Lower Your Expectations

Finding Happiness While Playing Bad Golf

By Michael WilliamsSeptember 02, 2021

There's no better way to maintain your sanity in life than by lowering your expectations. It's a sort of pessimistic catch-all that continues to somehow deliver a degree of happiness. Going to the airport? It's best to expect that it is going to be a nightmare. If it is...see you were right! If it's not you're pleased that things weren't so bad. This is one of my favorite little everyday psychological games.

Though recently I started to wonder if expectations really do matter? Would I be better off without them? Last weekend I found myself surrounded by friends doing something that I love in a really great place and I couldn't help but to fight off disappointment. It wasn't at the surroundings or the people, it was myself. I went against my own rule and couldn't get over my own high expectations. I built this trip up so much in my head I managed to overwhelm my own theory of managed expectations. Or maybe it was something else?

As far as hobbies go there's nothing I think about more than golf. The beautiful places I've been, the rounds with friends, the quiet moments, the good shots and plenty of bad ones too. It's a 24/7 channel in my brain which I find immensely pleasurable even just to think about. I've spent much of the past year playing golf in my head. People who don't golf could easily change it out for fly fishing, tennis or whatever they like and this concept is interchangeable. It’s without a doubt the most important un-important thing in my life.

My goal with golf was never to win a Mid-Am or be scratch it was just to be able to play with anyone at any place. I just wanted to be proficient and confident in my game. That's it. Some would say this is too modest of a goal, though to me it feels perfect. If I become good enough to play respectable golf I could get all of the stress out of the way to open up the enjoyment of the camaraderie and the other great aspects of being outside in a beautiful place. I've succeeded mostly in this goal, however there are times when things get dark and you start to wonder just what the hell you are doing out there. This past weekend, that happened to me.

Every golfer at some point has asked the big question of why they are subjecting themselves to this torture. I'm not unique in wondering about all the time, money and mental energy that goes into my golf game. Golf is something that can easily trick you into thinking your expectations are low when they are really astronomically high.

The last day of our trip we played the historic Pinehurst No.2 course, home of the U.S. Open and other major tournaments. It was the whole pomp and circumstance. It's Sunday and I'm with friends playing a famous golf course, walking with caddies — this is really as good as it gets. Except I was playing some of the worst golf of my life and I had a hard time coming to terms with that. I'm supposed to be Mr Low Expectations what the hell is going on in my head?

It was a mess from the beginning. I could tell my caddy wanted me to enjoy myself and I think he was getting concerned at how things were going. About half way through I started to think about how I would look back on that weekend a few years from now. My perspective changed and I told him that I was just happy to be there. The golf never got better but I ended up having a much more enjoyable time.

It feels like my expectations barometer is off in life post-COVID. When I think back on past trips the highlights were never about any great score or particular shot that I made, it was always around the laughs we had or the adventure we shared. Sometimes in the moment it's difficult to see beyond how this one specific round is going or how the day has been. It's hard to think about how you will feel when looking back on something 5 years from now. That's a lesson the pandemic has brought home for me. In 5 years I would just be thrilled that I made the effort (and had the opportunity) to be in a great place with friends. This experience helped to show me that managing expectations is a bumper against everyday frustration, but managing perspective is key to long term happiness. Now if I could just make more putts...