I don’t play golf; but after my lunch with a powerful African-American woman executive who works at a large financial corporation, I’m seriously considering giving it a try.

Her passion for the game is on par with my newly found passion for Zumba, though I presume the type of doors her passion has opened for her are much better than any mine will ever open for me. (Although I’m probably burning more calories!)

For someone who doesn’t play golf or follow sports on TV, the conversation could have easily turned into a boring monologue filled with terms such as birdie, eagle, five-hole, and par which mostly went over my head. Instead, it became a fascinating learning experience.

My new friend, who asked to remain anonymous, took up golf as an adult 14 years ago after just one outing with her father. She was a natural, and she fell in love with the sport right away.  She remembers being the only black woman on the golf course – which she still is frequently even now - and getting looks from the men on the course who assumed she was only there to network. 

But everyone quickly discovered that my friend was really good, and, as she says, “I play golf, I don’t play at it.”  And this is a distinction worth noting, because here lies the crux of a major decision women must make: Should I get involved in activities that offer me the chance to develop trusting relationships with decision-makers in a relaxed environment, or should I stick to my Zumba class?

We all have busy calendars and committing to another activity in which you’re not interested sounds insane.  But when career development is an important goal, it makes sense to at least consider the options.

One could argue that you can develop trusting relationships doing any kind of activity, and that is how most of us make friends. I would argue, however, that not all activities are created equal.

It’s well known that a lot of powerful decision-makers golf.  So, if you want to be part of the power set, you owe it to yourself to at least consider hitting a few balls and seeing how it feels.

As with most things in life, growth doesn’t happen unless you break through the comfort threshold, a concept easy to understand when you think about how you would prepare to run a marathon.

You usually have a starting distance that you already run and with which you feel comfortable, and you increase that distance every week until you reach your goal. If you were to always run the same distance at the same pace, you would not build the endurance and strength you need for a marathon. So, at some point during your training, you need to run beyond what feels comfortable to reach your end goal.

The same is true for growing to the next level in your career. If you’ve been in the same place for awhile, you may have to step out of your comfort zone and try something that wouldn’t have been your first choice. Maybe when you consider how much you can learn about a person during a long game of golf and how many important and tight connections you may develop over the years, you will decide to give it a shot. Moreover, if you work in an organization where golf is an important part of the culture, you must realize that by taking yourself out of the game you may be denying yourself many career opportunities.

My golfing friend, however, advises against taking on golf just to network, because people see through your intentions and eschew playing with you. I agree. But what I'm suggesting is that unless you actually try an unfamiliar activity you won’t know if you like it or not.  This executive was well into her career when she realized she has a passion for golf.  What happens if you fall in love with the game as she did? A whole new world of friendships and opportunities is suddenly at your fingertips.

And hey, nobody says you can’t keep the Zumba thing going too. You and I know that is an adrenaline rush hard to replace with the rolling hills of a golf course.

Mariela Dabbah is the CEO of www.latinosincollege.com and an award-winning, best-selling author and speaker. Her new book El poder de la mujer will be published by C.A.Press (an imprint of the Penguin Group), March 2012.

Follow her on Twitter: @marieladabbah

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Mariela Dabbah is a published author and founder of Latinos in College, a not-for-profit organization, and of the Red Shoe Movement, an initiative that invites women to wear red shoes to work on Tuesday to signal their support for other women’s careers.

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