129 Ways To Get a Life
129 Ways To Get a Life (The Podcast!)
7. "Take Up Golf and Go to Different Golf Courses."
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7. "Take Up Golf and Go to Different Golf Courses."

A swing and a miss. And another miss. And another miss. And another...
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Transcript

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“You need to stop trying.” I swung around to face my instructor Nick, almost dropping my golf club on the fake green turf in the process. I was sure I’d misheard him. “Stop trying?” He stared back at me, the kind-but-stoic face of a man desperately trying to hide his annoyance for the girl who just missed 17 consecutive swings on the golf simulator. “Yeah. You’re putting in too much effort. This should feel easy and light; no one needs to see you sweat. Just… stop trying.” 

Nick took a step back to join the rest of the class, all of whom had been (im)patiently watching my sorry attempt at golf for the better part of the last five minutes. I firmed my grip on the club and steadied my stance. Took a deep breath. Assumed a squat. Lined my club up with the worn white ball waiting to be hit. You can do this, I thought to myself. Just let go. Relax. I took a swing. 

I missed the ball. Again. 

My face turned sunburned-red as Nick shuffled the rest of the class – nine hopeful golfers-to-be – to the simulator on my right. I was glad they were moving on; I could practically feel the collective groans elicited by my repeated failure. I didn’t blame them. We only had 90 minutes for our lesson and my peers had paid good money to learn golf, not watch someone else flop at it. 

Earlier that afternoon, I eagerly marched into Brooklyn Greens, the indoor golf center in Bushwick (or technically, the real-estate friendly re-zoned neighborhood of East Williamsburg) with high hopes. I was there for the “Intro to Golf Clinic and Happy Hour,” an event billed as a way to learn golf, make some new friends, and have a drink. It was a snowy afternoon in early January, and the clinic seemed like not only a perfect list activity (#7), but also a fun way to start off the new year. And for the first 30 minutes, my assumption was on par. It was awesome.

Brooklyn + golf = this

We began at the Brooklyn Greens bar, where mixologists who seamlessly towed the line between athletic chic and Brooklyn cool served us drinks. Nick, our instructor (and the owner of Brooklyn Greens), had the group stand in a circle and introduce ourselves. “What is your golf experience, and what other hobbies do you have?” He asked. A mischievous and joyful grin spread across his face as he added, “You know, I can relate almost anything to golf.” 

He was right! I watched Nick connect with a former pageant queen who hadn’t touched a club a day in her life, a corporate Texas transplant who goes out on the green “a few times a year,” and my friend Jacob, who I’d dragged along for the day. 

Soon, it was my turn to speak. I took a swig of my drink and smiled smugly. “Well, I’m a writer.” I needed them to know I was cultured and kind-of elite. “And as far as golf goes…” 

As humbly as possible, I explained to my new pals at Brooklyn Greens that I was actually already a pro.


Two weeks before the clinic at Brooklyn Greens, I spent Christmas Eve morning at Oasis, an indoor golf center in Plymouth, Michigan. My Dad (a Good Golfer) and my Uncle Chris (a Very Good Golfer) gave me a crash course in the sport. We laughed, we played, we learned, we drank shitty coffee. By the end of our two hour excursion, I was under the impression that, with a few more quick practice sessions, I’d be ready to hit the links ~in style~ in a matter of weeks. 

At Oasis with the boys

 “Woah!” “Nice!” “Cool!” That’s what it sounded like when I was playing with my Dad and Uncle Chris.

Those were the appropriate reactions of two fans watching someone who is undeniably amazing at golf. I was hitting the ball consistently. It was making a satisfying thwack sound. It was flying into the air and sometimes landing as far as 70 meters away. To be honest, I think everyone at the Oasis Golf Center was pretty mesmerized by my raw, untapped talent. I can safely assume that by the end of that first lesson, my Dad, Uncle Chris, and I were all wondering the same thing: should Emily reach out to the LPGA and see if they’re looking for new members?

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“Uh… why don’t you take a break and practice putting instead?” You can now understand my sheer horror and utter confusion when, two weeks after my swinging golf debut, I found myself absolutely destroying the golf clinic, and not in a good way. My classmates were probably just as befuddled as I. Didn't this girl say she knew how to golf? What happened? 

Swing! Flub. Swing! Duff. Swing! Miss. Miss. Miss. Miss. 

“Miss! Time’s up. You need to give someone else a turn.” 

By the end of the clinic, I hit a total of one ball. The rest of the group fared far better, even created a group chat to continue lessons and perhaps join a league. (One thing I’m learning as I go through this list project is that people are always trying to make group chats. Salsa, improv, golf, running… I’m currently in more group chats with strangers than a keyboard-happy middle schooler gone rogue on AIM.) 

But I knew I probably wouldn’t be responding to this one. I was feeling a little too vulnerable to engage in more group golf anytime soon. 

As I walked home from Brooklyn Greens, I reflected upon my time on the turf of shame, on the burning pressure that built as I practiced swinging a club which refused to make contact with a little white ball. I really, truly, didn’t understand what happened. I couldn’t fathom how I could do so well with my Dad and Uncle, and then completely choke a mere two weeks later. I had taken a lesson! I had put in the work! Even Nick agreed, my form was technically perfect: good stance, good squat, good grip. It was the actual swing that was the problem. I was putting too much into the action… I was working too hard. And as badly as I wanted to listen to Nick and “let go,” to just allow the club to fall where it may, I couldn’t. 

The thing is, I didn’t - and I don’t – know how to give up.


