Life is a wise teacher, sometimes presenting guidance in unexpected ways. A few years ago I experienced an enlightening moment with the help of an old pair of shoes!
Most days, I counsel individuals on their journey towards abundance. At first, I would sit with them, listening to their stories and probing their experiences. In Socratic fashion, questions would lead to insights, and insights to behavior changes as we sought to optimize their physical, mental and emotional state. It often bothered me, and sometimes frustrated them, that this conversation towards peak performance took place in such a static setting.
The foundation of physical health and happiness is movement – lots of it. It’s the first step on the road to abundance. So, it seemed strange that we both sat on our rear ends, immobile, as we plotted their journey. My clients are busy, successful people, and they work hard to include exercise in their daily schedule. It seemed wasteful that they would drive to see me, only to sit still for another hour.
So, I shifted many of these conversations to walking sessions. It was during one of these sessions that Mother Nature presented me with this illuminating experience.
We were walking high on the cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Southern California. The path was craggy, with breath-taking views over sparkling seas. My client was walking more slowly than usual. I had slowed down a couple of times, anxious to be responsive to her comfort and needs. About halfway through the walk, she shared with me the reason for her labored gait. Her foot was aching. She felt pain with each step.
She hadn’t noticed this pain before, so we sat down while she removed her shoe. She was wearing light, flexible running shoes – the kind with those spongy, corrugated soles, that open up as you flex them. As we turned the shoe over, the source of discomfort was immediately apparent. There was a large round hole, right under the ball of her foot where sharp rocks could easily apply pressure directly to her foot.
The problem was easily diagnosed, but it was the origination of the problem that fascinated me.
Several weeks earlier, she had noticed a little stone wedged into the corrugations of her shoe. At first, it was mildly uncomfortable, but she had not bothered to remove it. Instead, she chose to walk with that slightly irritating noise as the stone came down on the hard surface when she crossed the road. In due course, she forgot about the stone.
After several weeks, it had become an entrenched part of her shoe, accompanying her on her regular exercise. She didn’t even notice the regular tap-step, tap-step, tap-step cadence that fellow walkers noticed.
The day before our walking session together, her elderly father had noticed the stone in her shoe. Before she set out to get her daily 10,000 steps, he had suggested that she remove it. She pried it out with a strong stick, leaving a gaping hole where the hard stone had crushed the surrounding material.
And that’s where her problem had started.
As we walked back to the base of the cliffs, I thought about the sequence of events.
It so happened that we had been discussing change. She had been contemplating some major changes in her life. I could see her courage growing each week, but she remained one big step away from taking the plunge. We’d been working to identify and address the fears that were stopping her.
Ironically, life had served up a physical analogy with this hole in her shoe to help her navigate the big change in her life.
I’m sure that you will recognize this pattern. At some point, you become aware of a problem. Let’s say you’re putting on weight, or eating more than you should (or, more often, both). It could be something different, like relying on an evening drink, or yelling at your children in response to escalating work stress. You note the problem, and then continue with your life. The problem seems to disappear, merging into the background of frenetic activity that characterize our modern lives.
That is, until somebody else notices it.
At this stage, you’re in trouble, because not only do you feel the disruption, but you realize that the solution is likely to be painful. You have grown accustomed to the stone in your shoe. Removing it will leave a gaping hole. And so, most of the time, many of us will ignore the problem again, hoping that somehow it will magically disappear.
How did this story help my client?
It was too late for the most obvious lesson – to avoid the problem in the first place. If she had reacted appropriately when she first noticed the problem, she could have removed the stone before her shoe was damaged.
What she needed was to quickly fill the gap she had created with something healthy. She went home and found a little of that magical foam that plumbers use to fill cracks and crevices. It provided temporary relief for the damaged shoe.
More importantly, she finally raised the courage required to make the big change in her life that she had been avoiding. She quit her job, and volunteered at the local homeless shelter while she looked for her next career opportunity. Rather than sitting around at home with a big hole in her life, leaving her vulnerable to the consequences of boredom, and purposelessness, she filled the gap before it became a problem.
Today, several years later, she has a wonderful leadership role that involves constant change. She is a powerful leader, who guides her company to embrace change early, before gaps appear!
I hope that this simple story helps you to think about a change that you need to make. Understand the source of your fear. Identify the hole you will create, and find a way to fill it, before it becomes a problem. Then step out, embrace the change, and surge forward on your path to victory.