Focusing on the target

I called Charlie Schaubel last weekend thinking that maybe he could straighten me out. I hadn’t hit a clean 5 iron shot since late summer, and I wasn’t doing so well at life, either.

I met Charlie last year when I took up golf. He was teaching at a driving range, and had we not spoken first by phone I would have driven right past the place. The building needed painting, the balls were crummy, the range was shabby, the putting green looked like the surface of the moon.

Charlie had a snap-brim cap, longish hair, a droll sense of humor and a spare, zen-like approach to the game. He was a cross between Mr. Miyagi in "The Karate Kid" and Norm from "Cheers."

Charlie’s approach was to keep things simple. He didn’t seem to care much about technique; he just wanted me to pick a target in that bedraggled range and think of nothing else.  "There’s no mystery to this game," he said. "You’re either long or short, right or left of the target."

Much of what he said applied to life as well: don’t think too much; keep your focus: forget the past, stay in the moment.

In no time at all, I was hitting the ball as if I’d been playing for years. But then I was given a gift card to a golf store and took a few lessons with certified PGA pros. They knew what they were doing, but I couldn’t connect with them. Either they’d been selected for their lack of personality, or they’d been trained not to connect with their clients.

Worse, I started obsessing about technique, and the more I thought about the grip, keeping my elbows together, not cupping the left wrist, planting the right foot, etc., the worse I got.

Then my personal life took a similar turn. An accident, computer and printer failures, medical bills for the cat, a cascade of bills and a shortage of work all brought me to the point where I wondered whether this pursuit of passion and purpose was really for me.

It blew up Monday morning when I got a call from the rental car agency about a scratch on the car I used while mine was being repaired. Two hours later, I botched an audition for a part I really wanted, and my saintly demeanor finally failed me. I started shouting and cursing like a madman as I drove home, and spent the afternoon in a deep funk.

The next day, Charlie called back, and hew as stressed, too. The driving range had been sold and he had no place to teach.

"It’s weird," he said, "I’ve got the business I just don’t have a place to teach. You’d think after 35 years in the business, that would be the least of my problems."

The more we talked, the more evident it became that we were resisting something rather than accepting change gracefully.

Charlie thought he needed to teach near the driving range where he had built up a following. I suggested that maybe a place further from the range was exactly what he needed, a place that would attract his old clients and an abundance of new ones as well.

As for myself, I assumed that in my high-minded pursuit of passion and purpose I could forsake my past and plunge into a world of shiny new experiences. Deepak Chopra, for example, seems to have awakened one morning, realized he was living a nightmare and turned his life around by lunchtime.

But it hasn’t worked that way for me, and in my undisciplined moments — of which there are far too many — my mind was running through a cornucopia of doomsday scenarios. 

The only thing I could think that would give me the freedom to go to auditions on short notice was something I’d done all my life: journalism. I’d given it up because I was tired of it, and turned off by the media’s preoccupation with fear and negativity.

But telling stories is one of my gifts; perhaps there was a way to bridge the gap between old life and new, between traditional journalism and writing about people shifting from the old paradigm to the new (see Home page).

The conversation with Charlie did us both good. We’d both been thinking too much and had lost our focus. We weren’t staying in the moment; we’d lost sight of the target.

I still can’t hit a 5 iron worth a damn, but at least now I know what I was doing wrong.

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