Surrender? Are you kidding? How an alien concept can be an act of rebellion

It’s interesting the reaction you get sometimes when you stand in front of a group of people and deliver a talk. Over time, I’ve learned that a person who looks bored is often just concentrating, and someone who appears to be brooding could be thinking about something I said.

But other reactions are unmistakable. About 10 years ago when I first stepped into coaching, I gave a talk at Glen Abbey Golf Club to a room full of elite junior golfers and their parents in Oakville, Ontario.

One of my core messages was that in tournaments, it’s easy to think about how you might be judged if you choke, and that you need to make perfect swings.

I told the kids not to get caught up in worrying and trying so hard—just let it rip; make the best swings you can. Then I flashed a slide that said in big bold letters: SURRENDER.

The temperature in the room seemed to drop to sub-Arctic. I swear an owl hooted mournfully in the distance. The kids looked confused. The cold stares that came back from the parents, in essence said, ‘Are you kidding? Surrender? Not on your life, pal. That’s for wimps. We go for the jugular in Oakville.’

That was an important lesson in considering the audience for your message.

But the chilly reaction was indicative that the whole notion of ‘surrender’ is alien in a culture that stresses achievement, status, and the accumulation of likes. Surrender? That’s soft. Woke. That’s for snowflakes happy to receive participation ribbons.

You wanna win in this world? You take control, you outwork everyone, you go hard!

After posting my newsletter last week in which I shared the message of my improv coach to “surrender,” I thought about how counter-intuitive that message is. I’m sure a few people stopped reading when they came across my cultural blasphemy.

Surrender? Like hell I will. That’s when you give up, turtle, turn the other cheek, fly the white flag, let the Tesla in front of you, allow your teenager the last word. Weak stuff, man.

How this? ‘Give it up control’ is another way to say the same thing, and it has a slightly less offensive ring to some. George Knudson, the late legendary Canadian golfer, often said: “Give up control to gain control.” A chorus of gurus have said the same thing, although most people I meet literally and figuratively have white-knuckle death grips on their golf clubs, steering wheels, and phones; they’re tight and breathing so shallowly it’s a wonder they don’t pass out.

We’re a culture that demands comfort and control. Why? Because we’re scared.

Do you scoff and guffaw at my premise that we’re afraid? If we weren’t afraid, we wouldn’t micro-manage ourselves. We’d accept whatever happens. We wouldn’t worry about our status and image. ‘What will people say?’ ‘What if I shoot a million?’ ‘What if I screw up?’

We want what we want. This is success. Anything else is shit.

Consider that, despite its reputation, as many armies, politicians and card players have proven over the centuries, surrendering can be a smart thing, As Kenny Rogers says, “You gotta know when to hold ‘em, and when to fold ‘em.” (I don’t think Kenny found anything that rhymed with ‘discern.’)

Consider the wisdom of surrendering when your drunk uncle starts railing against—or for—religion or a politician. Or when your dog suddenly unburdens his bowels on the neighbour’s lawn while they watch from the porch. Or you overhear the guy ahead in the Timmy’s drive-through order “toasted” sandwiches from a list.

As Amy Johnson writes: “Surrender literally means to stop fighting. Stop fighting with yourself.”

The fight is usually with your own BS: your beliefs and stories that are bolstered by a constant diet of messages that you’re not good—smart, cool, or rich—enough unless you do what the high priests are preaching as you scroll.

Rather than fight, you can maintain your cool, roll your eyes, and roll on good buddy. In many ways, I believe that surrendering is an act of rebellion. It’s another way of saying, ‘Screw it. I’m doing it my way.’

As a golfer, surrendering could be standing on the first tee and letting the swing thoughts float by like wind-blown clouds and ignoring your buddy’s advice. Rather than make a tentative, calculated swing, you let it rip. ‘If this goes into the woods, it’s going deep into the woods.’

Why not? Why be a micromanaging control-freak to yourself? You don’t control your swing or what the golf ball does anyway. You have to accept whatever happens. What choice do you have?

When you surrender control, you can access your talent, skill and experience. You can create flow. You’ve hit some of your best shots when you swung like you didn’t give a damn. That’s fun.

Surrender, give up control, trust yourself, let it rip … whatever language you want to use, that sounds pretty cool to me.

If you are interested in golf coaching or my Commit to Freedom workshops on improving commitment and accountability in organizations, please send an email to tim@oconnorgolf.ca.

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Tim O'Connor
Tim O'Connor is a golf coach, an award-winning writer, and speaker. Tim takes a holistic approach, coaching golfers in the physical and mental aspects of golf. He co-hosts the Swing Thoughts podcast, and is the author of The Feeling of Greatness: The Moe Norman Story. He plays bass in CID — a Guelph punk band!

2 thoughts on “Surrender? Are you kidding? How an alien concept can be an act of rebellion

  1. Well said Tim. It goes along with expectations. A lot of golfers play their best the first game of the season. Why? No expectations and accepting whatever happens. Cheers Lars

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