We all have limitations in some aspect of ourselves and our lives. That’s not particularly profound insight.
Sometimes we think our self-improvement efforts should be applied to fixing, eliminating, or overcoming those limitations. Maybe some of those limitations are physical. They might be mental as in psychological. Whatever they may be, we are not inclined to think of them as beneficial. Hence, our willingness to make the effort, even to extremes sometimes, to do away with them.
But what if it turns out they provide us with an advantage? Maybe our perspective, or the perspective of our family and friends, is misdirected.
I am going to use the activity of playing golf as my metaphor for offering suggestions about “taking advantage of our limitations”. I love playing golf, even more than it loves me. The range of self-awareness and personal growth it can deliver is vast in my opinion. And there are physical requirements to playing the game that put several of my personal limitations on full display. This has led to a personal epiphany a few years ago that I have the option to use those limitations to my advantage. I purposely have not used the word “golf” in the title of this essay because most people do not golf and I did not want to create the impression that this is just about the game and how to better play it.
I started out my early years on a family farm and had very little social interaction with peers of my age. I was not exposed to a lot of games in my youth that helped develop hand-eye coordination. One game activity that helps enhance this skill set is baseball. I had no experience with that game until my peers had already been playing it for at least three years. That may not sound like an important fact, but it very much is. Many games and activities that help with this category of development were not part of my life experience until I was approaching my early teen years. You can now image how that might affect one’s ability to strike that tiny golf ball with a small wood or metal surface at the end of a long flexible shaft.
Here are some physical limitations I have to this day that make the game of golf challenging to me. I never have been able to consistently hit the ball with a driver. The result of trying is consistently unpredictable. Even though I see accomplished professionals slice their drives into the right rough on the back nine in a tournament, that does not satisfy me as an excuse for my struggles with that club. The solution I have found for this limitation is to use a four wood, or a one iron for par four and par five holes. I do not have a technical explanation for why that works for me. All that matters is that it does.
Another limitation relates to the golf swing itself. If I take a full backswing which extends the club parallel with the ground over my head, another unpredictable outcome often happens. The probability that my club strikes the ball squarely at the bottom of the swing is inconsistent enough to be frustrating. I am a septuagenarian and do not have the flexibility I did decades ago. My solution to this challenge is to reduce my backswing to about half the distance of most golfers. I give up a little distance, but the accuracy I attain more than makes up for it. Staying in the fairway and landing on the putting surface in regulation eliminates a lot of strokes and frustration.
My enthusiasm for the game of golf has led me to buying instruction sessions from club pros on several occasions. In my case, that has proven to be more of a donation than an investment. In my experience, golf pros who only spend a few minutes with a student do not have the time or interest to study the physicality of a player they do not know so they can suggest how to compensate for their limitations. And that is not a criticism, just a fact. I will not improve my game by watching and imitating any professional players. I do not have their physicality and they do not have mine. The only thing we have in common is our love of playing the game.
The most important part of the game is played between the ears. Lee Trevino is quoted as saying, “Golf is 90% mental. The other 10% is also mental.” That is humorous, but as contains a lot of truth. Can the mental limitations we wrestle with be managed? Yes, they can. I have played golf for nearly five decades. That amount of time with the game has led to a lot of muscle memory stored up in my body. I just need to trust it. My muscle memory knows more about how to swing a club than my mind does. If I can take my mind out of the process while I am addressing and striking the ball, I will be well rewarded. My method for doing this is to not spend any time standing over the ball before I swing. I do not “waggle” the club, or do the toe dance players often do. I do not think on what I am about to do. I don’t need to because my body already has that figured out. I just need to make sure my stance alignment is reasonably good and swing the club. I know we see professional players do all those quirky physical things on TV. I’m glad it works for them. But those wiggles and waggles only cause me to lose concentration.
I know these ideas sound too simple, but they really work for me. As I mentioned before, I am in my seventies and I play better golf now than I have ever played in my life. And I have never enjoyed the game more than I do today.
You have probably heard some version of the axiom, “Golf is life, and life is golf”. I happen to agree with that. Golf has been a powerful game to help me better know and understand myself. Learning to take advantage of our limitations is a great way to get more out of all parts of our lives, and not just a way to play a game we love better.
What limitations do you believe you cope with in your daily life? Can you think of ways that can make them a benefit instead of a problem?