The 150-Yard Marker

I was having a virtual lunch chat with a colleague today, and we got to talking about goals. She mentioned that she was having a bit of an existential crisis about whether she was on the right path—whether she should continue as an individual contributor engineer, switch to a different IC role, or point toward management—and asked how to know so she could set goals on the correct path.

My first thought was that one of the ways to know whether you're on the right path is to take the next step on it, and then see how the view is from there. I shared this thought with her using an analogy: When you're playing golf, your goal is to get the ball in the hole. But on a par 4 or 5—and especially on a dogleg or a hole with a hill—you often can't just aim for the hole off the tee because you can't see it. Instead, you aim for a black and white striped pole planted in the middle of the fairway: the 150-yard marker.

This is your intermediate goal, a goal you can see from where you are now, that is on the path to where you want to go. You may not hit the ball in exactly the right line to the marker, or get all the way there. You might blow past it and end up with an awkward angle to the green. Whatever you end up doing, what you're doing is aiming for that marker, not the hole. And your purpose in aiming for that marker is to get a better view of the situation.

Once you get to your ball, you might have a great approach shot to the green—one that's exactly the distance of your favorite club, with no obstructions. Often you're between clubs, or you can't hit the ball as far as you need to go. Now you have choices: Do you divide up the distance, hitting the same club the same distance twice? Do you hit your longest club, hope for the best, and then go for a short chip or pitch? Do you lay up to a distance you feel confident about, or that avoids the risk of landing in a sand trap that might take several swings to get out of?

If you've never played golf, some of this strategy might not make any sense to you, but the point is this: After that first shot, you are in a different place, with a different view, and with new choices in front of you. You have a chance to recalibrate if the tee shot didn't go according to plan. If it went perfectly, you have a shorter and more direct path if you want to go for it. (I can say from personal experience, both on the golf course and in my career, that one's second shot is not guaranteed to be good, and that it's also possible to make bogey or even par after a less-than-stellar tee shot.)

So here's to intermediate goals: the 150-yard stick that you can see from where you are now, and that will give you more information about where you want to go. From that black and white striped pole you could decide to take a risk and possibly fail, but hey, at least you'll get a chance to practice your sand shot.

Posted by Lori in golf and work at 10:05 PM on January 19, 2021