Life Lessons from the Shoe Store

Last Tuesday, I broke down and bought a new pair of gym shoes (Chicagoish for sneakers). I went to a store specializing in running shoes and the like, so I got a little more attention than I would if I went to a big box store and grabbed something off the shelf. I ended up getting two work or life lessons in the space of a single afternoon.

Good tools are worth paying for

I’ve got to confess: on some things I’m a big cheapskate. I started getting grouchy when the price of gym shoes crept north of $80. Then I started walking as a regular lifestyle. For me, an average walk is usually 2-4 miles (3.2-6.4 kilometers). The less expensive products were getting beaten up and falling apart in a month or two. At some point, I realized that I had to pass on the cheap sneakers and shell out the money for a shoe that would last.

In a similar vein, as my professional standing improved, I realized that I was having similar problems with the tools of my trade: specifically, pens, computers, and internet services. So as my income inched upward, I started spending more on pens (and let’s be honest here–if I wasn’t buying a ten-pack of Bics, a lot of the time I was grabbing pens from the office or coworkers). Once I borrowed a really good pen (the Uniball Vision Elite) from a coworker and decided that it was worth spending some money to have a good tool, especially since I’m very analog in my work habits.

In similar wise, I slogged along on dial-up internet for years before I finally broke down and spent the money for high-speed internet. The transformation in my internet experience was magical: I actually learned to like looking things up.

Perhaps my most important work item–my home computer–was something else I was doing myself a disservice by buying the least expensive machine I could find rather than something which had more useful life to it. So instead of paying, say, $3,500 every five years I was spending $2,500 every three years.

Does this mean I think you should go out right now and spend a ton of money on new computers, super-speed internet, and Mont Blanc pens? No. I do suggest that you get the best tools you can to do your work. The reason is this: with better tools, you are able to do more or do what you do at a higher level of quality, speed, and efficiency. High-quality tools are (usually) built to last longer.

Unexpected personal growth

A little later in the afternoon, my buddy Kate the Coach posted the following image and text on LinkedIn:

Kate Growth Image

You would not believe how tough this question is — My 7-year-old answers with pretty good clarity ~ “Moooom, I am growing – see my feet”. Now when I ask an adult — they laugh and get quiet. It’s a simple question, but as adults we’re so over-committed, over-tired, over-worked, over-stressed to the point that answering the simple becomes upsetting, challenging or aggravating at the true lack of control. Where will you GROW today? Is it in time alone? Is it in time of worship? It is in time with family, children or friends? Is it time tending to your health?

It turns out that I had something in common with Kate’s seven-year-old. While I was at the shoe store, I had my feet measured. I thought I knew my shoe size, since I’d worn the same sized shoe since I was 21. I was surprised to learn that my feet have, in fact, gone up a full size (9.5 to 10.5, if you really want to know). I hadn’t had my shoe size measured in 25 years. I mean, feet don’t grow past age 21, do they? Apparently they do.

So what’s the professional lesson here? The idea of a specific type of growth or change beyond a certain age had never occurred to me. Now obviously physical growth is not the only type of growth one can experience, and biology does tend to slow growth once we’re out of our youth. Still, one can enjoy intellectual growth, spiritual growth, social or romantic growth. “Oh, I’m too old for that!” You might say. Maybe. However, a willingness to change is one way to stay young.

Or say you think you’ve made no progress in your career. A good question to ask would be, “compared to what?” What measures are you using to define your “progress?” What other measures might you use? If you find that, yes, you have made progress in areas you hadn’t expected, you might think of ways to further that progress.

And your feet don’t even have to get bigger.

About Bart Leahy

Freelance Technical Writer, Science Cheerleader Event & Membership Director, and an all-around nice guy. Here to help.
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