The 2017 Senior Perspectives is the 12th in a series of annual collections. Senior captains and representatives of teams at Harvard have been invited to contribute viewpoints based on personal experience from both their senior seasons and full varsity careers at Harvard.
Kendrick Vinar, Men's Golf
Hometown: Chapel Hill, N.C.
House Affiliation: Currier
My first several weeks of freshman year were a big adjustment. Aside from the usual social and academic acclimation, I was wading through pre-season Harvard golf meetings. During these meetings, the coaches introduced me to unfamiliar phrases like “controllable factors,” “process focus,” and “positive self-talk.” I was not impressed. I came to Harvard to play golf, perform, and win. I did not have time for this. Time passed, freshman arrogance and stubbornness subsided, and my perspective shifted. Over the next years, I would embrace these principles I once dismissed. I applied these principles not only to my athletic pursuits, but to my life off the course as well. If you told me as a freshman I would write my senior perspective on “the process” I would have laughed in your face. I guess there’s hope for us all. In the space that follows, I will detail briefly the impact of these changes in perspective.
The phrases “controllable factors” and “process focus” go hand in hand. In a golf context, focusing on your “controllable factors” means exactly what it sounds like: focus on what you can control. It sounds simple, but there’s a catch. I can actually control much less than I think I can. I wanted to believe I could control my outcome (hit the fairway, sink the putt, etc.), but I can’t. Sometimes I hit a shot perfectly only to be denied the desired outcome by imperfections of the putting surface or an ill-timed gust of wind. Outcome aside, I maintained I could control my execution. However, this is also out of my control. I often attempt a certain shot and fail to execute it as I would have liked. What is left to control? In golf, all I can control is to try to perform the swing best suited for the shot at hand. Everything else I can’t control. At first, I was underwhelmed to discover this phrase boils down to a slightly-nuanced adult version of “just try your best.” Yet over time, I’ve found great peace in its simplicity.
Realizing I can control much less than I think I can changed the metric by which I evaluate myself. The consequence was profoundly liberating. Previously, I evaluated my efforts on the course in simple terms. Did the ball go where I wanted? Did I score what I hoped to? For those who don’t play, golf is a delightfully cruel and difficult game. Usually the answer to these questions was and will continue to be no. I realized getting frustrated over performance I can’t control isn’t fair to myself. Over time, I evaluated my rounds less by what I scored and more by how I demonstrated patience, focus, and joy during my round.
The benefits of this perspective were manifold. For starters, golf became very simple—not easy, but simple. My coaches only asked me to give full effort on each shot. I can’t always shoot a low score, but I can do that. As my standard of self-evaluation changed, I found I was kinder towards myself. I shed unhealthy expectations and a result-oriented mindset. I was angry on the course less often. Golf was more fun and less serious. I more readily cherished my coaches, teammates, and the tremendous privilege of representing Harvard. My golf got better, too. I extended this thinking beyond the golf course to great success as well. Many of the challenges I encounter at Harvard push me to question what is and what is not in my control. Identifying what I can control keeps me focused and at peace in the midst of a lot of distractions and demands on my time.
I wish this change in perspective came as easily and quickly as this piece makes it sound. Truthfully, it was hard and slow. As a graduating senior, I’m still a work in progress. My change in perspective wasn’t all golf related though. In addition to the principles instilled through the golf program, I’ve developed a deeper understanding of my identity through my Christian faith. My value isn’t contingent on how I perform on the course or in the classroom because I’m loved unconditionally. I experienced a lot of freedom in my golf game by realizing I can’t control very much, but it doesn’t compare to the freedom I experience in Jesus who controls it all. That’s joy-filling, perspective-inducing freedom without compare.
As I began my senior year, I determined to savor it all. Extra sprints in Palmer-Dixon, a routine six-foot putt in practice, the cold qualifying rounds, a heated debate in the van, Chipotle with the team after practice, our spring break training trip—it’s all special. As it comes to an end, one word comes to mind: gratitude.