golf ball, maggie mcreynolds blog

Play the Ball Where It Lies

I haven’t hit the greens since I was in high school, but I’m no slouch at miniature golf. I play with my 11-year-old son, who has gotten much better at the sport over the years—and much more graceful about losing. Nonetheless, in the years since I’ve been watching him play, I’ve noticed the parallel between wishing reality were different and wishing one’s ball had landed somewhere else. Both are useless endeavors. Cliches exist because they have wisdom in them; “Play the ball where it lies” is one of the smartest pieces of advice I know.

Smart, and yet also oft-ignored. How many of us waste time and energy wishing we hadn’t landed in the sand traps or water hazards of our lives? Bemoaning how unfair it is that someone else landed right on the green while we’re off and lost in the woods, our ball buried or richocheting randomly off trees?

I could pretend I am not disabled. I could wish my marriage hadn’t come apart. I could get stuck in the “unfairness” of being a single mom, or having one kid instead of a tribe, or having short fingers, or whatever it is that didn’t come out like I thought it would.

But what good does wishing my ball had landed in a different spot do me? It is where it is. I can continue to argue and whine about it, but all I’m doing is wasting time and staying stuck. Instead, I could simply get into that sand trap and start working with what I’ve got, or take my water hazard penalty and move on. I love that golf, like life, allows everyone to play: handicaps and baggage and all.

Do any of these ways of arguing or fighting with reality sound familiar to you?

  • Demanding a do-over: Yes, you could give up, throw it all away, and start all over again. But you’d lose the lesson in the “mistake,” and you’d miss out on the challenge of turning an unwanted outcome into a win.
  • Cheating by moving ball with foot, dragging the club along and “shepherding the ball,” or just flat-out picking it up and dropping it in the hole: So what’s the point of this? You get to write down a number on the score card that’s a lie. You “win” without having mastered a skill. You cheat yourself—and everyone else—out of an authentic experience.
  • Become enraged and start flailing away at the ball: Boy, do I know this one. It results in, like, an eight on a 3-par hole. Anger about our circumstances—where our ball lies—is understandable and maybe even necessary as part of coming to terms with our new normal. But getting stuck in anger and responding by enraged, random flailing doesn’t get us anywhere but farther from our goal.
  • Comparing your game to another’s: Others will always have more experience, more grace, more talent—or, conversely, less. It’s tempting to treat life as a competition (especially when you’re playing a game that actually is a competition), but everybody’s got their own game to play, and their own swing to master. Eyes on your own ball. Get it where you want it to go—with the understanding that it takes however long and however many strokes it takes.
  • Taking your ball and going home: always an option. But it’s a lose-lose sort of thing. Choosing not to play leaves you forever on the sidelines of your life—or, worse, mentally reliving the “unfair” game that was actually of your own creation. It sounds like an easy choice, but it’s a bitch to live with.

Where does your ball lie? Are you going to stay stuck and leave it there, or are you going to play on?

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