Stop Telling Me to Play Golf. Enough, Already!

GolfI swear to you, if ONE MORE PERSON writes an article about how professional women need to take up golf to get ahead, I’m going to completely lose my mind. The most recent crop:

Just STOP!

Does Golf Even Help?

As the Atlantic points out, there’s absolutely no evidence provided that taking up golf actually helps women’s careers. And, given that this same tired advice has been trotted out for at least a generation without apparent impact, when is it going to start making a difference?

No, instead we get personal anecdotes from someone who is:

  1. a golf instructor
  2. the author of a book about why women should play golf
  3. a former ESPN employee

She relays a single instance where golf was helpful to her career.

Um, hello? You worked at ESPN! I’m not surprised your colleagues were into sports!

But what flipping relevance does this have to anyone else?

Does Anyone Even Still Play Golf These Days?

By all accounts I can find, it’s apparent that golf — at least as a participatory sport — is in sharp decline. Club membership is dwindling, courses are closing, and these trends are particularly pronounced among younger people. So why should anyone take up a sport that’s going into a death spiral anyway?

Before all the golf-lovers of the world send nasty emails, let me say I’ve got nothing against golf — if it’s something you actually want to do.

My father was a scratch golfer. I spent large chunks of my childhood with him on the golf course. (One of my earliest memories is of getting in trouble for throwing my Kermit the Frog doll at his opponent during a backswing. Not something I did twice.)

I gave my sister golf lessons for Christmas last year. (Not, let it be said, so she could get ahead in her job. Given that she works for a green non-profit, they’d probably fire her if they knew she spent the weekend golfing.) I even occasionally slap the ball around a par-3 course and find it reasonably entertaining.

Has any of this ever helped my career one bit? Nope.

And chances are good it won’t help yours either, unless you genuinely enjoy the sport and play it because you love it.

The Bigger Picture

As you might have suspected, this isn’t just about golf.

It’s about a much bigger picture, where people — particularly women — are constantly being told that they have to remake themselves to fit into some ridiculous image of what they’re “supposed” to be.

Much of the time, my suspicion is that this theoretical ideal person doesn’t even exist. But that doesn’t stop us all from buying into the idea that we have to look and act like the “perfect lawyer” in order to succeed in the legal profession.

Wear the right clothes, master the right sports, drive the right car, send the kids to the right schools. When does it end? When do you ever get to feel like you’ve finally made it? Oh, right. Never.

So what’s the alternative?

My Radical Idea

Let me float a really radical idea.

What if — bear with me here — you just do things because you like them?

I know, I know, it’s totally crazy! But what if you just wore what you felt comfortable in (accounting for the social situation, of course), rather than having to evaluate whether your heels are high enough to increase your perceived authority. What if you tried out a bunch of different leisure activities and spent your time and money (let’s not kid ourselves, golf isn’t cheap or quick) on the ones you enjoyed the most?

My guess, and I’ve seen it happen, is that you’ll actually end up being more successful in your career, and a lot happier, too.

Why? Because you can’t hide your true self forever (and trying to do so uses a lot of psychic energy that you can’t use for more productive purposes, like doing a great job).

Just Try Being Who You Are

I still remember something my college graduation speaker said, which seemed entirely revolutionary at the time. Instead of giving advice about how to fit into the world and succeed, Seamus Heaney said to go out and make the world a place deserving of our presence.

For a bunch of 21-year-old kids in North Carolina, this was pretty heady stuff!

“[M]ake the world before you a better one by going into it with all boldness. You are up to it and you are fit for it; you deserve it and if you make your own best contribution, the world before you will become a bit more deserving of you.”

I was so struck by that at the time, because that idea — that maybe I could change the world to be more accommodating, rather than changing myself — had never occurred to me. (This is what happens when you grow up in a small town in rural North Carolina. They’re not too into non-conformity.)

But I think he’s basically right!

How This Relates to Professional Women

Think about it. Women have spent the last 40-or-so years trying to accommodate themselves to the dictates of a male-dominated workplace. How’s that worked out? Frankly not all that well. Sure, some progress has been made, but at great personal cost to many of the female trail-blazers, and it’s still very partial. We all know that.

So what’s the alternative?

Personally, I think we all have to get a lot more strategic, and a lot less accepting.

Of course you want to choose your battles, but stop conforming! If you wear a slightly loud outfit to an interview and don’t get hired, so what? It wasn’t going to be a good fit anyway. If you decide you’d rather spend your time snowboarding than golfing, do it. (Ironically, the firm I worked at had a very competitive annual ski trip, not a country club party. I won great brownie points for keeping up, since I’d been an avid snowboarder since before law school.)

If there’s something that’s a deal-breaker for you in a workplace, find a way to test it before you accept the job. Are people actually okay with you leaving at 6:00 for Spanish class? Can you really take the weekends off to hang out with your kids, or your dog? If the answer’s no, and these things are important to you, find a different job. Make your own job! We don’t have to put up with this stuff any more! This is 2012, people!

Yeah, I know you have massive loan debt (so do I), but that can’t be a final excuse.

You’ve got options.

Go out there and make the world a place that’s worthy to receive you. And stop wasting money on golf lessons…

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  1. You’re THE BEST! Keep it up, girl. You’ll change the world yet.

  2. I spent 17 years at BigLaw and wish Alison had been around 18 years ago to give me this advice. Is the firm of your dreams a place where you’ll earn lots of money and prestige or the place where you can have interesting legal work and still pursue your own interests? If you opt for the former, you may discover 5 or 6 years in that you’ve made a bad trade off. But, by then, you’re so close to partnership you don’t want to leave. And, if you’re like me, you will have become accustomed to the “goodies” your salary provides. Remember: money can’t buy time, whether you’re thinking about time for leisure activities or optimum fertility time if you want kids.

    Be yourself. You’ll be so much more comfortable in your own skin.

    • Thanks, Kate! It was funny…when I decided to leave BigLaw, several partners I knew in various firms said something along the lines of “Yes, get out now while you still can.” Meaning before you were too attached to the salary.

  3. Alison – Couldn’t have said it better myself. I wish I’d had a college professor say that to me! You’re absolutely right. Don’t give up on your vision of yourself or the world you’ll create when you’re doing all the things you love and that fulfill you. -Dana

  4. I’m not a lady or girl but a man whose mostly outside of the world that you describe. Please don’t beat me.

    Now with that being said, let’s examine the situation. Women have been striving to be on equal footing with me in the workplace for quite a while now and those men are kinda coming along kicking and screaming.

    The thing that shouldn’t be forgotten is that in that realm, it’s a mans world. I’m not saying its right or wrong, just restating the obvious. So in a man’s realm they have their rules, now you want to do everything job wise with a man then your going to either
    A) accept it and just do it all.
    b) create a woman’s paradise where women can do what they like
    c) leave it alone

    I just say this because I think that so much energies will be spent trying to change the culture which if you think about it is at least a couple hundred if not a few thousand years old culture of men and business and so on.


  1. […] interestingly enough, we met on a ski lift (just proving that you really don’t have to play golf to get ahead in […]

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