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  • Writer's pictureJeff Johnston

Love, Golf, and Successful Failure

Recently I was speaking with a friend of mine who like many of us, was going through a difficult patch. He alluded that there were issues within his marriage and he was more than likely headed for divorce. He was 47 and this was his second marriage. His first marriage ended after a brief 2 years while in his early twenties. He has 2 beautiful children, a daughter, and a son from his second marriage which has lasted 17 years. From the outside, his marriage looked solid, yet there are often underlying issues kept private from even our closest inner circle. He stated that this was his second, “failed marriage.” I asked him why he felt that way? He stated that he never imagined, at 47, being divorced twice and felt as if this was a failure, or that would be society's perception (not that it should ever matter).

This made me think of a time I was with my middle son, Ian, and a discussion we had after a not so great golf tournament. Ian was a very seasoned junior golfer and has played throughout the country in many tournaments. I discuss in-depth our journey together and how golf saved my life in my book, “This One’s For You.” This particular tournament we were in Texas playing in an American Junior Golf Association (AJGA) event. Although he had high hopes, the tournament wasn’t a good one for him. As a matter of fact, it was a disaster as he finished near the bottom of the leaderboard. Ian and I had a rule in that we tried not to discuss his round until both of us have had a chance to eat dinner and relax a bit. This kept us from having “heat of the moment” analysis which normally never ended well and wasn't very enjoyable for either one of us. Most parents could heed this advice when coaching or being active in junior sports with their children.

As we finished up a quiet dinner Ian said, “Dad, that was a complete failure and I can’t believe how bad I was!” I immediately seized the opportunity to have a “teaching moment” and simply asked him, “why was it a failure?” He stumbled and stammered and came up with something that almost resembled an excuse and focused only on his final score. It was then I asked him, “did you learn anything?” He said, “yeah I need to hit a better “wind ball” and become a better putter and also hit my driver straighter.” I said, “well, then this was no failure. It only becomes a failure if you don’t learn anything.” Never waste a good failure is a phrase I really like. With this attitude, anything that you do that results in falling short of a goal, isn’t really a failure if something is learned. A great attitude to have as you navigate through life’s ups and downs. It’s always a process, golf, and life.

Now back to my friend and his “failed” marriage. As I talked with him I was pleased to see how proud he was of his kids and how well they have turned out so far. I was impressed by how he had very fond memories of the majority of the time with his wife, even though the last few years have been strained. Many trips overseas and domestically, many fun events and happy gatherings. More good times than bad. Just because the marriage didn’t end the way he imagined certainly didn’t mean it was a failed marriage, quite the contrary, he should be proud. I said the same thing to him as I said to Ian, “It is only a failed marriage if you don’t learn something.” You can always tell yourself a new story about your past. Try not to have the ending of something or a poor experience cause you to set the tone for the future in a negative way. It’s part of your unique story, embrace it. It is virtually impossible, regardless of the event or experience to have learned nothing, what a colossal waste if so.

I look at what has happened to me the past 4 years. I could have got hung up on all the “failures” bestowed on me and used them to define me in a negative way. Was I a “failure” as a dad because our son died of a heroin overdose? Was I a “failure” of a husband as I watched a 20-year marriage unravel? Circumstances beyond my control played a large part in many of the events I have endured and I am at peace with that. I certainly can control many aspects of my life, such as my attitude. I wish to spend most of my time focused on what I can control. You can’t often govern the “failure” when it presents itself but you can absolutely control if something will be learned.


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