Why Your Career Path Is Like a Golf Ball

I want you to think for a moment about how a golf ball flies. It may have a path of hundreds of yards in the air, but there is only one point where you actually have any impact on the ball. It is in the first few inches of motion. After that, there is little you can do to change the flight of that little round ball. Sure, you can yell ‘Fore’ if it is heading for someone, and you can play your way out of a bad lie, but once the ball leaves your club, things are out of your hand.

In some ways, that is how a person’s career travels. Every action you take on the job is like swinging a club. Make a good swing, and you launch your career a bit further down the course of life, getting you that much closer to the next reward. Misplay the ball, and you end up in a hazard.

Now, if you’ve played golf before, you’ll know that the further behind you get early on, the more risks you have to take to keep up. If you are playing well, you might not take a low percentage shot to carry a stream. That just means that you might hit the ball short and take a guaranteed second stroke versus trying to swing a bit harder and get the ball to land on the other side. Swinging harder tends to result in stray shots, and there is no guarantee that the ball will make it over the water anyway. Being in high risk situations all time is no way to spend a round.

Or a career.

The same principles hold true at work. If you want to have a long, fruitful career, you have to avoid mistakes. Every time you make a bad decision, the boss sees it, and it makes it harder to win that big raise/promotion/choice assignment/premium account. You’ll have a much easier path to success if you don’t put yourself in the position of having to constantly work your way out of the proverbial sand trap. That’s the pragmatic side of it. Higher up Maslow’s hierarchy, you probably won’t be very happy if you don’t find your job fulfilling. It is hard to like a job if you feel like you are constantly digging your way out of a jam.

What always stuns me is that people spend millions of dollars and countless hours trying to improve their golf game. Yet those same people seldom invest a few hours reading a book on how to get better at their job, or spend a few dollars on a class or a DVD to learn a new skill. They just keep playing the game the way they always have. Solving symptoms instead of root causes. Acting on hunches instead of collecting data. Working from the same old bag of tricks without adding tools to it.

As the owner of a Lean training company, I am curious about what you have seen that encourages people to take more initiative on training themselves. The simple fact that you are reading this blog means that you have taken a step to set you apart from the people who are content with business as usual. I’d love to see your comments about what makes self-improvement important to you, and what you do to get past the barriers and excuses that hold others back.

One of the things I do is set aside time for a little bit of learning on a regular basis. That self-discipline is hard to do, though, for many people. To help with that, I have put together some ‘Lessons of the Day‘ that are email subscriptions that deliver lessons right to people’s inboxes. We have series on leadership, problem solving, and Standard Work. But it still takes something to get people to sign up for the lessons in the first place.

That is really what I am asking. What keeps people from taking action to get better at their job?

2 Responses to Why Your Career Path Is Like a Golf Ball

  1. madboutgolf May 4, 2012 at 4:39 pm #

    I am a golfer and I truly understand thinking behind the article. Jeff is absolutely right that the way to improve our career and for a bigger part of our life is to keep learning – be it skills or knowledges. The saying goes ‘Learning is a Life Long Process’

  2. Gus May 7, 2012 at 6:25 am #

    You could not say it better. That is very true about our careers and life in general. Fantastic!