Golf and career transitions

April 7, 2010

Candida Brush is the Paul T. Babson Chair of Entrepreneurship at Babson College. The opinions expressed are her own. –

For years I have been an avid golfer, spending as much time in the summer playing on a competitive team, in tournaments, or even just four holes in the evening with my husband.

As a professor of entrepreneurship, I’ve written hundreds of articles, books, and papers on these topics over the past 25 years. But, I have always wanted to write an article about golf!

With the downturn in the economy this past year, I started thinking about the parallels between transitions in playing golf and in career transitions.

Today, career management is even more of a challenge than ever. Most of us will work for an average of 10 different employers and our work will be interrupted either by choice (i.e. moving, return to school, family needs) or not (layoffs, downsizing, restructuring). Hence, the definition of career has changed drastically from climbing the career ladder to developing a portfolio of career experiences. In the words of professor Tim Hall, the new career is “boundaryless.”

Career transitions are even more uncertain given today’s environment and they engender a variety of emotions. As you move from job to job or project to project, you may miss what was, feel relief, insecurity, and have a loss of confidence, but, this might also be followed by new beginnings, exploration development and increased confidence.

Throughout it all you need to have a series of tips you can rely on to push through from one career position to the next, as you design your career in a way that makes sense for your personal definition of success. I find that golf is the perfect sport to gain insights in this area. Career transitions have a striking similarity to golf.

When we move from one company or organization to another, we may have some fundamental knowledge and skills that are useful, but the context, processes, culture and norms are all quite different. We can rely on our capabilities and competencies, but we need to transition and apply them in a new way. It’s quite similar in golf. We have a set of competencies and skills, but when we play a new course, it’s a transition to learn the feel of the greens, where to hit the ball safely, and of course, how to stay out of trouble. The transition can be greater if we accept a big challenge by playing a course with a high slope rating of difficulty like Royal Troon or Pebble Beach.

I have always been a fan of Harvey Penick’s “Little Red Book”. Harvey was a coach for many well-known golf pros and compiled all his pithy tips into a book. I drew from this to craft tips for how to manage career transitions.

Harvey offers 7 tips that apply in career transitions:

  1. Positive Thinking
  2. Take Dead Aim
  3. Follow Through
  4. How to knock 5 strokes off your game
  5. Playing in the wind
  6. Preparing for the big match
  7. Learning

Harvey’s tips are quite simple and direct. Sometimes it’s easier to apply simple tips than to over think or over complicate our situations!

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