Well, folks, we’ve come to the finale of the “It’s Just Pat” series. It’s been almost a month since the last entry and I’m not sure where I lost the inspiration but I do know that my relatively long hiatus from posting this final entry signaled its eventual end. Ironically, that loss of inspiration is kind of the meta-theme of this week’s post.
If you go back and read Part 1, you’ll see that I claim Pat’s first rule is to never let the truth get in the way of a good story.
As much as I do believe in the power of that philosophy and its usefulness in keeping us focused on the present moment experience despite the inevitable distractions of life, I also think it’s a bit of a hack. And like most hacks, they serve their purpose until they don’t.
Therefore, we are left with a dilemma – if the heuristic of never letting the truth get in the way of a good story isn’t actually the rule to rule all other rules…then what is?
Well, that’s the beauty of heuristics.
Defined as an “approach to problem solving or self-discovery that employs a practical method that is not guaranteed to be optimal, perfect, or rational, but is nevertheless sufficient for reaching an immediate, short-term goal or approximation” a heuristic serves a specific and necessary purpose at a specific time for a specific event. In other words, it’s a hack.
Innately, heuristics are also hacks that are time tested and generally well served because they come from a lived experience, whether yours or someone else’s. If we learn a heuristic from someone we trust who has lived a meaningful and purposeful life, then adoption of that heuristic for a situation in our life can often yield happiness, purpose, and meaning. But if it becomes a long-term crutch, the heuristic inevitably outlives its usefulness.
For many of us, I have just described the power of culture, family, religion, etc. These are the qualitative human technologies that transcend the short lived materialistic technologies that come and go throughout the ages. Things like traditions, rituals, myths always seem to trump the most high tech gadget in every story we see where the hero must pit his or her wits against the technologically more advanced nemesis.
Think Arnold Schwarzenegger building bow and arrows in the jungle against the laser-shooting Predator or Rocky taking down Drago in the ring after a few months of tech-free functional fitness in Siberia. If this kind of examination of history interests you, I highly recommend Yuval Noah Harari’s wonderful book Sapiens.
I learned the power of a heuristic from a story about how my mother’s side of the family learned to cook a Thanksgiving turkey.
For the longest time, my grandmother would remove one of the turkey legs from the turkey before placing it in the pot to cook. She’d then use that extra leg to make a stock, or gravy, or just roast it separately. Either way, the commonly held justification for my mother’s side of the family roasting their amputated turkeys became solidified as “that’s how you make a juicier turkey.”
A few years into my twenties, I was visiting my grandmother and somehow this story came up. I think I was talking about making our Thanksgiving dinner in Japan one year where we had to use a small convection oven to roast a turkey and I ended up breaking it apart into separate pieces so that it fit.
When I mentioned that, my grandmother laughed and said, “huh, that’s great…that’s similar to how I learned how to cook our Thanksgiving turkey from my mother.”
I looked at my grandmother and asked her to explain.
“Well,” she said, “growing up, my mother only had one pot and it couldn’t fit the whole bird. So, she would remove the leg before roasting it. But, she wasn’t going to just throw that leg away, so she would usually make a stock or some kind of gravy out of the leftover leg. Eventually, I think she got a bigger pot but by that point, we all really liked the extra leg as a special treat so that’s how all us kids started to roast our turkeys.”
And that’s how the story goes.
There is no rational reason why a turkey will taste better or be juicier if you roast it with one leg, but in the end, it doesn’t matter because the efficacy of the story lies in its ability to give our behavior meaning and purpose. The story is the heuristic and heuristics work, until they don’t.
Therefore, Pat’s rule stands true – don’t let the truth get in the way of a good story.
But what happens when the heuristic doesn’t work? What happens when the story stops being effective and whatever you are doing just isn’t fun anymore?
Well, that’s golf for me.
The standard round of golf is 18 holes and that’s about 6 to 9 holes too long in my opinion. For the longest time, I would muscle my way through the front 9 and then suffer my way through the back 9. I might find some joy here or there but generally, the last half of the course would be torture.
But not Pat. Somehow, he always got better in the back 9. It was like he fed off of everyone else’s fatigue and just kept hitting his shots cleaner and more precise. It drove me NUTS.
