After 25 years as a superintendent, I recently found myself in an all too familiar position as many of us do as we approach the age of 50 … unemployed. Now what?

For starters, I took a few days to rest and clear my head. I started hiking the mountain behind my house that I hadn’t climbed in over four years. That helped get me back in mental, as well as physical shape. Next, I took full advantage of the connections I had developed over the course of my career to both let people know I was OK and looking for work.

Free agent

After some deliberation, I decided that my professional connections on social media could really help navigate the opportunities that I may or may not know about. I declared my “free agency” on Twitter as I’ve felt that platform has been extremely effective at sharing everything we deal with in the world of turf. But I could not recall anyone using it to announce they’d been fired. What the heck, worth a try, right? Putting myself out there a bit more than some would be willing? Yep. Worth the risk? You bet. Both the outpouring of support as well as several leads were almost immediate. I am so thankful I took the risk of looking like a failure in front of the turf world as it became the first step to healing and moving on. After 14 years in a very high-stress position, I needed it.

Self-assessment

Next came the tough stuff. Do I want to find another superintendent position or explore other options? The reality was that with a son in his junior year of college, another in his senior year of high school and our youngest in middle school, moving wasn’t the best option. Ironically, the majority of job offers that came to me were for more sales positions than farming turf. I guess others thought I’d be good at that, even if I hadn’t considered it. As I worked through that, it made me realize that if that was the path I was to follow, I’d like to do something that made a difference and helped young superintendents navigate the world I’d been a part of for over a quarter-century. Let’s face it, the business is changing. Regulations, staffing and budgets are getting tougher to manage. I’ve felt for some time that we need to be moving voluntarily toward more sustainable turf management before someone else dictates it to us. A lot of us have things to offer to the rest of the industry. We just need to crawl out of our collective caves and spread the great news of our business. Other things that came to light those first few weeks of free agency were the realization that I had really forsaken my family, my health, my vacation time and even my home upkeep (I quickly discovered that all of the gutters on my house were completely nonfunctioning). I needed to be removed from my “life” at the course to see that my priorities were completely screwed up. Some of us just aren’t as self-aware as others.

Moving forward

As I move forward, my lessons learned are as follows:

  • Put yourself out there with association service, writing, blogging and social media participation. You never know which connection might lead you to your next job. I sure didn’t.
  • No matter how much criticism you endure at your job, believe in your abilities. They hired you for your expertise and knowledge. Be confident in that.
  • Be open to all kinds of new opportunities. Many of us run our golf courses with an entrepreneurial mindset. Why not do the same with our career?
  • Take your vacation time and work fewer hours. The course will still be there when you get back.
  • We’re our own worst enemies when it comes to the golf course. Give yourself some grace and stop and smell the roses once in a while.
  • Focus more on the positives of the jobs, not the negatives. Developing dozens of student interns and assistants through the years and presenting very good playing conditions are something I should be very proud of.
  • Constantly reinvent yourself. This came from John Chessard at Lehigh Country Club and couldn’t be more spot on.
  • Develop your network of local superintendents and friends. You’re better off with them than by yourself.

Going forward, no matter what I decide to do, I know I’ll have the support of my family and a great community of turfheads. Onward and upward!

After 14 years as the superintendent at Coeur d’Alene (Idaho) Resort golf course, Kevin Hicks was recently hired as a regional agronomist for EarthWorks.