I have this irrepressible habit of composing blog entries in my head while I golf. Today instead of going to the driving range I decided to play a quick round of 9 holes at a par-3 course. It was a spontaneous decision, made in the car on my way to the driving range, so I didn’t make arrangements to include any of my usual golfing friends. It seemed like a nice way to check up on my short game, and enjoy a beautiful March day (thank you, California!). OK, another reason I did it was to test how “hard core” I really am into the game. Am I so serious and so Zen about it that I could actually enjoy playing a whole round of golf by myself?
The answer is no.
First of all, going to play golf alone is a little bit like showing up at a dim sum restaurant in Boston’s Chinatown as a party of two. You are going to be seated with other people. (By the way, does this happen in any other cities?) Sharing dim sum while seated at a large round table with two or three other parties of two is one of the most surreal eating experiences. What is the appropriate etiquette? Do you make eye contact with the other people? Do you introduce yourselves? Do you look at their food? Do you comment on what they are eating? Do you ask if they’d like to share? In order to truly enjoy a meal consumed in this setting, you must be singlemindedly devoted to the quality of the food. In other words, it’s for the “hard core” fans of dim sum only.
I found out that I am not so “hard core” when it comes to golf. I was put into a foursome with three men, who were all polite enough and did a good job of masking the questions that were probably running through their head before we teed off: “Is she any good? Or will she cause our plans for a quick afternoon of 9 holes with the guys to drag out to 9 hours by scraping the ball around all day? Will she be chatty and ruin our guys-only vibe?” None of the above turned out to be the case, and I have to give those guys credit for being good sports. But it was definitely awkward to be playing “my own game” and trying to enjoy myself in parallel with these other people who were doing their best to leave me alone.
I realized that what originally drew me to golf, ever since going somewhat reluctantly on my first corporate golf outing several years ago (before I had ever held a club in my hand or even watched golf on TV), was the chance to spend several hours doing a physical activity outdoors while socializing. It was, I thought, a great way to spend a chunk of time with people you like.
So when I played alone today, I didn’t feel the same sense of satisfaction that I have always had in the past after a nice round of golf. I should have been very happy, because I actually played very well and it might have even been worth it for me to keep score today. But it meant less when there was no social aspect to the experience – no witnesses to all the little moments that made up those 9 holes of golf.
This taught me that no matter what it is that we’re doing – whether we are struggling or doing well – what gives it meaning are the people who are there to share the experience with us.
Perhaps the reason our violin school model works is as simple as this: in our Saturday morning repertoire classes, we provide a social community of witnesses who care and give meaning to the learning process. It’s not just the concert audiences (strangers, mostly) with whom we share our music that matter. It’s the audience of parents, siblings, and fellow classmates – the people we get to know and grow up with and who watch us encounter challenges, struggle through them, and triumph over them – who give meaning to our journeys and motivate us the most to become our best selves.