Laid Off and Upright

Combating the harsh realities of unemployment with an undefeated cure-all
Listen to an extended conversation between author Jay Revell and Asst. Editor Casey Bannon

I can’t wait for the first cup of coffee every morning. My optimism is reborn in those first sips and I thrive off that energy. But the day after I lost my job, my usual enthusiasm was blunted. The coffee didn’t quite taste the same, and I couldn’t shake the fog that settled over me when my boss broke the news the day before. My position had fallen victim to COVID-19-related budget cuts. Something we’d watched from what we hoped was a safe distance suddenly hit home.

With no place to report to that morning, my usual compass was now broken. As I paced around my house trying to unpack what led to my dismissal and what it meant for my family’s future, I felt the pull of the only place that’s ever really made sense to me: the golf course.

As I departed for the first tee instead of my office, freedom and fear bubbled up inside.

I was the first customer in the lot when I pulled into Capital City Country Club in Tallahassee, Florida. Our assistant pro, Jesse, was putting carts in place for the morning crowd and shot me a curious look. Couldn’t blame him—probably the first time he’d seen me in my weekend shorts at 8 a.m. on a Thursday.

I told him that I had struck out on my own (one of many variations I’ve since used to describe my new situation) and that I would be playing a lot more in the coming weeks. With a comforting smile he said, “We will be glad to see more of you.” It was a small victory, but nice nonetheless.

My normal exuberance for golf was muted, and I soberly dragged my clubs out of the car after checking in. But, my usual four-legged playing partner, Leon, didn’t know the difference and was about to come through the windshield with excitement. As soon as I cracked the door, Leon sprung from the car and ran down the hill to the first tee box. I began with more of a sulk than a sprint, but my mood improved with every step. After a deep breath, I teed up my ball and smashed my first drive. Things were already starting to look up.

For me, there is nowhere more familiar or reliable than the golf course. I grew up on a small nine-hole course in a small town, and fairways have always felt like home. Between the break of dawn and the dark of night, the course was my refuge while growing up. A few decades later, on the verge of an early mid-life crisis, the golf course was once again a safe harbor.

If there was ever going to be a sign from God that everything would be OK, the golf course was where I might find it. Sometimes I’ve felt closer to redemption walking a golf hole than sitting in a church pew; something happens on the course that I cannot replicate anywhere else. Perhaps I’ve read Golf in the Kingdom one too many times, but the game calms my soul.

While playing golf, the fears I carry through real life are often jettisoned. It’s easier for me to relax when double bogey is the worst thing that can happen for a few hours. That morning, even as the aftershocks of being let go reverberated, it happened again. Peace of mind came quickly.

A few holes in, I saw my neighbor Mel out walking his dogs, Lizzy and Bitsy. Their high-pitched barks signaled his arrival before I saw him crest the hill in front of me. As I waited for them to pass, Mel yelled from the hilltop 100 yards away: “Out for a morning round I see!” I smiled back at him and replied, “Some days you really need a few swings!” He nodded with knowing approval.

Later in the round, I saw the maintenance crew departing the barn. I admired the procession as the mowers came filing out one by one. My first job was cutting grass at my local course, and to this day I am convinced it was the one I enjoyed most. Despite the successes of my career and a growing family at home, I’m still that same kid on a mower trying to figure it all out.

It is easy to get caught up in all the things that can go wrong in life, but I’ve always tried to do the opposite. Every day, I made that cup of coffee and a choice to be an optimist—an attitude that has also shaped my golfing sensibilities.

It’s a fun and easy joke to say golfers are masochists, but I believe it’s exactly the opposite. The cynical and quick-to-quit crowd is not suited for the constant rejection that comes with the game. Even the most grumbly, club-throwing lifers have a deep-seated hope that the next shot will bring them joy.

And I certainly grumbled that morning. But as the round progressed, I came to view my job loss not as an end, but merely as a new chapter in my career.

At some point, everyone who plays this game is made vulnerable by it. Golf lays the soul bare. There is so much that can—and will—go wrong in a round that over time it reshapes the golfer’s mind. We view problems as challenges. Resilience becomes a state of being.

Personally, I slip into a deep concentration and refuse to allow my mishaps to define what happens next. It starts by bearing down and hitting just one good shot. Then another. Shot to shot, hole to hole. Forward.