#6: Make Yourself Useful (No Bare Feet and Other Lessons From the Caddie Yard)

Jun 30, 2023 by Mike Magluilo
Lesson #6: Make Yourself Useful

Caddying taught me I’m not the center of the universe. 

No disrespect to Copernicus, but for the first decade of my life, the world pretty much revolved around me. My parents provided food, clothing and shelter, taught me manners, and rewarded me for good behavior. Adults told me where I needed to be and made sure I got there more or less on time. I lived the life of a clever dog. 

Then along came caddying the summer I turned thirteen. What other job puts a teenager in a one-to-one service relationship with an adult for five hours a pop? I can’t remember spending five continuous hours with my parents, let alone a grown-up. I learned how to work for my dog food carrying golf bags over rolling terrain in the humidity of a Midwestern summer while being expected to engage in conversations well above my grade level. 

Caddying taught me to be of service.

There’s nowhere to hide on a golf course when you’re holding a bag of clubs. I made mistakes while caddying. I may have set course records for mistakes. Most were the result of failing to pay attention to the needs of others—that center of the universe thing. I lost golf balls, forgot clubs, sneezed during backswings, stepped in the lines of putts, mis-calculated yardages, mumbled my words—the list goes on. 

Caddying taught me humility—I had more to learn. I could be better. 

Being of service, with the humility to learn and improve, taught me other lessons as a young person. 

I learned someone else’s priorities were more important than my own. I learned it’s important to keep up, to not be the person holding the team back. I learned work is more satisfying and pays better if you deliver more than expected. I learned some people are jerks, while others are simply having bad days. 

Caddying taught me how to multi-task, anticipate next steps, pay attention to the details, and give someone a reason to choose me over a cart.   

Caddying taught me something more powerful than being of service. I learned how to make myself useful. 

After graduating from the caddie yard, I discovered the “real world” often incentivizes the opposite of useful service with humility. Bumper sticker colleges reward the entitled and indulged. Multi-tasking is out, “deep work” and four-day weeks are in, and deadlines are apparently still being met. The economics of scale and growth have relegated personalized service to the storage closet with the typewriters. Bravado, not humility, sells in the boardroom. Good PR makes up for bad behavior among our political and business leaders way too often. 

I learned not all adults would have made good caddies. Some show up late and don’t apologize, treat the staff like shit, offer to help from the couch, wait long enough before doing the obvious that someone else comes along and does it for them. Others have mastered the art of consuming the last sheet in the printer, the last cup of coffee, the last beer in the pitcher.

I learned not to blame the takers—not everyone had the opportunity to work a service job as a kid. 

Caddying taught me we all have people we need to serve—at work, at home, in our community, or for our country—some of us just don’t know it yet. 

Serving others takes my mind off my own problems and often reveals how good I’ve got it. Satisfaction is not a zero sum sensation. When two people help each other with generosity, empathy and gratitude, both come away feeling better about themselves. 

And over time, the entitled and indulged run out of things to consume. 

Being of service alone may no longer get you a hot dog and chips after nine holes, and the comfort of living like the world’s client tempts us all. But make yourself useful by helping others do their thing better with ownership, attention to detail, the humility of continuous improvement, and the personalization unavailable to a machine—and you’ll be the one others choose to walk alongside for hours over any terrain.