Have you ever considered your life in terms of shoes? No? Don’t worry, neither had I until last week. It’s too complicated to explain the context in which the subject came up, so to make a long story short, I ended up having to equate the different stages of my life in terms of my shoes. It was a strange but enlightening experience that got me thinking.
What’s missing in this photograph is a pair of knee-high riding boots, simply because I don’t own such a pair, which is a pity because that is what I would have loved to begin with. We come into this world as children of our parents, pre-disposed to be members of an established network of family and friends that become our safety net and contained world. Everything we do, learn, and say is based on the traditions and culture we have inherited, and every moment is controlled by someone else. As children we strut around with the illusion of being free and carefree but the truth is that we are tightly bound by the rules and values of the family we are born into, and this includes religion and academic orientation. We go where we are told to, dictated what to say, no ifs or buts about it, and there is no room for digression. For intents and purposes, our childhoods as and within our riding boots are constrictingly claustrophobic and we eventually become desperate to kick it all off.
Tweens & Crocs – Later on in our tweens we develop a more relaxed attitude, seeing the comfort of friends that make us feel at home no matter what the occasion or activity. Whether you meet up for sports, dance lessons, choir, scouts, or hanging out at the mall, It is a matter of acceptance, belonging, and not making difficult choices. Spontaneity and flexibility are the name of the game, emphasis on game.
Teens & Flipflops – Ah, but then we enter our rebellious teens, where we shed our inhibitions and explore life’s rawness. We put ourselves out there to experience everything that is dropped at our feet. Unlike life with crocs, where we can still retreat to the safety of our parents without hesitation, with the flipflop years it is about exploring pleasure and pain, all the sensory experiences. The vulnerability of the open footwear is equivalent to that of every teenage soul – life can go in any direction, the caveat being that you can and will get hurt. There is nothing, absolutely nothing elegant about flipflops nor the teenage years, but we learn valuable lessons that remain with us for a lifetime.
College Sneakers – the university years are all about running: after deadlines, time, assignments, activities, social networks, and simply trying to keep your head above water. You are running to make a name for yourself, for survival, for viability in the academic and prospective professional world. We are running away from our youth, from family ties, values, confinements, and desperately seeing adventure. These are the travel years, the backpacking adventures that lead our bodies, minds and souls to new horizons and explore new boundaries.
Conquer the world on Stilettos – hold on, before the male readers of this blog complain about the metaphor and how it applies to them, read on… We graduate from university with an arrogance and faux sophistication, thinking that we own the world and know how to balance on the precarious and fragile precipice of a mere college degree. Here’s the thing, that diploma may look good and probably make you sexy to some employers, but you have no experience and don’t really know what is your true fit yet. Walking around in stilettos will make you realise soon enough that your first job probably isn’t the ideal one, or that you have so much to learn about being true to yourself, and not trying to squeeze into something that is painful and eventually unbearable. One could also argue that the ambitions of fresh graduates are very much like stilettos – placing more importance on the appearance rather than substance, only to find out that you can’t go very far on appearances alone, and because it is such a precarious balance, you always need to latch on to someone. Stilettos are not meant for substance and independence.
Married in ankle boots – Yes, back to boots because you inevitably marry into another family whether you like it or not. Ankle boots are all about performance and how well you do it when you find yourself back in that old and familiar world where you do things the way the family does (yours or your spouse’s) and have to balance your career, family, financial obligations, identity, and parenting all at one go. You are bound by obligations on all fronts, but need to remain flexible and constantly be on the go. The ankle boots of marriage or partnership are both confining and protective at the same time.
Middle Age and hiking boots – For this one I used my hiking boots, but you can just as well take the most comfortable pair of hiking shoes you own. Once the children are grown up and out of the house you suddenly find yourself at the threshold of a new adventure. What is life going to be like from now on? Who are you now that you no longer have to be on parental duty 24/7? What have you been yearning to do all these years that you kept putting aside? Or perhaps you find yourself divorced or widowed and need all the protection you need so as not to get hurt again. The hiking boots provide that added protection that our soul needs to reconcile lost youth and approaching retirement. Your ankles are no longer as strong and stable as they used to be, and you crave stability yet yearn for adventure all at the same time. Don’t get caught in a mid-life transition without a sturdy pair of hiking shoes! Whatever you do, never, absolutely never borrow someone else’s boots. Your trail, your mountain to climb, your valley to explore, it better damn well be your own boots!
The perfect moccasins – we all aspire to attain self-fulfilment, contentment, acceptance and celebration of who you have become. By this time you harbour absolutely no ambitions to balance on stilettos, have adopted enough experience and elegance in life to ditch crocs and flip-flops, and no longer feel confined by boots of any kind. Moccasins have a sophistication and confidence that allow movement, provide extended comfort, are always presentable, offer adaptability and flexibility, but most of all, individuality.
What shoe phase are you in? Would you add another shoe or exchange one?