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What does success look like?

I’ve traveled both sides of the Atlantic in the past two months, speaking to peers, assistants, deputies and other industry professionals about this very question. At first glance, you may have thought my pal, Lee Strutt, course manager at Royal Automobile Club, and I planned to stand before you at industry conferences and talk about ourselves. You would be wrong. The best feedback we received from our presentation was hearing folks say, “that wasn’t what I was expecting.”

Nearly a year-and-a-half ago, I reached out to Lee because I was feeling a bit overwhelmed. I was putting too much pressure on myself after working so hard to achieve a personal goal. The conversation continued and eventually blossomed into the presentation we delivered this year at both BTME and GIS. If just one person benefits from our talk, Lee and I deem it a success.

So, what does success look like? And is it linked to happiness? This is a question we raised with attendees and surprisingly, many people who considered themselves successful didn’t necessarily consider themselves happy. Why is that? Because the road to success is not simply a climb up the career ladder. No, it is filled with twists, turns, switchbacks, potholes and other obstacles all with a price. Only you can determine if the price of success is worth the cost.

Let me explain. For starters, we talked about different ways success could be measured, whether it’s mowing your first laser, producing the perfect sward, getting your first promotion, obtaining a position at a high-end facility, or hosting a major championship or even the Ryder Cup.

Other ways success could be measured include being the highest paid, having the largest maintenance facility, obtaining professional certifications or achieving other forms of higher education (more superintendents are pursuing business degrees and I know a few who have their MBAs). Mentoring is another way to measure succes; having a positive impact on someone else’s life and career path is an overwhelmingly positive thing.

We also discussed success outside of turfgrass management, which could include owning your home. Maybe you obtain wealth and worldly possessions, such as that flat-screen TV you’ve been eyeing, or perhaps you just wish to travel and see other parts of the world. If you’ve been able to accomplish any of these things since beginning your career as a professional turfgrass manager, you’re a success.

Then we discussed the types of things within our realm that limit or hinder our ability to succeed. Rising player expectations continue to stress and strain our operations. We face budget limitations yet are asked to produce more with less. And don’t get me started on the current labor situation: We are all struggling to find quality help on both sides of the globe, and it isn’t going to get any easier. Automation is fast approaching (you can argue it’s already here). It appears to be a solution to the labor shortage, but at the same time, do you really believe managing robots is going to be easier than managing personnel?

Lee said it best when he said our profession should come with its own health warning. So, what can we do and what are some strategies for success? First and foremost, family comes first. Too many of us work so hard to obtain the dream position and then we dive in head first to make an impact. Before we know it, we’ve ignored those closest to us. Your family is forever, and it was heartbreaking to hear my pal stand before his peers and tell everyone his relationship with his two daughters is fractured because they believe he put his career aspirations ahead of them. I confessed that I’ve always told my wife she is the most important thing in my life, but my actions didn’t always match those words. I would ignore her calls when I was busy and call her back when I had a free moment. I didn’t realize the impact that action had on her psyche until she confided in me. Now I take the call no matter what I’m doing, and if it isn’t an emergency, I call her back, but at least she knows where she truly stands.

Take time for yourself along the way. Do at least one thing every day to make yourself happy. I like to call it a guilty pleasure. It can be anything, like talking with a friend or loved one, reading your favorite book, listening to your favorite podcast, playing golf or just simply watching TV in front of the wood stove with a tray on your lap and your best pal at your side.

Matthew Wharton, CGCS, MG, is the superintendent at Carolina Golf Club in Charlotte, N.C., and President of the Carolinas GCSA. Follow him on Twitter @CGCGreenkeeper.