When I was a kid, my first job was as a caddy at Green Gables Country Club. It wasn’t a great job — really early mornings, all day in the hot sun, good chance you’d show up for work and not …
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When I was a kid, my first job was as a caddy at Green Gables Country Club. It wasn’t a great job — really early mornings, all day in the hot sun, good chance you’d show up for work and not make any money. But, it was the only job I could do as a 12-year old, and it gave me access to free golf. So … win for me.
One year, Green Gables hosted an event of the senior PGA tour, so I got to hang out and watch some of the professionals practice. And, wow. There was one player — I don’t remember who — who would go to the chipping green and set a small bucket on the green. Then, he would move out to 25 yards and send a few dozen balls towards the bucket. Many of them would hit the bucket. Then, he moved out to 35 yards and did the same thing — fewer, but still several of them would hit the bucket. Then, he’d repeat the process at 50 yards.
For comparison, from 25 yards, I would expect to hit the bucket twice. Maybe. Heck, from 10 yards, throwing the ball, I think I’d be happy to hit it 33% of the time.
That is the image I have in my head to explain “margin of error.” For a pro, from 100 yards out, their expectation — their acceptable margin of error — is to put the ball within 10 feet of the hole every time. My buddy Matt, who’s a good player and plays quite a bit, from 100 yards, expects to be putting every time, with maybe half of those inside 10 feet; I’m usually relatively happy if I can just find my ball.
The point is, the better you are at something, the more reliable your skills, the smaller the margin of error you allow yourself.
You’re going to hear a lot about margin of error for the next eight months, mostly in the context of political polls. Who’s ahead in Michigan, who’s behind in Arizona, which issues are likely to win on the ballot. And all of those polls are going to have margins of error attached to them. Without diving into the deep statistical minutiae, all you have to know is that the smaller the margin of error, the more reliable the result.
But margins of error apply to almost every other walk of life, as well. A naturally intelligent student can drift off a little bit during studying or be a little distracted during a test, and still perform well; a student with fewer gifts needs to be more consistently attentive and focused, because they have a smaller margin for error. An athlete who is exceptionally fast or has great reactions can find themselves a little bit out of position and still make the play; an athlete without those natural abilities has to always put themselves in the right place, because they have a smaller margin for error.
A household with a solid savings account and good credit history can withstand an interruption in their employment or income stream; a household deep in debt, living paycheck to paycheck, not so much. A country with sound economic fundamentals, living within its means, with a broad-based economy and its own solid supply chain can deal with systemic disruptions (ahem, pandemics, cough cough); countries overly dependent on foreign supply chains and operating in deep, deep, deep, deep debt….
Well, I suppose we’ll see.
There’s two real points: first, understand your fundamental strengths, and choose your risks accordingly. Knowing my wedge game, I never shoot at the pin when it’s just over the water, though better golfers don’t think twice about the same shot. And second, if your fundamentals leave you vulnerable to disruptions that are beyond your control, then you’d better do something to shore up your fundamentals.
And, yeah, the whole golf metaphor? Isn’t it nice to finally see the sun?
Michael Alcorn is a teacher and writer who lives in Arvada with his wife and three children. His new novel, “Charon’s Blade,” is available at Amazon.com, on Kindle, or through MichaelJAlcorn.com.” His opinions are not necessarily those of Colorado Community Media.
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