Pebbles in Your Shoe

Gerwig 2014-07-16

Do you have a favorite pair of shoes? You guessed it. I do. My favorite pair is a pair of Dr. Martens. They’re pictured above on the left. If they look a bit worn, they are. I bought them 14 years ago and have almost worn them out. They still have some sole left on the bottom of the shoe, but it’s beginning to wear thin. The leather is cracked and shows signs of wear. But when I put them on, it’s hard to describe. Perhaps it can best be described as a combination of hugging an old friend and being greeted at the door by your dog.

My “Doc” Martens have been worn with jeans, with khakis and with dress trousers. They’ve been worn in several countries and on a few different continents. They’ve been polished and conditioned multiple times. And I’ve lost count of the number of shoe strings that have been replaced. You can dress them up or down. You get compliments from teenagers and senior citizens. You cannot go wrong with these classics. I have other Doc Martens and plenty of other shoes. But these, well, they’re special.

The Nike on the right is a “new” shoe. It is only a year old. And I wear them nearly every day to work. The Doc Martens have become my weekend shoe. And my after-work shoe. But in my current job, I do a lot of walking and these Nikes do the trick. They won’t last 14 years and I’ll never have the emotional attachment to them as I do to my Doc Martens, but they’re a good pair of shoes. Lightweight. Flexible. And they were relatively inexpensive. Plus, I like the bright blue. Not everyone does. I get that. But they’re my shoes and I like the color. Not every piece of clothing needs to be black, brown, or dark blue. Women wear colorful scarves on occasion. I sometimes wear colorful shoes. Makes sense to me.

The real question is why am I talking about shoes? Well, I’ll get there soon enough. But let me share that I received quite a few giggles from my neighbors when they spied me taking pictures of my shoes. Yes, a bit strange. And if the tables were turned and I saw one of them taking a picture of their shoes, I’d giggle too.

Now to the lesson of this week’s story. As much as I love these shoes, on occasion, I’ve had the unfortunate experience of getting a small rock or pebble in one. How it gets in my shoe isn’t always clear. What is clear is that I don’t always notice it right away. Why do I say that? Because, on occasion, when I’ve removed the pebble, I’ll notice a small blister on the bottom of my foot. Surely, it would take a while for the pebble to rub a blister. Right?

So I have this great pair of shoes and I’m doing my thing, whatever that is, working, playing, eating, dancing, and I notice that something’s not right. At some point, my brain kicks in and tells me there’s something foreign in my shoe. So I do what you do. I take off my shoe and shake it out. Almost always, a small rock comes out. But sometimes its something else. Like a small piece of wood or plastic. Regardless, it’s irritating. And once I notice it’s in my shoe, I immediately stop and take it out so I can go about working, playing, eating, and dancing.

As a leader, there are times when we’re so focused on the main goal, we forget about other things. Sometimes it’s almost trivial. Well, maybe it’s not trivial, but it’s not our focus at that moment. However, in order to reach our goal, we need to stop and take out the pebble. Otherwise, the pain in our feet will continue until we can’t go on. The pain we feel from the small pebble is a reminder. It quietly shouts out, “I’m here. Don’t forget. I may not be the big, strategic goal, but I still matter. Pay attention to me.”

You’re working on a multi-million dollar deal and running hard. But you’ve started skipping out on the weekly lunch with your colleagues. One finally says something sarcastic to you about how you view the friendship. Oops. The pebble just reminded you to pay attention to your friends. They’re important. You’re really striving for a promotion and taking on large, strategic projects. But you haven’t completed your monthly sales report on time. As you leave the office one Friday, the administrative manager asks if you’ve gotten your report submitted. Hello pebble. Thanks for the reminder. The strategic project is important but so is taking care of the basics.

You’re exercising with your friends, taking art classes at the local college, having lunch with neighbors and volunteering at the local pet shelter. One day your husband asks why you never have time to go on a date with him. Hello pebble. Thanks for the reminder that every relationship must be continually nourished and other, even good, things can get in the way.

You’re driving down the highway, perhaps a bit over the speed limit, anxious to get to your holiday destination. You’re thinking about what you’ll do, what books you’ll read, and what restaurants you’ll visit, when an audible warning goes off and alerts you to the fact that you’re almost out of gas. Hello pebble. Thanks for the reminder that I need gas if I’m going to arrive at my destination.

You get the idea. You can have the world’s most comfortable shoes, but you can’t ignore the pebbles. While you may get irritated at the pebble in your shoes, the pebbles you experience in life are really great reminders that you’ve overlooked something and need to address it. It may be something minor. Or something you’ve overlooked. Or something you’ve ignored. But it needs to be addressed.

How about you? Do you experience pebbles in your shoes?

As always, the floor is open to your comments, suggestions, thoughts, and feedback.

Dr. is an agent of change and is able to balance the needs of the business and the needs of people. Dr. Gerwig believes and practices the values of performance and delivery of business metrics while simultaneously developing and growing people into leaders. You can contact him at RobertGerwig[at]


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