“You’re really good at trying.” Several years ago, I was sitting with a friend on the beach, watching a pastel-perfect Malibu sunset, when he blurted that out. “I admire how you’re always putting yourself out there and don’t seem to care that you fail. You just keep fighting.” 

At the time, living in Try-Try-Town, I saw this as a compliment. The ability to pick yourself up after a setback, plaster on a professionally-whitened smile, and push through is essentially a prerequisite to surviving Los Angeles. I was a resident in the city of delusion and defeat; of course I was skilled at striving for success. 

But even before LA, I had heard this sentiment. I remember it as early as middle school when I was at Stagedoor Manor, the famous theater camp in the Catskills. I was preparing for the high-stakes, mid-session audition for the role of “Ren’s Mother” in Footloose the Musical. The original actress playing the coveted part of Eleanor Dunbar had to go home due to family circumstances, so the role – which came with a solo and several speaking lines – was up for grabs. I must have rehearsed my audition in front of every camper, cast-mate, and tree within a five-mile radius of Stagedoor. I knew the lines like the back of my hand. I knew every beat of the solo. I knew the unscripted back-story of Eleanor’s broken marriage and how her character really felt about moving to a town where dance was illegal so well I could write a novel about it. I knew I had done everything I could to prepare for the part. 

It wasn’t enough. The role went to some other girl, and I spent the rest of camp winding up my baton and contemplating pulling a Tonya Harding

After receiving the news I would be stuck in chorus and “could I please finally learn the choreo to the final number” (actual footage linked here), I remember being consoled by a friend. “You’re the hardest worker I’ve ever met,” she told me. “You’re so good at persevering. Don’t give up, just wait.”

I know what you’re thinking. What does this have to do with golf? I’m getting there. Chill. 

The point is, I’ve always been “really good at trying.” It’s part of my personality, a detail I’m proud to have tacked on my bio. It’s what drives me: the belief that hard work can, and will, pay off. You could say my approach is like a less-researched, more chaotic version of Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours. Basically I believe that if you throw enough spaghetti against a wall (but really throw; wind your arm up and put some grease into it, dang it!), eventually something substantial will stick.  

If the wall of my life was real and not a metaphor, one would see a damp, pasta-water-splattered tableau with an obscene amount of broken noodles dangling off the drywall. A lot of near-misses, close-calls, and good steps, but still waiting for that big, juicy, long spaghetti to take hold. 

I’ve always considered my dirty spaghetti wall to be something of a badge of honor. Look how hard I am working! Look how much I am trying! But lately I don’t know… I’ve started wondering if maybe there’s some merit to not? 

There is an old Italian term called “sprezzatura.” Coined in 1528 by Renaissance writer Baldassarre Castiglione in his novel The Book of the Courtier, the phrase essentially means “studied carelessness.” It’s the art of looking uncomplicated, a graceful performance carried out without apparent effort. In modern parlance I believe this might just be called “rizz.” It's a carefree charm; an ease to existence. 

Never in my life have I felt a feeling like that. Never in my life have I considered what it might mean to not try so hard, to take some weight off and simply… be. 

I decided to find out. 


Two weeks after the golf clinic at Brooklyn Greens, I took myself to the Chelsea Piers Golf Club at 7:00am on a Wednesday. With the city not yet woken up, it was a serene scene. The sun hid behind clouds hanging over the Hudson, and birds feebly chirped morning songs from their million-dollar perches. Faint honks from trucks barreling down the West Side Highway played in the distance while the gentle ping of balls echoed through the air as golfers practiced their swings. 

Chelsea Piers at sunrise

A massive departure from all other list activities, I didn’t go to Chelsea Piers looking to have a new experience, or to push myself out of my comfort zone. I paid no mind to the good-looking golfer to my right, and I didn’t try to listen to the older gentlemen deep in conversation on my left. 

I came to Chelsea Piers Golf Club with one singular goal: to hit some balls. 

I initially interpreted Nick’s “stop trying” as a directive to give up. To stop. And the concept honestly broke my brain for a week or so. It was beyond my scope of understanding that one could still put effort in, still dream big dreams, still accomplish them, without breaking themselves in the process. I’ve always thought that excess effort equals endgame, and the more you put in, the closer you’ll get to your goal.

And while that’s often true, I don’t know anymore if it’s such a hard-and-fast rule. Sometimes the most difficult thing a person can do is to not try. To challenge yourself to take things at face value, to simply ease up and swing the club. To stop, let life happen, and give up a little bit of control.  

Realistically, when Nick said, “stop trying” he was making a last-ditch effort to get me off the green and give someone else a chance. Regardless, in doing so, he gave me permission to exist in the space between hard work and ease. Golf, of all things, showed me the merit and the magic of sprezzatura in action. 

At Chelsea Piers, the sun rose over the Hudson as I hit ball after ball after ball. No one was watching. It didn’t matter, and I didn’t care. I wasn’t there to be seen. I wasn’t there to try and be anything or impress anyone. I was just there for me.


What’s Up Next?!

#8. Take several short vacations at different places rather than one long one at one place. Do you have any short vacation stories you want to share?! Who have you met? What have you seen? If you’ve got an adventure, I want to know about it.

P.S.: if you like audio, subscribe to 129 Ways on Spotify! Then it’ll just arrive on your phone like a magical bi-weekly present!

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129 Ways To Get a Life
129 Ways To Get a Life (The Podcast!)
A series in which a single 20-something exclusively follows the advice of a dating column published in 1958 to explore modern love and life.