emotions, but they were less intense, less permanent.
In retrospect, I was able to easily discern the following: how my thoughts were manifesting in reality, how my brain was telling me otherwise, and how life can show up when least expected. Got it. The lessons are piling up, and I’m ready for whatever shows up next.
Embrace the pain
So, in the end, how do those words, “This will be the best thing that ever happened to you,” become true?
Well, whatever the path to the next paycheck is, it’s this pain right here that holds the opportunity for growth. In the period right after “This is awful” and just before “What now?” take a pause to sit with your heart. Appreciate everything you have and everything you accomplished in your position. Be humbled by the gift of this moment. Take less for granted. Explore new personal boundaries. Learn from any mistakes, and take note of where you were blinded or overconfident. And as we do as superintendents, trust the process.
We know the invisible forces of nature are working alongside us all the time. We know that what we do today may not show results for a month, a year or a decade. The universe works under this same dynamic. The faster we let go, the sooner we arrive at our next adventure, and that’s when this experience becomes the best thing that ever happened to us.
And if we’re lucky, the concept of empathy will take a foothold in our approach to the workplace and life. In a nutshell, we get better as people. While it’s unfortunate that it sometimes takes the loss of a job or career to trigger these effects, it just goes to show that we never know how life will show up. The only thing we can do is practice being present for its entirety.
Greg Brandriet, CGCS, a 12-year GCSAA member, won a quarterly Grassroots Ambassador Leadership Award in 2019 for his advocacy and outreach efforts. He’s currently hard at work on an “ambitious and (hopefully) impactful new project.”