Cold November Rain

Features - Work-life balance

Jason Hollen reflects on why he continues to rise early and stay late to protect turfgrass from an uncontrollable force.

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December 3, 2018
Jason Hollen
Supakrit | adobe stock
Hollen

As I sit down to put pen to paper, it is raining again. And by again, I mean it really feels like it has been constant since August. After a weather season like this, it’s good to finally sit down and reflect.

The first and only question I ask is: “Why do I continue to do this?” Why constantly battle with an immovable force (Mother Nature) that always wins? On top of that, why fight thousands of people critiquing your decisions, your intelligence and even your work ethic? I venture to say this is how professional athletes, actors and politicians feel. What’s the answer?

I could say the standard lines of:

  • I like the outside (yet there are other “outside” careers);
  • I like the people (yet there are other careers with great people);
  • I need to support my family and/or myself (don’t we all?);
  • I love the game of golf (well duh!).

What is the answer?

This season has been an eye-opener for me, and I have social media and this family of turf professionals to thank for that. It is easy to keep your head down and plow along, but looking outside my own course helped me realize others were experiencing similar situations. Maybe it wasn’t too much rain or heat like me, but it could’ve been cold and not enough moisture or any combination of awfulness. Regardless of the climate situation, the toll is the same on all of us and our sanity.

I love seeing all the beautiful pictures and quotes on Twitter and Instagram. It’s great. I also post. But candid posts and videos about lost turf, high expectations versus the weather, and the need to balance our lives really impacted me. This last one hammered home hardest with me.

Over the years, I have come to realize I have been feeding my inner perfectionist trait at the cost of lost time with those most important to me. The work-life balance was tipping too far to the work side. It is tough to explain to your wife “why you hate summer” now. And I certainly could not explain it to my little daughter, who happens to be part mermaid. The truth is I don’t hate summer. I love it. I just don’t like how it treats my fickle bentgrass in the Transition Zone.

In years past, I would internalize the negative results of tough weather conditions, shrinking budgets and harsh guest surveys. I wasn’t the friendliest person at times during the summer. And over what? Conditions I could not control. Sound familiar?

I previously viewed Twitter as a bunch of noise. The world’s longest backyard gossip fence, as I read somewhere once. But now it is a source of humor and provides a great way to connect with others fighting the same issues. I was able to see and read others’ stories and take a step back from my own daily world. I started to see others going through similar triumphs and struggles. I did not feel so alone.

I am glad that we, as a profession, are starting to address mental health and work-life balance. It’s good to discuss it openly. We’ve always shared everything about turf. The same can increasingly be said about mental wellness. We have stressful careers. Taking care of a living, breathing, dynamic entity that we cede ultimate control to the weather is tough. But no matter how strong you are individually, a supportive community backing you sure feels good. And that goes for everyone whether they are friends at the top of your speed dial, someone you meet at a conference or colleague on the other side of the country you follow on social media.

Why do I continue to do this?

The simple one-word answer is “it.” What is “it?” Honestly, I don’t know. Some will call it passion and I’ve been known to call it that, too. I’m passionate about the West Virginia Mountaineers, but I don’t get up every morning at 4 a.m. for them. There’s a powerful energy deep in my core that drives me through the wake-up alarms, frustrating call-offs, impatient golfers and odds-stacked-against-you weather conditions. I’ll bet you have “it” too and sometimes you feel isolated. But, fortunately, because of this family we have created, none of us need ever be alone.

Jason Hollen is the golf course and grounds superintendent at Stonewall Resort in Roanoke, W.Va.