What a little white ball taught ee about my authentic self



I’ve been working with this “authenticity” concept for years. I’ve written three books on it and created an experiential Leading From Within program—which is all about authentic leadership. Why, I even sign my emails with, Authentically, Greg.

But guess where I first learned the true meaning of authenticity?

No seriously, guess?

Not even close. Guess again.

Still way off.

It was playing golf. That’s right, playing golf. Well sort of. Allow me to set the context.

You see, I’m what’s commonly referred to as a hacker when it comes to golf. A hacker is someone who never puts the time or effort into improving his/her golf game; hence their game is erratic at best and never improves. In fact, if you look up the word hacker in the dictionary it says, See Greg Giesen. I’m serious.

My problem isn’t that I don’t want to improve; it’s that I have a tendency to over-think when hitting the ball. Seriously, I have enough voices in my head as it is without the added cadre of uninvited golf pros who have to joined the mix. Talk about over-complicating things. I thought this game was supposed to be fun?

It’s also why I keep quitting golf. Actually every nine holes I usually quit a couple of time. But without fail the golf Gods make sure that my best shot of the day always happens on the very last hole? What’s up with that! Then I end up driving home thinking that maybe it’s finally coming together for me…that is until I play again and the erratic cycle repeats itself.  

A few years ago after quitting golf for the 1,567,321st time, I had a revelation. Actually it could have been heart burn but an insight just the same. It went something like this…Perhaps the reason I’m terrible at golf is because I’ve been focusing on the wrong stuff. Maybe I need different stuff. Maybe I need to go to golf school in Phoenix for a week, pay a lot of money, and start all over with new stuff to help my golf game. Yeah, that’s the ticket!

It was as if the circus of golf experts in my head were calling out for reinforcements. What I needed was a golf makeover!

Are you buying this so far? I did.

So I go to Phoenix and amerce myself into every little nuance around the game of golf. I developed a new swing. I purchased new clubs. I even had the fancy glove and matching golf shirt. Best of all, I had a stack of “how-to” lessons on a set of cards that I could carry with me, wherever I go. I was a mean, lean, golf machine.

And yet my game got worse.

By the end of the week my ball was hitting more houses and landing in more pools than a wicked hail storm. I caused so much damage that I’m pretty sure there was a warrant out for my arrest.

“I quit!”

“You can’t quit!” shouted my uncle Roger as we drove back to the Phoenix airport. “You just spend a lot of money on these lessons. You need to give it time.”

“I quit. I don’t want to ever see a golf ball as long as I live. I’m done. And I mean it this time,” I cried.

He could only shake his head, having heard this from me on more than one occasion.

The Phoenix Airport

Our delayed flight back to Denver gave me an unexpected couple of hours to roam around the airport and check out the various stores and shops. As I stumbled across one of the many bookstores, I couldn’t help noticing a crowd had gathered around a particular book display. I hope it’s a trashy novel or something that would help get my mind off of golf, I thought as I approached the display. This might be just what I need!

And then my mouth dropped as the title came into view. No way! I exclaimed. Are you kidding me!

Sure enough, the one subject I no longer wanted to read about…the one symbol I never wanted to see again…was right there starring me in the face. On the cover was a big fat golf ball flying over a fairway!

I wanted to throw up. Not another book on golf! No way. I quit, remember!

As I quickly turned to head back to my gate, I couldn’t help noticing four key words from the book’s cover that caught my attention: The Game of Life.

I quickly looked around to make sure uncle Roger was no where in sight before grabbing the book, immediately noticing how comfortable it felt in my hands.

Don’t worry, I consoled myself, it’s not going to make me want to play golf again.

I fanned through the pages before randomly picking a page to read.

Call it a coincidence or call it a spiritual awakening, but what I read on page 68 ended up changing my life, not to mention my golf game.

For those of you not familiar with the story, Bagger Vance is a caddy who mysteriously comes into the life of a struggling golfer and ends up helping him not only turn his game around but his life as well. Here’s the excerpt that I read that day in the Phoenix airport, with Bagger Vance speaking to the golfer…

“I believe that each of us possesses, inside ourselves, one true Authentic Swing that is ours alone. It is folly to try to teach us another, or mold us to some ideal version of the perfect swing. Each player possesses only that one swing that he was born with, that swing which existed within him before he ever picked up a club. Our task as golfers is simply to chip away all that is inauthentic, allowing our Authentic Swing to emerge in its purity.”

It was as if the golf ball on the cover actually hit me in the head. I was dazed by the powerful message from this passage and its many implications.

That’s it! I screamed, with goose bumps covering my body. I’ve been going at it all wrong! Instead of changing my swing, I need to rediscover it. I need to go all the way back before my first golf lesson and embrace my natural swing…that swing I started with instead of all the many versions that have been imprinted on me over the years.

It was suddenly becoming very clear; I had been looking for answers in all the wrong places. I was defining myself and my swing by external measures instead of trusting my own internal instincts and desires.  And what’s worse, I had lost myself in the process.

I smiled. And to think, all of this from a few sentences in a book!

But it’s true. I had somehow lost my authentic swing and even my authentic self by allowing others to define who I am and who I needed to be. You might say I was experiencing an identity crisis on multiple levels.

In the end I came to realize that I could free myself of the past by releasing all the opinions, advice and judgments of others, including my own. I could reinvent myself (and my golf game for that matter) by simply letting go. My authentic self and my authentic swing were always there.

Upon my return home, I tossed the “how-to” cards and stopped keeping score whenever I played golf. It worked. I started having fun again. That childlike exhilaration that drew me to golf in the first place reappeared. The over-thinking and multiple voices in my head subsided on the golf course and I began noticing the little things…like the squishiness of the grass under my shoes as I walked down the fairway…the ping of a club hitting the ball perfectly off the tee…or more importantly, the battery engine of the beer cart driving up in just the nick of time. You get the idea.

I felt much lighter too, like a huge burden had been lifted.

And my golf game?

Well, I’m still a hacker. But it doesn’t matter anymore…I’m having fun again, both on and off the golf course.