The short version of this blog is the tweet that did the rounds after Justin Rose got to world number 1 a couple of weeks ago.
It isn’t anything new (I’ve probably written nearly every blog on this theme.. sorry), because trusting the process is one of the most apt cliches there is for a sportsperson. If you’re trying to push yourself to new levels, or achieve high standards of performance, you’re going to fall. You’re going to have setbacks. It isn’t a straight line to success, however it might look from the outside. But there was something in that tweet about Justin Rose that really got me. Something about it being laid out in black and white, a few simple numbers to condense infinite moments of success and failure. A story that, if it ended now, would have a clearly defined beginning – silver medal as an amateur at the Open – and a clearly defined end – becoming the best player in the world. And yet everything that lies in between those two moments in time is what makes it all worthwhile.
I can’t remember if I was told this at university or when I was six – when you write a story, there are two things to remember. The first is that your story needs a beginning, a middle, and an end. The second is that the middle part has to have conflict. There has to be tension, there has to be a challenge that has to be overcome or something that goes wrong that needs resolving. They told us it was to create interest in the story, to make people want to read it. But I’m starting to believe they really told us that because there is no other way. And what none of us realise maybe, is that we’re always in the middle part of our stories. That’s the beauty of it.
Unless I decided to end my professional golf career right now, I’m still in the middle of my story. I’m still in the conflict. Justin Rose might have reached world number one, but I’m 100% certain that isn’t where his goals end. Which means there will still be struggles. He lost the tournament that got him to the top rung and there was probably more pain in that than immediate satisfaction in the achievement that followed it. Angela Stanford just won her first major at the age of 40. You want to tell me there haven’t been times that either of those players had doubts that they would ever achieve what they wanted to?
Being hungry to achieve success isn’t a negative. Being impatient to fulfill what you think you’re capable of isn’t a negative. But comparing your story to that of someone else, or to what you think yours should look like… that’s where you can run yourself into a dead end. I also think it’s worth pointing out that schedules can make a big difference to your perspective on things. I don’t know for a fact, but I would guess that Justin Rose’s first 20 missed cuts came in the timeframe of a year or less. If he’d had to wait three years to accumulate those 20 missed cuts, it would have been a hell of a lot harder for him to put things in context. Likewise, playing your first major in your twenties and questioning why you’re not contending, when players younger than you are doing just that, doesn’t mean you never will. Not winning a tournament in your first few years doesn’t mean you aren’t capable of winning. When your first win is a major, I think you answer that question pretty loudly. Someone else’s snapshot in time tells you absolutely nothing about their story to that point. If you read the last line of a book without reading anything else, it wouldn’t make any sense. And you wouldn’t understand its significance.
Sometimes bad results can make you feel like you’re falling off a cliff. But unless you decide it’s the end of your story, you’re not just going to freefall, you’re going to hit a ledge. And then, you’re going to find another way up.