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If my professional life were a round of golf, right now I’m probably on the 16th green standing over a straight-in putt. It doesn’t seem so long ago, wide-eyed and looking out over that first tee, a driver in my anxious hands and nothing but a wide, green fairway ahead. Along the unpredictable course of my professional life, I can remember hitting at least a few memorable birdies, but in equal measure found myself in the high rough, and once or twice having to take that painful, unplanned water drop.

I now often face that tricky question that everybody faces; when is it time to hang it up?

Is it when your boss is > 20 years younger than you?

Is it when everyone on Zoom uploads a professional headshot while yours is a 2006 employee ID badge photo?

Is it when your coworkers get revved up planning their PTO for wild cross-country adventures while you plan “sick days” (you still call it that) for rest?

Is it when you introduce someone on your work team to your kid because they have a lot in common and are at the same point in their lives?

Is it when the president of the company graduated from college after you?

Is it when the role you report to vacates, and they post for a replacement, and nobody whispers in your ear that you’re the guy?

Is it when, at the deadline for open enrollment, you obsess over every detail of the new healthcare plan while some of your teammates literally just forgot about it?

Is it when everyone around you can upload, pivot, and manipulate data across three screens with breathtaking efficiency, but not one can pick up a phone and have a substantive discussion with a supplier?

Is it when you find yourself in meetings waiting for an issue to go off the rails, an issue not easily solved by a reflexive data grab or pointing to a resource to leverage? You wait, and wait, and then finally enter the fray. You form a simple problem statement, basking in the sudden silence and the momentary attention. You propose a thoughtful solution, and watch it soak in. Everyone starts doing the calculations… how much does that put on me?… how will that path forward make me look? The leader will finally put their stamp on it, and quietly, a course of action is charted. And then…. you quietly fade back into the woodwork.

Is it when you actually have enough of these thoughts, thoughts that make you wince, to form a significant list?

Actually, none of these things, even collectively, trips it for me.

I was never all that good at golf. On my best day I might have shot in the mid-90s. But in nearly every round there were a few rare shots you don’t forget. You’d set up the club face just behind your ball, hands would grip the club just right, and somehow everything about the swing felt electric. Like magic, the ball would spring perfectly off the face, soar high into the blue sky and drop straight down softly onto the target. You would walk giddily up to your ball in disbelief, marveling at what had just happened.

Hopefully for many of us, work provides such moments. Maybe not often. But once in a while, on certain days you feel like you can still pull a club out of the bag and make everyone’s day. You can quietly do the work that makes a difference. And, most importantly, those moments are still fun.

If you can’t remember the last time work made you feel that way, it’s probably time for golf.

Devin Householder

Devin is passionate about writing, reading and remaining in emotionally harmful relationships with losing sports teams. He suffers quietly (except on Sundays) with his loving wife and daughter in Rhode Island.

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