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Out of the Blue – OverTheGreen

(REPOST about my story from an article I wrote about a year ago) – things are definitely looking up…but hopefully this helps just one person.

My career changing story:

I have had this post on the shelf for some time now and I have gone back and forth about whether to share it. I am (for the most part) a private person and my story isn’t that unique but maybe just maybe someone will read this that has been through the same situation and it will help them know they are not alone. I belonged to a fraternity of peers that I cherished in a profession that I enjoyed and was damn good at. For the last year, it has been about rebuilding and refocus, but losing my job “out of the blue” still has lasting emotions that can only take time to get over. Welcome to my story…

Have you ever had something bad happen to you in your career or life that you never saw coming? No signs, no warnings, no indications that anything was about to change? How did it effect you? Are you still struggling? Allow me to share my story…

I’ve always accomplished what I put my mind to do. I was one of those rare college students who knew what they wanted to do after graduation. I’ve been surrounded by golf since I was 8 years old. I wasn’t exactly sure of my final career destination but I knew that I was going to work in the golf business and that was always my focus and determination. What I later discovered is that no matter how well I was at it or what I had accomplished, I was not in total control of my career success and it could all be taken away, without warning and completely out of the blue.

Playing golf gave me a sense of accomplishment and I became very talented. I competed and was successful in many tournaments and ultimately landed a college golf scholarship. I believe the biggest draw to golf for me was that I was in control of the outcome. I didn’t have to rely on anyone. Success or failure was squarely on me. I was able to use the game I love to provide me the education I needed to work in the business that had already given me so much. Truth be told, I wanted to be a golf course architect and I still have a love-hate relationship with the profession. I have had the privilege of working with some excellent architects over my career. I have a deep appreciation for classic architects and absolutely love Donald Ross designed courses. If I could find a Donald Ross course that I can work on and manage, I might just have my ultimate dream job. I’m still looking for that opportunity, by the way! However, as I was moving through school, I received some advice that would send me in a slightly different career path. Ironically, the advice came from an architect. I was advised to learn everything I could about how courses were maintained first and then decide if being an architect was truly what I wanted. Well, needless to say, that’s what I did. Throughout college, I worked at a landscape nursery and mowed yards. These only touch the surface of what goes on during a typical maintenance day at a golf course but it came naturally to me and I enjoyed it. I ultimately put all my focus into finding the right course for me to pursue my future career after school. I was fortunate enough to receive an internship at an exclusive golf course near Nashville and it was the perfect place. I learned so much in the short time I was there and I knew it was what I wanted to manage one day.

Sitting in my dorm one fall day, I filled out my resume and cover letters to potential employers. Graduation was just around the corner. Every letter was addressed and ready to be sent to the best courses I wanted to go to work for. Then I got a call from the very place I completed my internship and they had a spot for me! That’s all I needed to hear. I said yes and never sent the first letter.

As far as my career was concerned, it was going along as planned. Everything I worked for, I was accomplishing. I knew my next plan was to work as hard as possible, learn everything I could, get promoted if possible but ultimately to move on in 3-5 years to my next opportunity. As it turns out, it was nearly 8 years before I was fortunate enough to move on and it was the perfect opportunity. While at my first job, I developed an excellent skill set, learned an enormous amount but not nearly everything, I missed out on several opportunities at other courses but gained valuable interview experience, and more importantly became very good at what I was doing. When the next opportunity came, I was ready for the chance and fully prepared for the new challenges ahead.

This is where my story begins to turn in ways I never saw coming.

Until now, everything I wanted in my career, I achieved. And now I landed the ultimate opportunity to be a Head Golf Course Superintendent. Everything I wanted and worked for. My new job was filled with challenges and I was able to use my talents and abilities to take my new course to a level that I was very proud of. A course that was once considered in the background was now talked about in the same breath as the top clubs in the area. We hosted many championships, including the State Open Championship. I was considered one of the top superintendents around and served in many leadership roles in local organizations. I was doing exactly as I planned. I was able to oversee many capital projects and put together a course master plan and personally wrote the guidelines for course maintenance standards. I participated in many of the clubs other functions and was a constant supporter of other departments, even hosting other staff at the maintenance facility and on the course to educate them on daily course operations. Not everything was easy, however. I had my share of ups and downs. The course went through 2 tough years of winter damage and multiple floods devastated the course and required tons of extra time and work. Dealing with Mother Nature and being a superintendent, these are just part of the job. We are the ultimate problem solvers. The unsung heroes in the golf industry. Despite all the ups and downs, the job was one I loved. I lived for the early mornings on the course and the day-to-day operations of maintaining a golf course. It was a joy for me everyday to do what I did. I built lasting relationships and was living the dream.

Despite some issues that were lingering on in my personal life, I never lost focus on my work or my career goals. The focus and drive I displayed probably lead to my personal relationship failures. I spent 17+ years working and building my career and on one unforgettable day in September 2015, I lost it all. It was an ordinary day, just like any other day. Nothing unusual. I was at work early and preparing for the day and my weekly meeting with the GM. That meeting turned out to be my last.

During the meeting, I was told that I was being let go and that the club was going “in a different direction”. I was stunned. The job and career I loved so much was suddenly gone and the years of work building something I was so proud of was gone. I was shocked, stunned, mad, confused, and questioning everything about what had just happened.

As I reflect on what transpired, I realize I’m not the first person, nor the last, that’s ever been fired, but this one just didn’t feel right. It still doesn’t. To have zero answers. To be left questioning what happened and why? I have filtered through all the lifeless words that were given in the explanation and realized that in the end, I was not in control of my own career. This was very eye-opening. I put myself in a position where someone else decided my status and worth and it’s a position I didn’t fully understand until it was revealed to me in a way I never saw coming.

So, why write about it? Well, it’s part(mostly) therapy and part to give awareness to those that may feel like everything is ok in your job or career. It’s not if ultimately someone else is in charge of your success. Don’t ever put yourself in a situation where someone else has your happiness in their hands. They will never have your future plans in mind. I’m not suggesting or even implying that everyone needs to work for themselves. That is unrealistic. What I am saying is to be aware, protect yourself, find security, and always stay alert no matter how well you think you might have it. For me, I never saw it coming. I was naive, even a little complacent maybe, but there was never the first word or poor performance review. I received every bonus and raise I was ever eligible for and met with superiors on a regular basis with no mention of any impending change of direction or an action plan that could have given me some indication that a change was on the horizon. Equally hard to swallow was that less than an hour after I was terminated, I was informed by a peer the job search was being posted locally and nationally. This naturally lead me to believe that it was not just an impulse decision. It was coming, I just never knew it.

If I am honest with myself, I’m still not over it. It has left a bad taste in my mouth and I attempt daily to put those negative feelings aside and move on. I have read many similar stories and I have been through all of the necessary emotions of job loss. This was the industry and career I loved and now its left me hurt and feeling on the outside looking in.

The biggest thing I’ve learned from this experience is what it felt like. I hope to never treat anyone in a way that makes them feel the way I felt and to communicate the objectives and expectations clearly to those that I am managing. And lastly to never put the keys to my happiness in someone else’s pocket.

I continue to search for the next chapter of my career and the future looks bright but I never thought it would have taken this long to move on. I am positive that there is a plan for me and I just need to trust in that plan and be in control of the things I can control. Moving on takes time but it’s time to start, so that is what I am doing…

“Make the rest of your life, The best of your life…”  -Eric Thomas