Of the things I have from my father after his death, there is none I prize more than his old shoe shine rag.
My dad, Donald Owens Jr. spent thirty years working in the automotive aftermarket industry and twenty years in petroleum products. He lead sales departments within those industries over his 50 year career and worked until two weeks before his passing.
As a child I remember countless Sunday evenings wandering into my parents room and dad would be on the floor with some newspaper spread over the carpet and his dress shoes lined up. His shoes would be in felt sleeves and each shoe with a shoe tree inserted. He would remove them one by one, apply the proper color shoe polish, and begin buffing the shoe vigorously with his large shoe shine rag. The rag was nothing more than an old towel that was stained with deep black, brown and even navy blue polish. The outer soles would receive attention as well. Then with the small horsehair shoe brush he would clean the edges and the large black shoe brush would be used on the entire shoe. After a complete inspection, the tree reinserted and the shoe placed back in the felt sleeve.
My dad was not in the military, yet he treated his shoes as if they would be met with an inspection. It was his belief that the care of your shoes was a sign of how you did business in general. When I moved out and began my career, dad took his shoe shine rag and split it into a couple of pieces. He gave me half of the rag and some polish and told me to take care of my shoes and reminded me, "People will judge you by your shoes."
Fewer people seem to be concerned about whether you are wearing a suit or dress, or if you wear Allen Edmonds or simply Johnston and Murphy. And maybe some would consider such judgments shallow and refocus you on their business results not their attention to shoe care.
I think the care of your shoes is a good reminder though of the importance of caring for what we have received, showing some self-respect, and honoring those with whom we work.
We should value the good things we have received.
It's no small thing to own a nice pair of shoes. With proper care a good pair of shoes can last us years. As an employee or business owner we can show others we are not frivolous or wasteful by caring for our shoes. This attitude should be applied to our daily office affairs from the computers we use to the relationships we manage. People require care. We must value them, invest in them, and help them go the distance.
We should invest in caring for ourselves.
Taking the time to ensure your shoes are shined is an activity which can remind us to invest in ourselves. We can polish our minds with reading, attending new training, and by requesting feedback about our performance from peers and leaders. Just like our shoes, if left alone, things deteriorate. We must take the time required to care for ourselves mentally and physically in order to perform well in our work and change with environments.
We should remember we are always representing others.
We are representatives of people, of a brand, or of ideas, and must present ourselves in a way that does not disrespect our colleagues, bosses, clients or vendors. People will judge our companies and colleagues based on our presentation, which of course, has much more to do with our actions than our shoes. The process of caring for our shoes is simply a reminder of the much more important actions in our work.
My dad's old shoe shine rag is at a minimum 40 years old. The polish seems to preserve the cloth itself. Each time I use it I think of dad, his commitment to working well, his desire to present himself and his company with honor, and his respect for the things he worked so hard to earn.
The rag is symbol of wisdom put into practice; the care of the soul to ensure many quality miles.