This I Believe: Sometimes You Gotta Lose the Shoe

Feb 26, 2018

I believe in losing the shoe. I learned the value of this basic principle during a moment when a shoe seemed to be of critical importance.

It was my freshman year of track and I was running the mile at a local meet. There was nothing atypical about the race except for that it was my first experience running on cinders (those evil little shards of igneous rock that are useful for nothing more than embedding themselves in exposed flesh). During the first lap, while running comfortably in the pack as most are content to do, I received a spike to my right heel. 

Immediately, my shoe came loose, interrupting my stride and creating a curious dilemma for an inexperienced athlete such as myself. I could either use my toe muscles so as to hold the shoe on my foot and maintain some level of protection from the rough surface while losing efficiency, or I could lose the shoe entirely and brave the cinders. Because of my personal philosophy about success, I chose the latter option. 

Kicking the loose shoe off the track, I made a move that defined my season: I took the lead. With only one shoe, I knew I couldn’t stay in the pack for fear of catching another spike that might do serious damage. I decided to forego the strategic, vaguely playful jogging of the masses and just run away. 

I won that race, and I still consider it to be my most satisfying victory because it is a perfect analogy to how I now approach difficult situations in life. I believe that to be successful, I’ve gotta lose the shoe. In life, things don’t ever go exactly as planned — it’s just not how the universe works. Whether the setback be an injury, a lost job or an uncooperative shoe, I have found that my best response to these situations is to not let them become deterrents but rather stimuli for great actions. That doesn’t mean I ignore the problem the “loose shoe” will slow me down. The situation must be addressed and responded to aggressively in a manner that is conducive to creating opportunities for achievement. It may mean taking a small loss to ensure a greater victory. I believe that after losing the shoe, I’ve gotta make a move. 

Metaphorically, running in the pack might result in a win from time to time, but unless I forsake the status quo and run my own race, I will never achieve my full potential in life. Losing the shoe is doing the hard thing that most aren’t willing to do — often a countercultural decision. But I believe that, amidst the storm, there is always opportunity. Losing the shoe is a means to thriving amidst the adversity that is inherent in human life. This I believe.

Eli Ten Eyck reading his essay at the Rotary Club of Springfield Sunrise meeting.