Where Our Shoes Take Us

The clothes we wear tell a story. They tell our story.

Let’s take shoes as an example.

For those of us who tend to find ourselves in a shoe-clad state, we busily go about living our daily lives, balancing our work and play, while below us our indefatigable shoes roam the earth, striding where we stride, stumbling where we stumble, idling where we idle. They hang out on our feet, waiting to uphold our next bidding, as we wait in line at the store, or take our twenty-minute walk to work, or run our first 10k.

The soles of our shoes meet the rainy ground on the day we hurry through the streets, our minds elsewhere. Or the gravelly hiking path on the day we linger at the breathtakingly majestic view. Or even the carpeted floor where we proudly ace the challenging interview that really gets our career going.

All those times, our shoes are there with us.

Now, yes, shoes are inanimate, as are all clothes. However, that’s beside the point. Shoes serve as the synthetic barrier between our own familiar selves and the ground of the external world. They protect us, in more ways than one. (Bonus: For some fun trivia about shoes, see this Lifehack article on ten random but incredibly intriguing facts about shoes.)

Consider, too, the innumerable crossings of people’s lives that take place at a given street corner, all mingling together into one constantly evolving spiderweb – a person’s fleeting footfalls across a manhole cover; a dog’s paws, its nature-made shoes, bouncing across the stoic sidewalk; a group of tourists clomping along and gawking at the sights before trekking to the next. And yet, at night, these myriad wonders taper off… until the space becomes empty and time itself stretches on. At some point the sun nudges its way back into the sky, and the interlacing of lives begins again. If we then extend this one ordinary street corner to the billions of such places across the entire world, we’ve got something pretty incredible.

Resources permitting, almost everyone has a style of clothing that they grow into, that they realize is wholly them. I would love nothing more than to wear jeans, Vans, and a cute top as my primary outfit every day. When I wear this combination of clothes, I feel awesome. I feel just right.

I think everyone deserves that – a type of outfit that feels distinctly you, whether that means wearing sweatpants, khakis, or a cocktail dress. There’s something liberating about knowing what you feel most comfortable in, what gives you the most self-confidence, what constitutes the unique flavor of clothes you most want to wear. And there’s something liberating about actually wearing that optimal outfit, or even just one part of it.

But sometimes life gets in the way. Work requires business clothes, exercise requires casual clothes. Winter requires layers and layers and layers of clothes. No matter what type of outfit you prefer, you can’t reasonably wear it all the time. And our self-confidence suffers. For a more in-depth look at this topic, see this great Huffington Post article on “How Clothing Choices Affect and Reflect Your Self-Image.”

The same kind of self-actualization can be said for finding a lifestyle or career that is just right for you, one that is personally meaningful. It can take ages to identify these custom niches, and even longer to attain them, but the truth remains that it is worth it to continue to search for them, whether at a footwear level or a life purpose level. It always is.

“Dress for success” and “Dress for the job you want” are two well-known quotes in the context of dressing your best. This can be a conundrum, though: what if the outfit that you feel most comfortable in and the outfit that can help along your next job promotion are not one and the same? One solution is that perhaps your “ideal outfit” should not be defined so narrowly: people can identify with more than one personally fulfilling outfit (or lifestyle or career) in their lives, and it can change based on the circumstance or over time. This Huffington Post article beautifully expands on the above quotes, describing the importance of “Dress[ing] for the Career You Want, Not the One You Have” as a critical step between internalizing your dream career and ultimately living it. The author R. Kay Green, CEO and President of RKG Marketing Solutions, also provides valuable and practical strategies for how to reach those career goals, starting here and now.

What’s more, people often have particular pieces of clothing that they lovingly hold on to over the years. No one type takes precedence – it could be a shirt, a coat, a sweater, or a hat – but these favorites tend to evolve over time. Mine are often shoes. My beloved brown Ked sneakers brought me through high school exams and through the travel associated with school sports tournaments. My grey Converse sneakers brought me through study abroad in college, where I used them to explore the streets of a country I now hold close to my heart. And don’t forget about the various pieces of clothing that visually pop up in old pictures, at which point the nostalgia kicks in… Yes, it’s the clothes, but more so, it’s everything that they bring with them. It’s what they represent.

The logical next question is… how does one throw out such personally significant belongings? Marie Kondo’s KonMari Method book covers this and more – sentimental objects are surely one of the hardest. Throwing out shoes (or anything that once played a critical role in your life) can truly feel like you’re throwing out a part of yourself.

Just recently I realized that I had been storing the aforementioned pairs of shoes in my closet for the last few years, allowing them to just sit there. They’re not bothering me, I had thought. Now, however, as I am actively cutting down on my belongings, I have come to realize… those pairs of shoes are absolutely affecting me. I don’t wear them anymore, and they are stored out of sight, but even still, they are bogging me down.

Why? Because they bring me back to a time that I don’t need to be brought back to. Whatever I experienced while wearing them is already a part of me. Whatever service they provided that helped to boost my happiness is no longer required. Fresh shoes will replace and surpass the stale joy that the old pairs wearily offer. I’m sure of it.

In the end, if you take care of your belongings, they take care of you. They may even take us on a journey. After all, a particular piece of clothing carries personality, meaning, a story… As does every person. Don’t judge without knowing what those stories are. The importance of “walking in someone else’s shoes” before jumping to any conclusions has never been more applicable, indeed.

Who would have ever thought that there could be so many insights gained from shoes? It turns out that they can teach us quite a lot, solely of their own accord. Pun entirely intended.

As a final anecdote…

This past week, I wore my old brown sneakers one last time, for one final outing into the world. I walked around and reminisced. After all of the memorable experiences I had while wearing them, I thought that they, inanimate objects though they are, deserved that much.

But ultimately, so do I.

And after relishing that last victory lap, I took them off and threw them out.

2 thoughts on “Where Our Shoes Take Us

  1. After downsizing several times over the past many years I have experienced many times the difficulty in choosing what to save and what to dispose of. But as you so eloquently write the objects disposed of did not erase the memories. The physical clutter is gone but the contributions to our lives remain as vivid as before. Thanks for reminding us of how moving forward is indeed rewarding.

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