An allegorical tale about being happy in your work
I have been thinking a lot recently about shoes. Not least because as a big shoe fan, I have been remarkably well behaved and not bought any since August, when confronted with the real deal in Italy. Well what’s a dedicated shoe fan to do?
I have not even indulged in one of my favourite pastimes (since August) of trying on fabulous shoes to avoid the temptation. The reason for my shoe sobriety? Last year, at the height of recession, I quit my full time, safe, secure, well salaried job to launch headlong into the unknown, starting my own business.
Do I miss them? –the new shoes I mean, well no. Not even a glimmer of regret. How many shoes can a person need anyway? I have even sold some shoes on e-bay (shock, horror!) some silly, sparkly, strappy affairs. Looked fabulous, were incredibly uncomfortable, bar stool shoes, and hardly ever got an outing. I hope that their new owners are having lots of fun in them.
My mum always says that you can tell a lot about a person by their shoes. However, in these days of credit cards and mass consumerism I’m not so sure that is true anymore. What I do believe is that you can never really know a person until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.
On arriving home on the day I left my last job my first act was to ditch my shoes into the dustbin. They had somehow come to epitomise everything I had grown to dislike so much about it. Not too high, not too flat, safe, sensible, but surprisingly uncomfortable in the end. Being the owner of quite long, skinny feet, certain styles should have “Beware collapsed arches” written all over them. However, initial appearances can be deceptive, suitable, sensible but slightly stylish shoes turn out to be agony, but by the time the crippling pain kicks in its too late, you’ve worn them in, they go with your suit, you’ve already damaged the heels a little on the metal grilled staircase leading to your office.
Who would have thought that this rather dull, safe, not too high or too low, reasonably priced, black, go with everything in the wardrobe pair of shoes could inflict such discomfort? Foot pain was the least of my worries; they even contributed to a broken toe and months of tear inducing pain.
Being neither too high nor too low, the heel was optimum height for getting caught in the hem of my smartest trouser suit. One day, when trying to make a graceful exit from a meeting that was clearly a waste of my time, the heel caught when I was stepping out to descend a flight of stairs. With my other foot forward, already in oblivion there was nothing left to do but fall from top to bottom, breaking my toe on landing. I should have realised then, but held on in there in discomfort for another 14 months.
I knew these shoes weren’t right but despite this knowledge, kept wearing them. Unable to find anything more suitable, they went with everything and were inoffensive to the scores of colleagues around me who, bound by a strict dress code, a non uniform wearing member of staff wearing the wrong shoes could result in anything from general derision to outright rudeness.
I wore those shoes day in, day out. Never once stopping to ask, would my poor bruised feet feel happier in some other kind of shoes?
When finally I had resigned, I worked out my notice in a succession of fabulous sandals. They were extremely inappropriate for the environment, certainly didn’t meet with the uniform/dress policy, but I felt liberated in them. I felt a bit more like me again.
My fabulous sandals drew lots of longing gazes from both male and female colleagues. No one complained, I guess they couldn’t be bothered, knowing that I was leaving anyway, they even drew a few polite compliments from some of the previously nastiest people I’d had the misfortune to have to work with, along with a bold statement. “Loved the black sandals yesterday Jane, you looked really happy in them” strange thing to say I thought, maybe not.
I wore “the shoes” on the last day, I quite like symbolism, it seemed to me a little poetic, plus they went well with the suit I was wearing. I am normally a shoe hoarder, but I was very happy to see them go sailing into the bin that day.
These days I mostly wear the comfiest thing on my feet. My pink, fluffy slippers. They’re great. I love their fluffiness, their pinkness and the fact that my daughter chose them for me! The flexibility of my new role means that on days when not working on client sites, I work from home (and some days I don’t work, being a bit of a night owl, I work late into the night instead). My slippers are warm, comfortable, the heel doesn’t cause eye watering toe breakages, my co-Director seems to find them somewhere between amusing and mildly endearing. No grievances about colleague footwear these days!
When I am working on client sites, of course the pink slippers are left at home; I get to wear my fabulous shoes that have sat patiently in the wardrobe, in some cases for years, knowing that eventually their day would come. They say “we are special, our owner chose us for our special qualities of style and attitude, she saved up for us, admired us from afar, tried us on several times before coming in to buy us. When she bought us, it felt like a special occasion”.
So much for knowing another person when you walk a mile in their shoes, there is a lot to be said for listening to your own shoes too.
Bizarrely these slightly off the wall thoughts about one of my favourite subjects were inspired by something completely non shoe related. The Institute of Directors published an article on the benefits of flexible working and the need to support it in a labour market that is itself demanding more flexibility
“As businesses look for more innovative ways to respond quickly in 2010, flexible working practices can offer strong organisational benefits, whatever your business size. Adopting new ways of working that challenge the traditional long hour’s culture can not only help you reduce costs, it can help improve employee motivation and lower stress-related illness.
- Less stress-related absenteeism
- Reduced commuting time
- Improved staff retention
- A more, loyal, motivated workforce
- Greater overall responsiveness from workforce
- A flexible resource base
- Improved service delivery and higher productivity”
I’m re acquainted with my daughter, more involved in school and child care than ever before. Fitter, healthier, have more energy, am more productive, am happier and more excited by work than ever before.
Well, if the shoe fits.
Jane Pound MCIPD
The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of the CIPD.