Five Career Lessons from Golf

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Eldrick Tiger WoodsI was just watching Sportscenter when they had a little chat with Eldrick Woods (you may know him better as Tiger Woods, but we call him Eldrick in the clubhouse), who recently had re-constructive knee surgery. As I listened to him talk about how he missed practicing every day, how he had to rest the day after practice, rather than practice some more. His devotion to his craft is legendary, much like Michael Jordan’s devotion and the devotion of many of sport’s greatest stars. As we watch them perform, we can take a lot of these lessons and apply them to our lives. We can apply them to our own chosen careers and, in applying them, we too can excel. Here are the career lessons I’ve learned from watching the game and the athletes in golf.

Passion is Paramount

Golf is an infuriating game. The goal is to pull up a club, which itself is an odd instrument, swing with speed and power, and return the club face to its original position to hit a little dimpled ball as far as you need to. Finding a repeatable swing is the key to golf. The problem is finding it is really really really hard. So passion is crucial, or you’ll quit before you find it. If you don’t love the sound of the club hitting the ball or the sight and sound of the ball falling into to cup, you probably won’t ever find your swing.

How does this apply to personal finance? It deals with your line of work. It will be difficult to excel at your work if you don’t love what you do. My first job was writing software at a defense company. It was a fine job, I liked the people, but the job was boring. I was a cog inside this monster of a corporation. I learned quickly that advancement was through tenure, at least in my area, and I had no desire to wait while I was doing something I didn’t enjoy. Fortunately, my next job was great, I was doing things that I enjoyed and working with great people (I’ve been lucky in that aspect), but I discovered something that was even more enjoyable and something I was even more passionate about, this site. I firmly believe my passion for this subject and this little creation has fueled by hard work and is the reason for any successes I may achieve.

Nothing Replaces Hard Work

When he was healthy, Tiger Woods practiced every single day for the whole day. The next day, he’d go out and practice again. Here’s this famous American Express commercial depicting this:

If you want to succeed at something, you have to work hard. In Outliers, Malcolm Gladwell argues that in order to be considered one of the best, you have to put in at least 10,000 hours of work. Want to excel at your job? 10,000 hours. Now you see why passion is important. 🙂

Beware The Dip

Tiger Woods played for seven years and in one hundred and forty two tournaments before he missed a cut in 2005. Golf experts blamed it on Tiger changing his swing. That was the dip. Tiger Woods had just won the Masters Championship by an astounding twelve strokes but he changed his swing anyway, because he thought he could do better.

The Dip is a concept created by marketing maven Seth Godin and it’s relevant in this situation because by missing a cut in 2005, Woods was in The Dip. He reached a local maximum at the Masters, crushing the competition by 12 strokes, but sought a higher absolute maximum by changing his swing. When he missed the cut in 2005, he was in The Dip.

The lesson here is that you shouldn’t be happy with the local maximum when you could have so much more. And you shouldn’t be fearful when you do enter the dip because it’s natural, it’s scary, but you can power through it. Several years ago, my wife was working at L’Oreal as a buyer of packaging materials. Here’s a smart girl with a degree in biomedical and chemical engineering, buying cardboard boxes and hair dye containers. She was there because she joined a rotational program and that’s where the rotation was. She did a great job, they loved her, she was at a local maximum. She quit her job, moved down here, and spent months looking for a job. She was now in The Dip. She interviewed for a third-shift weekend job at a stem cell company (she almost didn’t) and scored a second shift job in manufacturing. The hours were not fun for her and they weren’t fun for six months. Now she was really in the Dip. Then, things started to change. Her hard work started to pay off. Within a year she was running the manufacturing operation. The Dip is scary, but it’s a trial and if you pass, you will be rewarded.

Pay For Performance

Golf is the truest pay for performance sport. It’s a series of tournaments where you are paid based on your performance. Some tournaments will pay the stars an appearance fee, but those are based on their performance as well. There’s no concept of “contract year” in golf, every year is a contract year. A contract year is a term used when an athlete performs exceptionally well in a year where their existing contract is set to expire, the idea is that they’re showing a higher level of effort and performance because they are about to enter contract negotiations.

In life, it’s not strictly pay for performance but it’s pretty close. While you still have companies who promote based on tenure, if you really want to make a difference and really work hard at your job, you can still get ahead. At my first company, which was the large corporation with a pervasive promotion by tenure mentality, I have a friend who has excelled there. He works insane hours, always carries a Blackberry, and he lives and breathes the company. They reward him for that loyalty and hard work and that’s how it should be.

Surround Yourself With The Best

In a golf tournament, pairs are selected based on scores. The top two scores are paired together, the next two are paired together, etc. You play with the best and that competition can make you stronger, better. You always want to be able to test your mettle against the best because while everyone likes winning, only the weak enjoy besting someone of inferior skill.

The same is true in the workplace, you can learn so much more and accomplish so much more by partnering with the best in your company or by selecting the best and brightest as part of your team. Collaborating and/or competing with those who are better than you can only elevate your own performance.

What lessons have you learned from golf or any other challenging activity?

(Photo: keithallison)

{ 8 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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8 Responses to “Five Career Lessons from Golf”

  1. J.D. says:

    Great post, Jim. (I can’t believe I’m leaving a lame one-line comment, but it needs to be said! And what is today? National PFblogs Don’t Write About Personal Finance Day?)

  2. frugalCPA says:

    This is a really good post. Returning to school has been a bit of a “dip” for me in terms of finance and career progress, but it has also opened doors to specific opportunities I want for myself – doors that couldn’t have been opened any other way.

    Gotta’ love Tiger Woods.

  3. I’m in a job that I enjoy in theory, but is difficult because I lack expertise in the area. I think I will enjoy the job more when I get closer to that 10k hour mark. Nice post. PS – I love golf – this makes me want to go out and play right now.

  4. Scott says:

    This example can be used for tennis as well. I’ve found myself playing stronger tennis when I’m matched against someone better than myself. It forces me to serve better, concentrate and get my head in the game.

    As for my blogging efforts, I feel like I’m still awaiting the upward swing. I’ve been in the dip for a long time and need to continue posting and staying focused. It’s very easy to get distracted when so many blogs are flourishing.

  5. Despite the shortcuts or attempted shortcuts to golf success that we seek through Improve Your Golf style books if practicing is good enough for “Eldrick” it is good enough for me.

  6. MoneyNing says:

    Other things I learned from golf are:

    1. Stick to it and as long as you are constantly trying to better yourself at the game by practicing and trying new things, your scores will improve.
    2. There are so many ways to succeed (look at how different everyone’s swing looks). There are recommended ways but no “right” way.

  7. Hi

    I think that in area life area it is important to “surround oneself with the best”. However one defines “best”. It could be supportive friends, inspirational colleagues etc.


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