Not long after we had our first child, I gave up golf. It was too expensive and time-consuming to justify during that season of my life. So I quit. But I always told myself I’d play again someday.
That day arrived recently. I saved up and found a set of golf clubs on sale. Then I hit the links.
I found out right away that I needed to reacquaint myself with the rules of golf. One rule has proved particularly relevant: the rule of the lost ball.
The guidelines of golf state that if a ball is lost a player has five minutes to look for it.
You can ask your partners for help.
You should leave no leaf unturned and no tall grass unsearched.
But you only get five minutes. After five minutes, the ball is officially gone forever.
This rule was written for people like me, who lose a lot of golf balls. It seems to me that it’s also not a bad directive for life.
I tend to miss-hit a lot of the opportunities that come my way – in my connection with God, my relationships, my finances, my leadership... When I do, it’s tempting to react in one of three ways – to:
- Move on too quickly without paying attention to the source of my mistakes
- Become paralyzed with regret, unable to enjoy the next shot I’m privileged to take
- Get caught up in endless analysis, spending way too long looking for what I’ve lost
Has something gone wrong for you lately? Have you hit a big decision or opportunity into the woods? Here’s what you need to do: take your full five minutes and look for it. If you find it in time to fix it, great. If not, move on.
You and I need adequate time to reflect and learn when something we do misses the mark. That’s our five minutes. But we also need a distinct moment of transition when we decide to let go of what’s lost.
Would I find more of the golf balls I miss-hit if I was able to search for an hour instead of five minutes? Maybe. But I’d also hold up everyone with me and everyone behind me. And I’d rarely finish a full round.
I’m not suggesting we discard our relationships, commitments, or values themselves after five minutes. Those are worth stopping everything to search for as long as necessary. I’m talking about our mistakes – lost tempers, unreached deadlines, slip-ups and miss-hits.
What I’m saying is this: in life, just as in golf, there are people playing with you. Don’t waste their time agonizing over your decisions. There are people coming behind you. Get out of their way so they can move forward. And there’s the rest of your course to complete. Don’t hold yourself back from your best by getting obsessed with your worst.
The next shot could change everything.
So take five minutes to look, reflect, regroup, and learn. And then move on.