A while ago I was walking through a TJMaxx with my wife and was really surprised to see across the room a section full of TOMS shoes. Last I had heard, TOMS wasn’t having any problems with overstocked merchandise that would need to be sold to a retailer like TJMaxx., so I went over to check it out. When I got there, though, I realized they weren’t TOMS at all. They weren’t even BOBS. They were shoes designed exactly like TOMS, but made by a ridiculously expensive haute couture type brand.
And I just had to laugh at the absurdity of the situation, that this really famous designer had just ripped off a shoe design from TOMS because they happen to be trendy. You see, the reality is that TOMS aren’t trendy because of their superior design or comfort. They’re not trendy because they’re chic. At least that’s not why they became trendy in the first place (they are somewhat trendy on their own, now, but that’s not what made them trendy). TOMS became popular and gathered the following they did because they are a one-for-one company. Because when you buy a pair of TOMS another pair of shoes is given to a person in need somewhere else around the globe, and we feel good about that. I’m sure Curtis will comment on this at some point in the future, but that’s the reality of why TOMS are trendy. To wear a pair of shoes is not to say, “Hey look, I have nice shoes.” It’s to say, “Hey look, I care about others.” So when I was looking at these designer TOMS knock-offs I just thought to myself: idiot, to buy these shoes is to miss the point. Sure, you’d look trendy, buy you’re not actually part of the trend.* Remember, the trend isn’t about the shoes, it’s about the other pair of shoes . . . the ones sent to Argentina.
The reality is, though, we do this all the time, don’t we? How often do we forget why something was noble or worthy, and focus just on the fact that it’s trendy? How often do we pursue something not for the cause that it is, but because of the perks it provides? Think about it. Many of the situations are simple. I, for example, love to golf. And I love to have nice golf stuff. This past Christmas I was looking for a new driver and immediately went to the popular brands: Ping, TaylorMade, Callaway, Titleist. I immediately went to a 9 degree driver because, well, that’s what the pros play, right? The reality is the best club for me to have bought might very well have been a Ben Hogan 11 degree. Who knows? I never took one out on the range. I love my new Ping, and I hit it well, but the reality is it’s shiny and trendy and I like that.
Other times, though, it’s not so simple. Well, maybe it’s just as simple, but not as insignificant. For example, how many people do you think aspire to become doctors (or virtually any highly-paid position for that matter) not because of the fine traditions of the calling and the joy of healing those who seek their help, but because, if successful, it demands respect and provides a considerable salary and nice car? How often do you volunteer at your local church or charity because it looks good on your resume? How many garage bands do you think are started not because of a sheer love of the music but because guys in bands are cool and get lots of women and get to break all the rules without any punishment? Have you ever met a politician who took public office because of the celebrity status is provides, founded on the idea that public office is a noble cause, but who had no desire to actually make their jurisdiction a better place? Preachers? They’re not immune either. There’s a lot of praise and back-patting that can be pretty enticing to a guy who likes the affirmation, no matter his intentions when he began.
In my opinion, there’s at least two problems with these kinds of pursuits.
The first is that if you’re not truly focused on what you’re doing, you’ll never be able to achieve at the levels of which you’d otherwise be capable. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi in his book, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience, writes, “A painter must want to paint above all else. If the artist in front of the canvas begins to wonder how much he will sell it for, or what the critics will think of it, he won’t be able to pursue original avenues. Creative achievements depend on single-minded immersion.”
How many of those garage bands that put their focus on being cool and meeting girls ever make it out of the garage? How many politicians who focus on raising money and becoming a celebrity make an impact on their communities to the fullest extent possible? How many preachers who are focused on pleasing their “audience” instead of leading their community ever become the greatest communicators and leaders? How many ________ ever become great at doing ______________, if their not passionate about what they’re doing?
The second problem with all that is that if you’re not truly happy with the thing you’re actually doing—not the perks that your work provides—you won’t be able to sustain the passion and desire and drive and happiness and joy that comes from a purpose fulfilled. The sad thing is we all know this but many of us choose to ignore it (including, often times, myself). I could fill pages upon pages of anecdotal evidence of a lawyer who is burned out by his job but could spend countless hours in his garage building tiny wooden ships in bottles, or something to that effect.
But the reality is we all know it doesn’t matter how many gadgets our work affords us, if we aren’t happy with the actual work we do, we’ll get burned out sooner rather than later. Yet we continue to pursue things that are trendy because their trendy. Here’s the truth: there aren’t toys in this world nice enough—their aren’t BMWs with soft enough leather or sporty enough steering—to trade in the joy and passion and fulfillment that we’d receive if we pursued those things for which we were passionate, for no other reason than the fact that our passion was good and noble and praiseworthy all by itself.
In what ways do you do this in your own life? What are those things you do because they make you look cool? What are those things you do because you pursue affirmation or admiration? What are your haute couture TOMS rip-offs?
More importantly, what is your true passion? What is the cause that actually stirs you’re heart? Not the cause that looks good on your resume or that all your friends care about, but the cause for which you could work tirelessly. What is that job that brings you fulfillment for no other reason that the fact that you are good at it and have a passion for it? What is it you will pursue without care or concern for the perks it brings.
Remember, it’s not really about the shoes.
*For the record, I wasn’t debating buying them myself. I was merely having an argument with an imaginary person, the one that supplies the universal antagonist to whatever rampage I happen to be on inside my head that day. That’s normal, right?