Wednesday, January 24, 2007
lessons from the most successful shoe shiner
he sat and shined a shoe, that’s all i ever saw him do. he must have been 10 and he sat right next to his dad, imitating his dad while he scrubbed then shined shoes right outside the location on sutter street we were staying at in kalcutta, india. they had a very meager set up, with only a wooden box the size of a shoebox to conduct business, and a sheet that had been torn through to sit on while tourists such as myself walked by. i always noticed how both father and son alike would stare at peoples feet as they walked by, maybe to evaluate clientele, or just the simple fact that shoes and shine were what they knew, and what they knew best.
through a translator i began to build a relationship with both father and son, i would share my cliff bars with them in the morning, they thought they tasted funny which made me laugh (because i think most health bars taste like chalk as well), not like the normal "candy" that they probably had before from other tourists or maybe a special occasion or two.
i asked the boy what he wanted to do when he grew up, and he said he wanted to shine shoes just like his father. i asked again thinking that maybe he thought i meant "what are you going to do," and not my original question of "what do you want to do when you grow up." the boy once again repeated that cleaning and shining shoes is what he wanted to do, just like his father, right here on the street he had grown up on and known his whole life.
"success" is a funny word. it is a topic i struggle with because everyone seems to be chasing it but i don't believe that i have ever met anyone who will self admit tingly say they have found or achieved it. for me though i believe that i have defined it as obtaining enough material possessions that one can afford luxury and the comforts of life can be obtained with minimal struggle. i know this sounds as cued but isn't that what we are taught by society, the "american dream", and advertising?
this boy had purpose. it may have not been the life i have chosen but he had purpose. he was going to shine shoes like his father before him, and to the best of his ability. the boy taught me a lesson this past couple weeks, success is not defined by what you can obtain but by the pursuit of purpose with all your soul & mind. success to me is finding ones purpose no matter how obscure, different, or grandiose, and setting out whole heartedly to achieve it. what made shoe shining so insignificant in my eyes the first couple of days? it was because i saw no monetary outcome proceeding. what makes his job any more important than the ceo of a car company, a musician, or the senior editor at the new york times. nothing. it took a ten year old boy on the streets of kalcutta to show me that success is not defined by the amount of products we can consume but by the souls task of longing & belonging to what we set our hands out to achieve.