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Out There: Go Ahead, Take a Mulligan

Susan Lacke wants a do-over on the goals she set.

When I was a kid, my brother and I were sent to golf camp every summer as part of my father’s hopes that one of us would become the next Jack Nicklaus – or, at the very least, we’d transform into people who didn’t whine when dragged out for 18 holes of “quality family time” in the summer heat. My brother excelled at the sport. I, on the other hand, whiffed a lot of air.

“Let’s try that again,” the instructor would always sigh. “This time, really focus on the ball, Susan.”

No matter how much I would focus, the ball would stay on the ground. My club sometimes flew out of my hands and down the fairway, however.

“Does that count?” I’d smile sheepishly as I pointed at the 9-iron in the distance.

I never mastered the drive or the putt, but fully conquered the mulligan – golf’s term for a second chance to perform an action, usually because one blundered the first opportunity in spectacular fashion. As a young child, the concept was mind-blowing: If I messed up a picture, I could crumple up the paper and start over. When I didn’t like the roll of the dice in a board game, I’d wince and whisper, do-over? (much to the chagrin of my very patient parents). If I didn’t get an A on a test, I’d beg my teacher to let me study harder and take it again. I was never afraid to try a second (or third, or fourth) time.

Somewhere on the road to adulthood, I forgot I still have permission to do that.

After last winter’s ankle reconstruction surgery, I set a goal of being ready for a race by September. In my head, I assumed I’d be able to run at or near my pre-surgery pace. I assumed that by commencing my old training routine, the speed would come back, lickety-split. I assumed I’d be stronger this time around with what I called my new “bionic ankle.” I assumed the break would refresh my mind and amp my motivation.

As it turns out, all of those assumptions were wrong. In fact, I’m finding that the faster I try to get back to my previous form, the longer it takes. Everything feels different. The workouts feel tougher. I feel slower. No, scratch that – I am slower. And to top it all off, I’m a real jerk to myself for failing to meet my own ridiculous expectations. Last week, I returned home from every run feeling defeated: Would I ever feel like a strong, confident runner again?

Instead of adjusting my strategy, I kept plugging away, ticking off one lackluster box after another in my training plan, because it’s the only way I knew how.

Instead of rolling the dice for a different outcome, I continued playing a game I didn’t particularly enjoy.

Instead of crumpling up the paper, I insisted starting over was synonymous with wasted time.

How often do we all do this? We stay in jobs we don’t particularly like. We accept dinner invitations with people whose company we don’t really enjoy. We wear those shoes that are just a little too tight. We train for a marathon while secretly wishing we had stuck to 5Ks.

“It’s fine,” we tell ourselves. “It will get better eventually. I’ve invested so much time/energy/money/fill-in-the-blank that starting over would be such a waste.”

But what if you could take a mulligan? What would you do differently? More importantly, why aren’t you doing just that?

Second chances can be an amazing thing. Sure, maybe you messed up the first go-round, but starting over isn’t a waste of time – far from it. When we learn first-hand what doesn’t work, we can use that lesson to pursue what does. Isn’t it worth doubling back if it leads to the road to happiness?

I’m not the runner I used to be, so why do I insist on I training like her? It’s time for me to declare a do-over.

No one has to give you permission to start again. If you don’t like what you’re doing, why wait?

Take a mulligan.



About The Author:

Susan Lacke does 5Ks, Ironman Triathlons and everything in between to justify her love for cupcakes (yes, she eats that many). Susan lives and trains in Salt Lake City, Utah with three animals: A labrador, a cattle dog, and a freakishly tall triathlete husband. She claims to be of sound mind, though this has yet to be substantiated by a medical expert. Follow her on Twitter: @SusanLacke