Musings from the Ledge: Why in this business, perception really matters

By |  February 28, 2023 0 Comments

It was one of those days during the dog days of summer. I was early in my career as a superintendent with the energy that comes along with youthful ignorance, not yet beaten down by the wisdom that comes with age. The result was that I felt and looked busier than I needed to be, and my priorities were my priorities.

That was until a board member stopped me and asked me to take care of some mundane (to me) item. Obviously, it was so important that I have no recollection of what it was. Although I do remember one important part, which ended up being a fundamental learning moment.

Photo: Alan Fitzgerald

Photo: Alan Fitzgerald

I told him — with the attitude that accompanies inexperience — that I knew about it. After accepting that it needed to be done, I proceeded to give all of the reasons why it couldn’t be done right now and how, in the whole scheme of what needed to be done, it was not that important.

After acknowledging that he, too, knew it was not that important, he told me the issue was, to members, it looked like it was not being addressed. Therefore, ‘that kid’ running around wasn’t taking care of it. Which, by default, meant he was not very good at his job.

He finished with a comment, “perception is reality.”


While, in the moment, it didn’t quite make sense, I reluctantly accepted that I had no other choice and immediately took care of the issue. That comment kept eating at me, however.

How can something you know to be true not be the reality to someone else? When I eventually realized that it should be “your perception is your reality,” things clicked.

It was a eureka moment for me in my career. The reason my immature brain couldn’t comprehend the statement was that while your reality is reality, it is just that, your own. Just because you have decided it is, does not mean that someone else sees it the same way.

Having been taught a new lesson in the school of hard knocks, the light went off, and I started taming that youthful ignorance. I was not just prioritizing what I thought was important but also looking at how others would perceive it.

Take the pressure off

We make decisions every day based on staffing, budget, the weather and numerous other things out of our control. But inevitably, there will still be the “What are they doing to the course now?” “Why is that idiot doing that?” comments.

Communication is clearly a big help in ensuring the correct reality (my own) is observed, but it still does not prevent people from making up their minds on something.

As superintendents, we think we are in the grass-growing business, but at the end of the day, we are in the service industry. No matter how good we think the turf is or how perfect everything looks to us, someone will see it differently.

There is an old adage that 10 percent of people are always happy, 10 percent are always miserable and 80 percent are indifferent. Who are the ones we should cater to? The key is to avoid falling into the trap of listening to that unhappy 10 percent.

By acknowledging the differences in how you and others perceive your surroundings, you can make small adjustments. Those changes show the naysayers that you are trying to address those otherwise ignored lower-priority items, all while still keeping the majority happy.

Who knows, maybe in the process of doing so, you will take some of the pressure off yourself and make yourself a little less crazy, or at least the perception that you are.

This article is tagged with , and posted in Columns, From the Magazine

About the Author: Alan FitzGerald

Alan FitzGerald is superintendent at Rehoboth Beach (Del.) CC.

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