Competitive golfers are some of the most driven, visionary people alive. We know exactly what we want, and we’re willing to put the work in to get there. We frequently turn down opportunities to hang out with friends and have fun because we would rather be working on our putting or going to the gym. It is a very lonely sport that takes up a large portion of our lives. It is also just a small part of who we are.

I thought for a long time that golf was my identity. I am, after all, a golfer. I think about the game all day every day. I skipped senior prom and high school graduation to play a tournament. By all accounts, I AM a golfer. 

I sat down with a new mental coach early in the spring of my senior year of college, and after exchanging pleasantries and getting to know each other a bit, he began to ask me some hard hitting questions. The one that really hit home to me was, “Who are you if you don’t have golf?” I sat there almost in a state of shock as I racked my brain for a better answer than “I don’t know.” I left that first meeting with him still not knowing, feeling a bit like a failure for not living a more well-rounded life.

I happened to text the person who had introduced me to this mental coach that night. She is often the person I go to when I need someone to snap me out of whatever mood I am in. When I told her that I was upset because I didn’t know who I was without golf, her response was exactly what I needed. She told me exactly what I titled this piece, “Golf is what you do, not who you are.” I told her that I didn’t understand. Yes golf is my trade, but it’s all I’ve ever done, how could it not be my identity? 

Then she gave me homework that forever changed the way I think about myself. She told me to sit down and make a list. On this list, she wanted me to think about the attributes and relationships that make me, me. She even gave me my first one. “You’re an amazing friend.” It was that simple. 

I spent weeks thinking about this list as I went about my daily life. I wanted to come up with as many items as I could beyond golf that identified me. When I was finished and I couldn’t think of anything else, I had compiled a list of about 25 things that define me, including golf. 

Some of these things take a larger portion of my life than others, and some require no real time commitment at all. Things like being a son and a brother are relationships with the people I love that will always be a part of me, no matter where life takes me. I am also the traits that characterize me, like empathetic, confident, and determined.

The way I think about this list, even though golf takes up at least a third of my physical time, it is only one of 25 different defining traits of my identity. It is only 4% of who I am. Since I have come to understand this, I have been able to free myself up and actually play better golf. When you think golf is your whole identity, you live and die by every shot. But when you understand that golf is only 4% of who you are, it becomes infinitely easier to accept a bad shot for what it is; one moment in time that has no consequence on the previous or the next, because at the end of the day you have so many other parts to who you are than just the game. 

I would recommend anyone start making a list like mine, especially if you feel like you would be lost without golf. As you build your own list you will find that there is more to who you are than even you realized. You will start to build more meaningful relationships with the people around you, and even feel like you are getting to know yourself better. The key is to be totally honest with yourself. If you come up with something to add to your list and have to think twice about it, then it’s not who you really are. When you think of something that defines you, you will know. And you will be surprised, a little perspective can go a surprisingly long way in revolutionizing the way you think and the way you play.