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Kurt Vonnegut and Bob Rotella

Greetings Golfers,

Sports psychologist, Dr. Bob Rotella, helps athletes deal with “an achievement oriented society.”

What does that mean? Isn’t achievement a good thing? I believe it is … but not if it defines who you are. I hope deeper and more controllable things such as your character define you.

Here’s a great story from Kurt Vonnegut:

“When I was 15, I spent a month working on an archeological dig. I was talking to one of the archeologists one day during our lunch break, and he asked those kind of “getting to know you” questions you ask young people: Do you play sports? What’s your favorite subject?  I told him no, I don’t play any sports, I do theater, I play the violin and piano, I used to take art classes.

And he went WOW! That’s amazing! And I said “Oh no, but I’m not good at ANY of them.”

And he said something then that I’ll never forget and which absolutely blew my mind because no one had ever said anything like it to me before. “I don’t think being good at things is the point of doing them. I think you’ve got all of these wonderful experiences with different skills, and that all teaches you things and makes you an interesting person, no matter how well you do them”.

And that honestly changed my life. Because I went from being a failure, someone who wasn’t talented enough at anything to excel, to someone who did things because I enjoyed them. I had been raised in such an achievement-oriented environment, so inundated with the myth of Talent, that I thought it was only worth doing things if you could “Win” at them.”


I wonder if Vonnegut played golf?

Obviously Vonnegut found out he had talent as a writer … but, I believe him when he said that this realization changed his life.

And, I’m sure that Dr. Rotella has seen similar changes in attitude help the professional athletes he works with. If your total self worth depends on every golf swing … you’ll wind-up like Jimmy Piersall in the movie “Fear Strikes Out” (mental institution)

I think there is a lot of confusion in our society over this issue. Because we put so much emphasis on achievement, we think that giving everyone a trophy solves the problem.

That’s the worst thing we can do. Not only are we over emphasizing the value of achievement … we’re rewarding NOT ACHIEVING. That is madness.

The emphasis should be on character. Then, winning the trophy is just icing on the cake … and we can be honest about achieving.

Years ago, I worked for a GM who wanted to run the golf course the way he had run the famous theater he worked for. He told me that every actor in his plays could do each other’s role … and he thought we should do it at the golf course. Hmmm. So I replied, “You want the Green Keeper to run the restaurant, the restaurant manager to give golf lessons, the bookkeeper to run the grounds crew, etc?”

If you knew those people, you knew it was ridiculous. Setting up people to fail is not kind. His intentions were misguided (at best). He was an arrogant fellow. He had sort of a God-complex … probably sincerely thought he could remake people.

I think we need to identify our strengths and weaknesses … and earn a living by using those strengths.

However, we shouldn’t limit our activities to what we’re good at.

It’s healthy to be “an achievement oriented society” … that’s how a healthy society functions.

But to be a happy and interesting person, we need to put our achievement in perspective and not let it define us, and not let it keep us from doing a lot of things we might enjoy – talented or not.


Tom Abts
GM/Head PGA Professional
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