A few weeks ago, my dad and I were in Minnesota. I usually only play golf with my dad, and not wanting to break tradition, we began to look around for a course or two to play. After some investigating, he found out that golf school would only cost a little more than greens fees. Included in 'tuition' was unlimited golf, and since neither of us had ever had any formal lessons, we decided we'd take the plunge and become students of the game of golf for a weekend.
While I learned the ins and outs of a pre-shot routine, I began to realize a few other things about the importance of fundamentals. Thus, golf school for me was very quickly about more than just swing plane and forearm rotation. I learned about the important need to know the basics.
I'm not absolutely awful at golf. But I'm extremely inconsistent. Sometimes I'll hit a drive 250 yards down the middle of the fairway. Other times, I'll hit it 100 yards to the right. While it would be great to know which shot is next, I never have any clue where the ball is going to go. This leads to pride and amazement half the time, and disappointment and frustration the other half.
The golf instructor soon diagnosed that this problem was due to several factors: lifting my left foot on the backswing, bending my wrist incorrectly at the top of my swing, rotating my hips at the wrong time, hitting the ball with an open club face – in short, my swing was completely incorrect and utterly unpredictable. It needed a complete retooling. Even though I could hit a spectacular ball every other hole, the game of golf is played such that every hole matters. And the only way I could do well was to make sure the fundamentals of a correct swing were in place each time I stepped up to hit the ball.
I've had similar work experiences. Sometimes, I've knocked a presentation out of the park (or straight down the middle of the fairway). Other times, I've lost my audience and made them confused. Sometimes, I've been a great team player and helped a task force articulate its purpose. But then again, I've also tried to go it alone and been nothing but dead weight.
Each working environment, like each golf course, is different, but there are some fundamentals that we can employ in our personal and professional life to have more consistent success:
- Boil it down to the smallest possible element. Whenever I hit a string of slices on the driving range, my instructor made be take a half swing in a certain direction in order to concentrate on impact (how much my forearms rotated, the angle of the club). If you find yourself missing the mark, re-evaluate what the basic elements are of what you're trying to get done and focus on the main deliverable.
- Ask what you're doing wrong. The biggest benefit of the golf instructor was that I knew after each terrible shot what exactly went wrong. While this can wear on one's ego, it's good to know what needs fixing. Find a mentor of your own to ask where you can improve. While you may not like to know that you’re not always 100% awesome, you at least know what went wrong so you can focusing on improvement.
- Set a realistic pace. The reason a lot of golfers are great on the driving range and poor on the course is that we step up and hit a lot of balls with the same club all in a row in just a few minutes. But on the course, we hit a shot, walk to the ball, hit another, wait for the other person, walk... I now practice like I play. I hit a driver, then based on where it went, I'll hit an iron, and so on. If we wait to the last minute before something's due to cram a week's worth of work into one night, or if we narrow our focus to one area for too long, an entire project can suffer. This is why planning and goal setting will help up produce quality products time and again.
- You don't become great overnight. I played golf a few days after going to golf school. And, I stunk it up like usual. But, at least I was doing everything right and knew when I didn't. It will still take time (and lots of practice) until the right swing feels more natural than the wrong one. Even if you have the tools to succeed, know that it takes time to become successful. We live in a world that praises the overnight sensation. But, we also live in world in which consistent results guarantees social and financial security.
The road to consistency is long and arduous. That's why so few people get there. But, if you spend the time and effort and become one of those rare, consistent people, you'll be ahead of 98% of folks out there.