I like your shoes...(a small lesson in self-leadership)

I waited for my friend to join me for breakfast. We were catching up after not seeing each other for a few months. As I sat in anticipation I enjoyed a bit of people watching in the cafe.  There were elderly ladies behind me planning their next get together. A table of business people congregated in the corner. Several pairs of tourists, couples and other visitors secured the window seats facing the beach and water.

Then I focused on a man in front of me. At first he seemed like just another patron. He dined alone with the company of today’s newspaper and his smartphone. Tossed casually on the chair next to him was a hip canvas messenger bag. He dressed smart, combed his hair in a manner in keeping with his more distinguished years.  Arms exposed revealed a life outside more than in. His whole demeanour was relaxed, comfortable and classy.

Then I noticed his shoes. I don’t know why they stood out but they did. Instead of casual boat shoes, loafers or even beach sandals he had detailed, leather, lace up, moccasin style walking shoes.  OK, so I am not a shoe expert.  The shoes were cool!

As I sat there and waited I wondered. What was his story? Who is this man? Why does he have these shoes? Silly yes but then I am a curious one.

Then for a moment I had to step out. On the way back I passed the shoe man’s table. I backed up and stopped for a moment. He was getting up to go. So I said to him “I hope this is not too strange for you but I wanted to tell you I like your shoes”.  He replied first with a big smile, grateful appreciation and then a story.

Apparently when he was working he used to work for a very difficult boss. She was aggressive and made his working environment unpleasant. He dreaded going to meetings with her.  Then one day he walked in with the shoes on. Before the meeting started this woman he worked for said “I like your shoes.”  Immediately he described the situation as transforming. In that moment he saw her humanity and realness. He even took on a new perspective from then on of empathising with the work environment that she operated within. He could observe that her life was hectic, demanding and challenging. He accepted that this was her choice and her life but that it did not have to affect him.  He could approach her more compassionately and objectively.

He didn’t offer much more and I didn’t engage further as my friend was now waiting for me. Yet he did say before we parted that my comment made his day.  I said that his story made mine!  Such wisdom is not often shared.

There are so many layers to such a simple act. Whether conscious or unconscious we can always be open to changing our perspective. What I love is that when we follow through on an opening we can choose the positive, self supportive story to carry forward.

Thanks to the ‘shoe man’ I am reminded how simple it can be to see the humanity in everyone, even those that challenge us in our day to day lives. We don’t have to condone nor accept difficult behaviour, yet we can all benefit from moments of regularly stepping into another person’s shoes.


Jenn Shallvey