But, like all of the other posts in this series, I think you see the turn coming. That frustration and rage of teenage me often blinded me to what was really going on.
Looking back with 44-year-old-me eyes, I see now that my father didn’t get better while those around him got worse, he simply didn’t get as bad as everyone else.
While the rest of us held on to the memory of every missed shot, duffed swing, or disappointing putt, Pat let all that baggage go. He found a way to have fun with each and every hole, despite the same number of disappointments and distractions as everyone else. So, by the time I was a festering pile of fury and frustration around the 10th hole, my father was cool as a cucumber.
And that’s Pat’s REAL Rule #1 when it comes to playing golf – have fun.
Rule #2? If you can’t abide by Rule #1, then get the f*#K off the course.
It’s taken me a very long time to understand the power of that heuristic. Clearly, it’s a hack.
There are times when life is not going to be fun. Creating a false illusion around needing everything to be fun in order for it to be lasting and meaningful could cause even more damage to our psyche. Sometimes life is just hard and sad and makes you cry. And that’s ok, too. Cry. Kick a wall. Punch something. Be with and feel those emotions because pushing them away simply to fake having fun in accordance with some arbitrary metaphorical “Rule #1” might be the worst choice ever.
But, there’s also a power in this heuristic.
For my father, it manifested in learning how to read people and read a moment. We played HUNDREDS of games within the game of golf. He would mix up teams, insert fun challenges, tell stories, mess with people through random bets, or the often inappropriate joke or trick.
Annoying when I was already tired of being on that damn course? Sure. But also, fun.
It’s a game, people. Zoom out far enough and life is a game, too.
Inherently, games should be fun. But, it’s also not a game. When you zoom in too far and find yourself too close to the problem, good luck finding anything fun about it.
So what’s the answer?
A few months back, while I was reconnecting with my father as my boys were preparing to try-out for their high school golf team, I talked to my dad about some of this. I even mentioned that I would love golf if it was only 8, 10, or maybe 12 holes.
I even related it to CrossFit and said I think what makes me so excited about WODs is how infinitely scalable they are and that golf could learn a thing or two.
He laughed and said, “it’s not the game that’s limited, buddy, it’s you.”
“Yeah, golf was originally designed as 3-hole chunks. Most early courses would lay-out a par 4 and a par 3 to take you away from the clubhouse, and then you’d come back with a long par 5. Kind of like a spoke and hub on a wheel. Play 3 holes, then come back and take a break. You could play as many of those in however many cycles you’d want. The whole 18-hole structure only really started in the early 1900s.”
I was dumbfounded! And the truth is, I have no idea if he was just making it up or not. In the end, I don’t care because it was a great freaking story.
Then it all made sense.
18 holes is really long. But it’s also only long if we always focus on the holes we have left or the holes we just played. Instead, focusing on the hole we are playing, at that moment, makes the length of the whole 18 melt away and allows us to settle into a rhythm.
The golfer who settles into the rhythm, who let’s the holes come and go, who has the skill to play each hole as its own hole, is the golfer who eventually finds the joy in the game not because of the game but because they play the game the way they need to play the game, at that time, on that day, on that course.
The game does not matter. The course does not matter. The clubs do not matter. The players do not matter. The fun doesn’t even really matter.
My father’s Rule #1 is simply another way of saying that life is not about the destination but the journey.
Still waiting for that answer? Well, I’d say there isn’t one but if you are one of those people who needs the finality of an arbitrary rule then here you go:
If you aren’t having fun any more in the gym, at your job, in whatever you are putting your head down and muscling through, sometimes you have to be willing to walk the fuck away. Take a break. Get some perspective. And in getting that perspective you might see that the fun wasn’t ever going to be in the game but rather in how you played.
Why did I have to take such a long break before this last part materialized? Well, the fun wasn’t in the writing. It was in the thinking about the writing, the crafting of the writing, the solving of the puzzle that is telling a story in a way that may or may not be true, but captures the experience. For me, the writing is simply a by-product of the process and the process is what’s fun.
What makes Pat’s rules work is not that they’re always right, but rather that the rules work when they work and when they don’t…well, he’s got a rule #2 for that.
This has been a fun trip for me and I hope for you as well.
If not, then, hey, I guess it’s time to get the hell off the course and get back on the Creek.